I am a firm believer that, when it comes to free-agent draft-pick compensation, teams worry too much. They sweat the small stuff. Draft picks are so undefined, so fraught with posssibility, that often, executives seem to overlook the massive risk involved in forgoing a chance at a premium free-agent talent to bet on the baseball equivalent of a penny stock. The potential loss of a draft pick should never enter into the discussion over whether to pursue a top-tier free agent, only over how much to offer said player, and it shouldn’t be a primary consideration, even then.
I’m speaking normatively here. Teams don’t seem to actually think this way. Draft picks are weighed more heavily on their scales than they would be on mine, even under the new rules, and even though I believe firmly that good drafting and development is the best way—maybe the ONLY way—to build a consistent, contending team for the long term.
Therefore, I offer this hedge. I see a potential signing, a player in need of a home and an organization seemingly poised to take a big step by adding him. Best of all, the organization in question would lose only a third-round pick by making this acquisition.
Kyle Lohse and the Cleveland Indians, let’s make a deal.
The Indians’ top draft pick is protected, because they finished with one of baseball’s 10 worst records last season. They just gave up their second-round choice to add Nick Swisher to a lineup that suddenly looks like the second-best in the division:
- Michael Brantley- LF
- Jason Kipnis- 2B
- Asdrubal Cabrera- SS
- Carlos Santana- C
- Nick Swisher- RF
- Mark Reynolds- 1B
- Lonnie Chisenhall- 3B
- Chris McGuiness- DH
- Drew Stubbs- CF
They also added an important piece to a shaky starting rotation:
- Justin Masterson
- Ubaldo Jimenez
- Trevor Bauer
- Zach McAllister
- Jeanmar Gomez
Where would Kyle Lohse fit into that rotation? Second? Maybe first? He would be a huge upgrade, and although the Tigers have gotten markedly better this winter, Cleveland would be back in the conversation as co-favorites in the AL Central.
Just as importantly, Kyle Lohse would LOVE to go to Cleveland right about now, because no one in baseball has less to lose by signing him (it’s not close) than do the Tribe.
Now, a part of me thinks this would actually be a bad idea. I sort of want to see the Indians deal Asdrubal Cabrera to the Cardinals for pitching, let Mike Aviles start at shortstop in a limited engagement and accept that they will take steps forward in 2013, but not catch Detroit. I would have insisted upon that course a week ago. Swisher, though, changes things a bit.
Stacking free-agent acquisitions is a good idea. It hardly matters what position you’re in. Once you sign one big-name guy, it’s in your best interest to sign another. There are three or four spots for smiling faces on the pocket schedules and the media guide. There’s room for a bunch of banners outside the ballpark. It may not always translate directly into wins, but stacking signings adds excitement. The ticket sales team loves multiple signings. Of course, you also lose a less and less valuable draft pick with each top-tier guy you add. Signing a bunch of talent at once creates a financial margin for error that usually overwhelms the risk that those guys never return value on their contracts. It was true for the 2006-07 Chicago Cubs, true for the 2008-09 New York Yankees, and those teams had less to gain in terms of attendance and marketing revenue from making these big splashes than Cleveland has.
It may be an overreach on Cleveland’s part to grab Lohse; it’s not as though he is a true ace. Having added Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds and Trevor Bauer this winter, though, they have a chance to take a step forward in 2013 without hurting themselves in the longer term. Good teams don’t miss those opportunities.Next post: Baseball is Competitive Forestry
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