With the fifth overall selection in the 2011 June Amateur Draft, the Kansas City Royals select: Bubba Starling. And with those words, a legend was born. Stories of the Gardner, KS native will be told in Royals circles for decades. The direction and nature of those stories at this point are unknown. This is what makes the baseball draft — hell, any draft really — so interesting. It’s the unknowns in sports that make things so much more interesting.
Bill James was on a recent episode of Joe Posnanski’s* podcast and said that without some inherent randomness, sports aren’t very interesting. The draft represents some of the most wild randomness available, and Starling is the epitome of that. He’s a toolsy, athletic high school senior who plays baseball in the midwest. It’s the perfect combination of factors that make for an unpredictable draft pick. The added bonus of being from a local school is what puts this draft pick into “legendary” status. If Starling is a great player, then it’s obvious that he’ll be the legendary hero. If he never makes it to the Big Leagues, he’s a legendary bust. If he becomes a decent but not great player like Alex Gordon, he’s a legendary “what could’ve been”.
*Yesterday was Posnanski’s last day as a Kansas City resident and now that he and Jason Whitlock have departed, the sports writing landscape in Kansas City seems so barren. That’s not a knock on the guys plying their trade now, but rather how important they were to our local sports scene. When I was granted my credential to Royals games, one of the first things that jumped in my mind was a chance to meet Joe Posnanski. Unfortunately, we never crossed paths. I wish him luck and I’m excited to see who can try and fill those two pair of very different but very large pair of shoes.
The first impediment to having the Bubba Starling legend lie on the positive side of the ledger is his commitment to the University of Nebraska to play football. In his brief press-conference yesterday, he mentioned that possibility a number of times. High school kids with scholarship offers have the most negotiating power, because as any successful negotiator will tell you, options are leverage. Bubba Starling doesn’t have to sign with the Royals, he could just go play football if he so desires. The more real that threat looms, the higher the price tag goes.
Given Starling’s options of:
A: Millions of dollars to play baseball
B: Dorm food, lodging and mandatory classes to play football
Which, combined with the fact that the Royals used their only pick in the first 65 to select him is enough evidence that he is likely to sign. It’s more likely that Starling doesn’t sign and re-enters the draft in 2012. His agent is Scott Boras, who won’t make a dime if Starling plays football, and if there’s anything I know about Boras, it’s that he likes making lots of dimes. So, while the football card will be played loud and often, it’s not much of a possibility.
With options and negotiating leverage, comes money. It seems logical that Starling’s bonus will be close to, if not the highest paid by the Royals in franchise history. Deals like that aren’t easy to come by, so it’s quite certainly going to take right up until the deadline to sign the contract. If that does happen, Starling won’t make his professional debut until 2012, which is unfortunate. He’s such a raw player that he could use as much seasoning as possible. Spending time in a short-season league in 2011 will speed along his development.
Once he signs and becomes officially a part of the Royals organization, what kind of player will the Royals have? What will Starling become? These are questions that nobody has the answer to. We go back to the randomness aspect of this whole situation. Bubba Starling will be Bubba Starling, and that’s all we know. The Royals feel like he was the best player available to them when it was their turn to draft, and they’ve done a very good job of identifying high school talent.
The real story here is that the Royals didn’t seem to draft for need or for immediate help. Maybe that was just the luck of the draw, but it does seem as if Dayton Moore is sticking to his Process. A process, which it seems isn’t about producing “waves” of talent. Waves of talent is a theory of hoping to win followed by expecting to lose. It’s a failed process. One that the Royals can’t afford to subscribe to. What they have shown with the selection of Starling is that they are going to load the system with talent and continue to pile it on. Dayton Moore isn’t trying to build a team, he’s trying to build a franchise. It’s the more difficult, but ultimately more successful endeavor.
It will take at least five years to know if selecting Bubba Starling was the right move yesterday. He may just be the local super-star that the Royals and their fans are pining for. But if the franchise continues to go about their process in this manner, it won’t matter because while a single bad draft pick can drown a team, it’s not enough to ruin a franchise.