Playing revisionist history with a professional draft, while fun, is unfair. Redraft the new version of the Cleveland Browns and you can get close to having a Pro Bowl player at all twenty-two positions on the field. No general manager can hit on every pick.
That fact is especially true when it comes to Major League Baseball’s draft. Despite all the scouting and all the work, every team passed on Albert Pujols TWELVE times, some even did so thirteen times. Forty-eight players were drafted in front of Carlos Beltran. Zack Greinke was considered a ‘signability’ pick when he went sixth overall in 2002. You get the picture.
So, it is unfair to look back at the Royals’ rather hideous draft record and say “they should have done this here and that the next year and taken these two guys in the 14th and 20th rounds in 2003 and we would be in the World Series”. We are not going to do that sort of exercise today, but I am going to look at one, just one, pick that might have changed the direction of this franchise.
The 2001 draft is one that will life in infamy for the Royals forever. It was headed by Colt Griffin in the first round and Roscoe Crosby in the second round: both unmitigated disasters. Worse, the brief major league appearances by Angel Sanchez and Devon Lowery are the only contributions on the big league level the Royals ever got out of the fifty picks they made that year. This draft stands as the crown jewel of crap among an array of pretty awful drafts in the early part of this century.
Obviously, it also lends itself handily to us revisionists.
The first round of 2001 had Joe Mauer going number one and Mark Texiera going at six, but there are not names that leap off the list after the Royals picked Griffin that make your stomach hurt. Until you get down to the supplemental phase of that round and find David Wright going at pick number thirty-eight and signing for $960,000.
Sure, thirty-eight is a long way removed from nine, but it would not be unheard of for the budget conscious Royals to take a ’30 to 50 level talent’ to save money (Chris Lubanski anyone?). What if the Royals would have picked David Wright instead of Colt Griffin?
First off, Kansas City would have enjoyed a third baseman who has a career line of .309/.389/.518 who has played 144 or more games in every season between 2005 and 2009. He has pop, he can run and has made himself into a decent defender. Wright signed a six year/$55 million dollar extension near the end of the 2006 season, which might have been doable for the Royals – albeit probably in 2007 as Mike Sweeney’s contract was about to come off the books.
Just having David Wright at the hot corner obviously makes the Royals much better, but what else would it have done?
Well, Wright came up with the Mets midway through the 2004 season, right about the time Allard Baird was demanding a major league ready third baseman and catcher for Carlos Beltran. With Wright ready to go at third, Baird’s demands would not have included a third baseman (Allard suffered from tunnel vision, but he wasn’t an idiot).
As the Beltran sweepstakes heated up, the Yankees offered Robinson Cano and Dioner Navarro for the Royals’ centerfielder (also reportedly offered at the same time by the Red Sox were Kevin Youkilis and Kelly Shoppach, but that’s a story for another scenario). Would the Royals have pulled the trigger on that deal if Wright was ready to take over at third base? Let’s say yes.
Okay, so now the Royals have David Wright at third base and, beginning in 2005, have Robinson Cano and his career line of .306/.339/.480 at second. Cano signed a four year/$30 million extension before the 2008 season, but even if the Royals were not prepared to do so, they would still have Robinson under control for the 2010 season. Assuming Kansas City did get Wright signed to a Met’s like extension in 2007 and signed Cano, too, they would be paying $19 million for their second and third basemen in 2010.
Navarro has had a choppy career at best and might not have prevented the signing of either Miguel Olivo or Jason Kendall, so we’ll just leave the catching position as is in this scenario.
Now, with Wright playing third starting in mid-2004 and Cano manning second starting in 2005, it is pretty hard to believe the Royals would have chosen Alex Gordon with the second overall pick in the 2005 draft. In fact, they probably would not have considered Ryan Zimmerman or Ryan Braun, either, but they might well have looked at a shortstop considered the most ‘major league ready’ player of that draft: Troy Tulowitzki. Beginning in late 2006, Tulowitzki has hit .283/.357/.474 as the Rockies’ everyday shortstop. He had an injury plagued 2008, but a big year last season (.930 OPS). Sure, those numbers are inflated by playing in Denver half the time, but tell me you don’t want him in a Royals’ uniform.
So, beginning in 2007, Kansas City could put an infield of Cano, Tulowitzki and Wright….and Ross Gload on the diamond. At that time, all three players’ salary load was low enough that I do not think it would have prevented the Royals from signing Gil Meche. As an aside, how many wins does Meche get in 2007 with those three guys hitting for him? Or how many does Greinke get in 2009? Twenty-eight?!
Fast forward to 2008 and assume that Wright and Cano have signed the extensions referenced above, plus Tulowitzki has signed his six year/$31 million dollar deal at the same time as Cano. That would almost certainly have kept Kansas City from pursuing Jose Guillen…or at least have kept their offer considerably below the three year/$36 million mark! By the way, with Tulowitzki in the fold, the Royals would be paying the Cano-Tulowitzki-Wright combo $22.5 million in 2010. Take Guillen’s $12 million out, plus the four to Kyle Farnsworth and that gets pretty doable.
Throw Billy Butler into the mix at first base and the Royals would be looking forward to 2010 with arguably the best infield in baseball. Sure, the Cano-Butler combination on the right side of the infield is not a defensive strongpoint, but Tulowitzki-Wright is above average.
The Royals would not have any real money to play with this off-season, which might have precluded the Kendall signing (boo-hoo!), but probably would not have kept them from getting Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel. The pitching staff, probably minus the Farnsworth albatross, would be the same (actually better in the addition by subtraction way of thinking) and the spectre of Jose Guillen would not be an issue.
Maybe all this still does not make the Royals championship contenders, but I would wager it certainly puts them in the mix for the playoffs. It is all an exercise in fantasy without question, but it does point out how just one pick…ONE PICK…might have changed the course of a franchise.