Been a while since this topic came up. An entire year, to be exact. When a team contends for the first half of a season, you don’t expect to have to bring this up. But here we are once again. Another season, another No. 2 overall draft pick at stake.
The Mariners, for all of their hard work in recent weeks, have still lost seven of 10 and find themselves with the fifth worst record in major league baseball. Not only that, but they are grouped very closely with a bunch of teams “ahead” of them on the loss front and have a clear shot at once again taking home the No. 2 overall pick.
And let’s face it, those picks are becoming as integral a part of this team’s rebuilding strategy as a lot of other stuff we’ve seen.
Dustin Ackley? A No. 2 overall pick in 2009 inherited from the previous regime’s incompetence.
Danny Hultzen (seen in photo above)? This past June’s No. 2 overall pick and a key component of a strategy that sees several potential top-of-the-rotation arms being stockpiled in the minors.
Earn a third No. 2 overall pick in four years and the M’s will indeed be well on their way to emulating the Tampa Bay Rays model for contention. The Rays have made some key trades in recent years since Andrew Friedman assumed the GM role, not to mention the extra millions the team has poured into Latin American talent development.
But who’s kidding who? It’s much easier to build a core of young talent when you have 10 straight seasons of 90+ losses and four No. 1 overall picks (including 2007 and 2008), two No. 2 overall picks and a No. 3 overall pick during that span. That’s why I tell anyone who truly wants their team to emulate the Rays that they either don’t know their recent baseball history or that they are completely nuts, but hey, different strokes for different folks.
The M’s probably will never (fortunately) completely emulate Tampa Bay, but garner a third No. 2 overall pick in four years and they will be starting to scratch the surface.
In the four years prior to finally contending in 2008, the Rays had three top-three overall picks and used them on third baseman Evan Longoria and pitchers David Price and Jeff Neimann. In two years prior to the Neimann pick, the Rays took Delmon Young (flipped as a trade centerpiece for pitcher Matt Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett) and B.J. Upton.
Think any of those guys have played a role in Tampa Bay’s recent success? Yes, all of those draft picks you get from long-term losing really can help a rebuilding plan. We all want to think it’s about shrewd deal-making and keen player development and yes, all of that really does play a part. But so does good old-fashioned baseball welfare. The MLB social-assistance program for teams in need of a talent handout.
Which brings us back to the Mariners.
Nobody really wants to see their team lose, but let’s face it, the M’s are 20 games under .500 with 30 to go. Barring a miracle, they are going to lose 90+ games yet again, no matter how plucky the “kids” and vets play. The only question is, how close to 100 losses will they get?
And should you, as Mariners fans, secretly be rooting for them to fail?
Yes, that type of thinking goes against the very foundation of watching sports. Unless you’re a compulsive gambler and put money on every team, whether it’s your own or someone else’s, you’re not supposed to be rooting against the home guys.
But we’ve already seen what an important factor these No. 2 overall picks have been in this rebuilding plan. I dare say, without those picks, this plan might be at least a year behind where it is now. And so, would drafting No. 2 overall as opposed to No. 6 next spring bring the M’s that much closer to contending?
Might mean a whole lot more than giving Ackley, Mike Carp, Kyle Seager, Trayvon Robinson and Casper Wells a “taste” of winning five or six more games than normal between now and season’s end.
That’s the thing about a No. 2 overall pick. Forget No. 1 because the Houston Astros have that wrapped up. But sometimes, No. 2 can be even better. It takes some of the pressure off because a lot of times, the choice will be dictated by the club picking in front of you.
For the M’s, Ackley was the no-brainer, consensus No. 2 overall in 2009 once the Washington Nationals took Stephen Strasburg at No. 1. Last June, the M’s put a little pressure on themselves by bucking the consensus and taking Hultzen. But it was part of the strategy I mentioned before, to stockpile so many young arms at the upper echelons of the minors that the team’s rotation and trade pool would be a lot deeper in coming years. Imagine if this team could add another top-end rotation college guy to the upper minors next June? Free talent there.
So don’t pooh-pooh the draft or what these slottings mean.
They are real and the M’s ability to tumble deeper in the rankings these next 30 games could have as big an impact on their eventual rebuilding as anything else we’ve seen this season. Long-term losing isn’t a good goal for any franchise where rebuilding is concerned. The whole negative impact on attendance thing. But the M’s are already losing big this year in spite of their great first half. Might as well go for the whole hawg, no? Why settle for the half-slab?
Anyhow, something to think about this final month. Either that, or we can worry about whether Ichiro will get his 200 hits. I’m good either way.
BACK END STANDINGS
1. Astros 44-90 (.328)
2. Orioles 53-78 (.405)
3. Royals 55-79 (.410)
4. Twins 56-77 (.421)
5. Mariners 56-76 (.424)