Questions abound about the implications of Michael Bourn signing with Cleveland for four years and $48 million (with a vesting option for a fifth season). Fans and talking heads are discussing what this means for Drew Stubbs’ future and whether Bourn can contribute enough alongside Nick Swisher to make the Indians contenders.
However, I can’t help but stop and wonder what the plan is for the Tribe’s brass for the 2013 MLB Draft. Bourn becoming an Indian may not seem to have any real impact on the annual amateur draft, but the signing has larger implications than one may initially suspect.
Swisher’s signing meant the Indians forfeited their second-round pick in the draft in order to compensate his former team, the New York Yankees, who had made Swisher a qualifying offer to return to the Bronx. Since the Atlanta Braves also gave Bourn a qualifying offer, he too will also cost the Tribe a selection come June. The forfeited selection was a competitive balance pick in the third round, the 69th overall selection.
The Indians still have another third-round pick, the 71st pick, so one would imagine the loss of the 69th pick is not that so terrible. But those who say that clearly do not understand the new rules of the MLB Draft.
Under the new collective bargaining agreement, each pick’s slot recommendation (largely ignored under the old agreement) is now a team’s draft budget. In the simplest of terms, if the MLB Draft were two rounds and the Tribe’s first-round pick slot recommendation was valued at $5 million and their second round selection was valued at $1 million, the Indians would be allowed to spend no more than $6 million on those draft picks.
In the 2012 draft, Cleveland took advantage of this by selecting Texas A&M outfielder Tyler Naquin with the 16th overall selection, a reach in almost every regard, because he was a senior with little leverage in negotiations and was signable for less than the slot recommendation. This allowed the Indians use their later picks on high-upside high schoolers who fell in the draft because other teams didn’t have the budget to spare. With the money they saved, the Indians were able to scoop up Mitch Brown, a fast-rising pitcher from Minnesota, and DeVon McClure, a toolsy outfielder from Arkansas.
But with the forfeit of Cleveland’s two picks for Swisher and Bourn, the Indians also lose the money that would have come along with those picks to spend in the draft. This puts the Indians in a bind financially as they have less money to spend. With both less money to spend and fewer picks to spend it on, the Tribe’s drafting strategy could be very different in 2013 from what it was in 2012.
Cleveland has the No. 5 overall in the draft, and was able to keep it despite signing Swisher and Bourn because top-10 picks are protected. The 2013 Draft is considered even weaker than the previous year, but still has some intriguing names up top. Mark Appel is the most recognizable—the Pirates selected him eighth overall in 2012 only to watch him go back to Stanford after he slipped further than he anticipated. Other names include Ryne Stanek, a starter at Arkansas University; Sean Manaea, another pitcher from Illinois State; and prep outfielders Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier. If there is a strength in this draft, it’s in the outfielders and college starters up top.
With a top-five selection the Indians could either save a lot of money by selecting a college player who would sign on the cheap and allocate the funds elsewhere, or take a difference-making prospect to headline the farm system alongside Francisco Lindor and Trevor Bauer. But with the Tribe’s next selection being at No. 71, it’s hard to imagine they’ll get a great player to spend that extra money on if they choose the former course. That’s why the Indians are likely to go all-in and land a blue-chip player with their first pick.
Houston had the top pick in 2012 and employed the same strategy as the Indians, saving money by selecting Carlos Correa with the top pick to make it easier to sign Lance McCullers Jr. in the second round and others later in the draft with the extra money. The Astros will again have the top pick in 2013, and while their farm system is certainly stronger than in years pass, it needs a lot more depth rather than top talent, meaning they could employ the same strategy in 2013 to get more quality players. That could rule out a lot of the big-name players from the first overall selection.
That could mean one of Appel, Stanek or Manaea could fall to the Indians at the No. 5 selection, and I expect them to put their entire draft pool into one of those three. The pick is valued at $7,693,000 according to Baseball America, which could certainly be enough on its own. If it isn’t, I could still see the Indians going slightly above slot in order to get a strong college pitcher who could help replenish a the system’s dearth of pitching and would have a chance to contribute to the big league club while Swisher and Bourn are still around.
Manaea is the most intriguing of the three, as he goes to a smaller school but tore up the Cape Cod League full of elite talent over the summer. The Cubs select No. 2 overall though, and reports say they are enamored with the 6’5” southpaw. It’s likely that he will be off the board before the Tribe can consider him.
That leaves Stanek and Appel as possible options. They are considered two of the premier pitchers in all of college baseball rather than just this draft, and scouts are split on who is the top dog. Many like Stanek’s pure stuff more; his fastball sits easily in the mid-90s and his secondary offerings are believed to have better potential than Appel’s. However, many are worried that the right-hander relies on his breaking balls too much, and that he needs to use his plus-fastball more effectively. However, that is something that any quality pitching coach could fix.
Appel was the popular pick at No. 1 overall in 2012 but his high asking price both caused him to fall to the Pirates at No. 8 and prevented the two sides from reaching a deal. He’s got the height (6’5”) and velocity (fastball as high as 99 mph) to be a front-line starter. He’s more polished than Stanek, but while his stuff is good, many are unsure if it’s good enough to be a true ace. He could end up as a true front-line force of the rotation, or an above-average third pitcher.
Regardless of who the pick is, I expect the Indians to bet the house on their first round pick to get that difference-making prospect. With the lack of picks and lack of blue-chip farmhands, going all-in makes the most sense for the Tribe.