clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Orioles trade of draft pick to save Webb $ is unusual, which doesn't make it wrong or dumb

New, 3 comments

The Orioles traded a draft pick again and this time they basically sold the pick to the Dodgers for Ryan Webb's salary. That's an unprecedented move in baseball, which doesn't automatically mean it's a bad move.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles sold a draft pick to the Dodgers when they traded Ryan Webb. Within just a few days of the trade the Dodgers released Webb, showing that they never had any interest in the former O's reliever. Webb has gone on to sign a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians.

Though the Orioles got some token compensation in the deal in the form of Triple-A reliever Ben Rowen and Double-A catcher Chris O'Brien, it seems clear that the real goal for the trade was to free themselves of the burden of paying Webb's $2.75 million salary this season when they had made up their minds that they weren't going to use him.

For that, they surrendered their Competitive Balance Round B pick in June's draft, #74 overall, the only draft pick they had that can be traded. It's the second time in three drafts that they've traded that pick. They also traded 2014's Competitive Balance pick (which was in the A round at #37 overall) in the Bud Norris trade with Houston at the 2013 non-waiver deadline. This time, the Dodgers effectively bought the pick off of them.

The #74 pick carried a slot value of $827,000, leaving the Orioles with about $6.8 million in money to sign this year's draft picks. That's more than triple last year's, so they will still have money and picks available to sign some players with potential. With the O's having three of the first 68 picks even without factoring in this trade, that may have made them more willing to unload the draft choice in a trade like this.

Does that make it a good trade? Some would say that selling off the #74 pick to free up about $3.5 million (Webb's salary plus less money to spend on picks) is selling it cheaply. What the Orioles do with the money that they've saved will be crucial to see. It could be that the trade was necessary to free up some room to make an acquisition midseason.

That kind of flexibility last year gave the O's the ability to acquire Andrew Miller and Alejandro De Aza, for instance. Sure, that only set the O's back in the realm of a couple of million dollars, but if you don't have that money, you don't have it. It's a small amount of money in the grand scheme. It's still more than Billy Beane in the Moneyball movie making a trade for some cash so his players don't have to pay to use the Coke machine.

Perhaps the O's didn't need it for payroll and they have it ticketed for some other purpose. We're not likely to ever know for sure.

In trying to figure out what the 74th pick could have really been worth, it's tough to come up with a concrete answer. You can look, for instance, at what 74th overall picks have done historically to get a rough idea. It's not quite that, though, because you also have to think about players who were taken later than 74 - the kind of talent that is still on the board at 74, rather than the kind of players picked at 74 specifically.

This is made even muddier by the fact that the rules of the draft have changed quite recently with the addition of the teams having bonus pools that can't be exceeded without penalty. If anything, that probably means the players with more promise get taken higher up in the draft, rather than the old method of some teams paying overslot bonuses in later rounds.

On Hardball Times last year, Matthew Murphy took a look at the value of a draft pick in 2014. There's a lot going on there, but one thing that Murphy found is that a late first round pick (21-30) has in recent years produced an average of 2.24 WAR before a player became eligible for free agency.

The O's 74th pick they traded was more than twice as many picks beyond that. It's not a sure thing that player would ever reach the majors or even be any kind of real prospect with trade value. If we go back and look at the 2006 2nd round (picks 45-76 overall that year) we will see that 17/32 played in the major leagues, which is a healthy number, but only eight of these ever accumulated positive WAR at the MLB level.

The Orioles picked Ryan Adams in this round of the draft. As fate would have it, they have ended up with a good player from this particular round of this particular draft after all, though they didn't draft him: Chris Tillman, #49 overall that year, who when all is said and done could well be one of the two best picks of his round of the draft. He trails Jon Jay in career WAR by 2.5, as well as Trevor Cahill and Justin Masterson by 0.7 WAR each. It's not out of the question he could pass the latter two in his career, potentially even this year.

None of which is to say the Orioles should cavalierly discard draft picks. There are good players left to be taken in the 70s. A team just has to identify them and develop them. The O's would surely have rather had 2010 #68 overall pick Drew Smyly or #70 pick Andrelton Simmons than their own... oh wait, they didn't even get to pick in the second round that year because they signed Mike Gonzalez and gave up the pick.

Go back a few years to 2007 and none other than Giancarlo Stanton was waiting at 76. There was another respectable talent, Freddie Freeman, picked at 78. The Orioles... no, actually, they never got to pick in this round either because they forfeited the pick when they signed Danys freaking Baez. Say this about Duquette: At least he's yet to give up a high Orioles draft pick for a player he knew would be a reliever for his team.

Looking at a more recent draft instead, in 2011 the Blue Jays selected Daniel Norris, now one of the more interesting - both in terms of his potential and his personality - pitching prospects in the game, at #74 overall. The Orioles picking at 56, tabbed Jason Esposito.

They will still have three decent shots to scoop up a future star or even a future serviceable regular before the #74 pick would have come along. The O's will be picking at 25, 36, and 68 in the draft. If the Dodgers get a future Hall of Famer at 74, the O's will have only themselves to blame for not getting him first. Funnily enough, the Dodgers pick immediately before the O's every other time: 24, 35, and 67.

With the loss of the $827,000 in pool money, the O's will have less flexibility in how they spread around their money. For instance, their #25 pick has a slot value of about $2 million. If they found a player who fell into this range but still wanted $2.5 million to sign, the O's could have taken a signability guy at 74 who would sign for little money, letting them spend the extra on that player. Of course, they could always do this with the #68 pick ($907,000 slot) instead, but that would effectively cost them the chance to throw a dart at the board of second round talent.

All of which leaves us pondering yet another Duquettian headscratcher. Nobody has done this before, just like nobody else options Wei-Yin Chen to the Gulf Coast League to get an extra player on the roster for one day at the end of August, and few other teams option players over the All-Star Break to create like a week of an extra player who might not even matter on the roster.

Maybe Duquette's onto something nobody else is. Maybe he's going bonkers. Maybe he's making bad moves out of some kind of desperation or another. By the time we'll be able to say in retrospect whether it was a good or a bad trade, we'll have mostly forgotten all about it.

In the meantime, don't sweat it too much. Any given player on the board at 74 is most likely not going to amount to anything, because if he was sure to amount to something, he wouldn't still be on the board at 74. The Orioles will have three chances before that pick even comes along to find the next great Oriole. If they make the most of those, the rest won't matter.