Picks, Speed, Bourn and Aging

I am opposed to the Mets signing Michael Bourn if it costs them the #11 pick in the 2013 amateur draft. The Mets are still interested in the outfielder, but have not officially asked Major League Baseball to break the rules to allow them to keep their first round pick. Oy. It’s a fun dance two weeks out from spring training.

Why would the Mets have to sacrifice a pick? Well, they had the 10th worst record in 2012 in baseball, but now hold the 11th pick because the Pirates failed to come to terms with Mark Appel of Stanford, and were compensated with the 10th overall pick, pushing the Mets down to #11.

Here’s the actual language of the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement regarding protected picks:

A Club that signs one Qualified Free Agent who is subject
to compensation shall forfeit its highest available selection in the
next Rule 4 Draft. A Club that signs more than one Qualified Free
Agent subject to compensation shall forfeit its highest remaining
selection in the next Rule 4 Draft for each additional Qualified
Free Agent it signs. Notwithstanding the above, a Club shall not
be required to forfeit a selection in the top ten of the first round
of the Rule 4 Draft, and its highest available selection shall be
deemed its first selection following the tenth selection of the first
round.

 

Emphasis added. The language of the rule is clear. The top ten picks are protected. The rule does not even hint at the notion that the picks of the teams with the ten worst records are protected.

Yes, it is in the abstract, unfair that the Pirates’ failure to sign their pick pushes the Mets down a slot, and out of the range of protection. However, what incentive does MLB have to change the rules now for the Mets? The League office also has to represent the interests of the 29 other Major League teams who would also be harmed by such a haphazard approach to the language of the rules.

It’s not only that the Mets would be sacrificing a valuable pick in the top half of the draft. They would also be sacrificing the roughly $2.5 million slot allowance that the pick carries. In 2012, the first year under a similar system, the Mets saved a quarter of a million dollars against their pool by signing Gavin Cecchini for $2.3 million instead of the $2.55 slot. They wer able to package that small savings, plus underslot deals with Kevin Plawecki (1S), Matt Reynolds (2nd), Branden Kaupe (4th) Richie Rodriguez (9th) and Paul Sewald (10th) to go overslot and sign hard-throwing high school RHP Corey Oswalt and Chris Flexen and C Tomas Nido.

 

Finally, I was under the idea that speed players, and yes, Bourn, who derives much of his value offensively and defensively from his legs, age poorly. Eno Sarris tweeted out a few links that argued against this notion one using aging curves of players in skill buckets, which shows that speed guys decline more slowly than their more leaden-footed counterparts. The second piece has a few more issues. Tangotiger at the Book Blog looked at the aging patterns of “great” players. Initially, I recoiled at the notion that Bourn is a “great” player, but his 2012 was great enough > 6 WAR, that he slips into the minimum standards of Tango’s study. Anyway, Tango argued in December 2010 that the Carl Crawford signing was reasonable because speedy, great players aged better. And oh, boy. That’s been a disaster. It surely does not mean the research was wrong, just that there’s one more data point that speedy outfielders are not great long term investments.

Bourn is still a 30-year old coming off a career year. Yes, he would immediately improve the Mets’ centerfield position. But is this a reasonable expense in money and draft pick potential for a team like the Mets who are no better than the third-best team in their division, and might reasonably be projected to be 15-20 games behind the Nationals and Braves at the top?

No. No. And no.

This has been a fun dance, but the lights will come on after one more verse.