Today’s Stars Were Not Found in Free Agency
By Sam Genson
Alternate Title: “The (Former?) Importance of the Draft”
As we have detailed here, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) could have a negative impact on baseball’s amateur draft. What wasn’t really covered is how the draft has been such an asset for Detroit, and many other teams. As I have said time and time again (and you are probably sick of it now) Free Agency is not the most effective or efficient way to build a team – that actually lies in success in the draft and calculated player trades. It is interesting that back the middle part of the last decade, that idea may not have held true (at least with the fans and writers). I think more and more fans are seeing that Free Agency is a nice way to plug a hole here and there but not the best way to establish your team’s core or establish its identity. Granted, I could just be listening to a different set of fans than I was 6-7 years ago too…
While hardly cementing my case, MLB Trade Rumors ran two articles last month that certainly lend credence to it.
In the first article, detailing how each of the top ten AL MVP finishers were acquired by their respective teams, you will see that every player but one was either drafted by their team or was acquired via trade. Four of the top 10 were drafted by their current teams (including the Tigers’ Justin Verlander). The only player who was not drafted or traded was Robinson Cano who as signed as an international free agent by the Yankees – which is essentially the same thing as being drafted. Of the five players who were traded to their current teams, Curtis Granderson was drafted by the team that traded him (Tigers, as we all know), Miguel Cabrera was signed as an international free agent by the team that traded him (the Marlins) and Michael Young was traded as a minor league, only seeing MLB service with the Texas Rangers. Going even further, we know that in the two trades with Tigers players, neither involved a free agent, with the Marlins receiving Detroit prospects in return for Cabrera and the Tigers receiving prospects in return for Granderson.
When you look at the National League, you will see an even greater emphasis on the draft. Of the 10 player who qualified, either of them are with the team that drafted. Only Lance Berkman, a free agent acquisition this past off-season by the Cardinals, and Roy Halladay, traded to the Phillies from the Blue Jays (the team that drafted him), are the outliers. Now, in fairness, two of the top ten players will be free agents this off-season – Prince Fielder (who makes me wish the Tigers could somehow get a two-DH exemption) and Albert Pujols.
While there are many reasons for the above statistics, including player signing extensions prior to free agency or teams trading players they deem as too expensive in the long run, it is perhaps indicative of a broader shift away from free agency and towards internal player development. With the changes in the draft going forward, one has to wonder whether free agency will regain a prominent role in teams landing top talent. If this happens, how long before teams like the Brewers, Reds, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Rays, and Tigers fail to place contenders in the top ten of MVP voting for their respective leagues?