An Extended Internal Point/ Counterpoint on the Padres’ 2010 Draft and Failure to Sign Karsten Whitson


If you haven’t heard already, here’s the news:

In the past few days, the Padres have signed third-rounder Zach Cates, sixth-rounder John Barbato, and eighth-rounder Jose Dore, meaning that the team hauled in eight of their first ten picks in the 2010 Draft. The Padres failed to sign seventh-rounder A.J. Vanegas, who had a tight commitment to Stanford; that was fairly expected.

What wasn’t expected was San Diego not inking ninth overall pick Karsten Whitson, their most prized selection in this year’s draft. The Padres will receive the eleventh pick in next year’s draft as compensation.

It’s been almost two hours since the news broke, and I’ve gone back and forth about all this, weighing everything in my head and trying to figure out what to make of the situation. So, in that vein, I’ve decided to essentially write out the argument that’s been going on in my head about this for awhile. Hopefully, it’ll highlight all the positives and negatives that came out of the Padres 2010 draft. It’s up to you to decide what it all means, and we obviously won’t know the full ramifications for years. I welcome comments and discussion, as always.

So, here is a rather schizophrenic-looking writeup of my thoughts…

Side A: What a complete and utter disaster not signing Whitson is. I loved his selection, as he was exactly the sort of high-upside arm San Diego needs. With a hard fastball, great slider, and promising changeup, there was some Latos-esque potential there. Not that he’d be Latos 2.0 or anything, but he had a chance at it, which is more than you can say for a cool 95% of minor league pitchers, if not more. This doesn’t speak well to Jed Hoyer and the new front office. This was their first big long-term decision, and they flunked it.

Side B: Well, let’s hold on for a minute. The Padres got Barbato, who some considered a first-round talent, in Whitson’s place. They didn’t get one talented arm, but they landed another instead. Doesn’t that accomplish the “possible next Latos” goal?

A: If the Padres get Vanegas and Barbato, sure, that’s nice compensation. But Barbato signed for $1.4 million, which is roughly 20th-pick money. At least the Padres got someone with some faint chance of pitching in the front half of a rotation someday, but Whitson-to-Barbato is a downgrade already. If you don’t sign Whitson, you have to grab Barbato and Vanegas. Or at least channel the money into getting later-round guys with upside (at 2 AM ET, it’s unclear if they did this, but I haven’t read any reports that say the Padres signed any later-round draftees). Besides, Whitson was the second-best high school pitcher in the draft. You just have to sign those guys.

B: But maybe he flames out. Maybe he’ll blow out his arm as a college freshman, and the Padres will look smart. He doesn’t have great mechanics, after all.

A: Well, sure. But name a prospect you can’t say that about. Hell, Mark Prior was supposed to be The Impervious One, and we saw how that turned out. Here’s the bottom line. Let’s say Whitson wanted a ridiculous amount of money–even $10 million. You give it to him. Kevin Correia‘s 2009 season was worth $10.9 million, according to Fangraphs. All Whitson has to do is pitch like a third starter for one year and he’s justified the bonus. Forget pitching like Latos for six years; he just has to be solid for one. That’s why the draft is so great for small market teams–the money is unbelievably team-favored. You have to take advantage of that, and the Padres didn’t.

B: $10 million? Are you serious? The Padres would get a rep as pushovers if they gave Whitson that much, and you don’t want that precedent set for other draftees.

A: Sure, but Whitson didn’t want $10 million in the first place. Rumors are he wanted somewhere in the $4 million range. The Dodgers gave 28th pick Zach Lee more than that, and nobody’s calling them pushovers. As long as Whitson’s deal wasn’t ridiculously out of line (say, over $7.5 million), that would be a non-issue.

B: What about Cates? Can’t be be a second potential ace, along with Barbato?

A: Anything can happen, but I see Cates as more of a shutdown reliever than overwhelming starter. He’s mostly a two-pitch guy, and his control isn’t pristine. There’s upside there, sure, but he’s got a long way to go to be in any sort of “potential ace” discussions.

B: But still, see, there’s two high-upside arms in the class, plus some other intriguing players. This certainly isn’t some sort of colossal debacle. Plenty of teams miss out on a couple of their top picks. They recover, at least sometimes. The good news is that the Padres get compensation for losing Whitson, and they only wasted a seventh-rounder on Vanegas. Not too big a cost, if you ask me.

A: Well, I don’t really like the 2010 crop, though. Jedd Gyorko is largely just a high-average hitter with okay third-base defense and gap power. He’s probably just another Logan Forsythe/Chase Headley type, and I find it hard to believe he’ll be a star. Chris Bisson was an overdraft with utility potential. I love Rico Noel, but if he becomes much more than Rajai Davis, I’d be surprised. At least we got Jose Dore, but who knows how good he’ll be. Josh Spence is just another LeBlanc type, Houston Slemp has been terrible, Brian Guinn‘s already been demoted, Chris Franklin’s a college reliever who’s been just OK in short-season, and Tommy Medica doesn’t really have a position. Whitson, Vanegas, and Sean Dwyer didn’t sign, and I haven’t seen anything indicating sleeper lefty Miguel Pena did either.

So that’s our first 15 picks. We got a potential Headley, a potential Rajai Davis, a potential LeBlanc, a potentially solid right fielder in Dore, and two nice arms in Cates and Barbato. Knowing what we do about prospects atrophying, you can figure that it’s likely only one or two of those will even reach their upside. Maybe Spence turns into LeBlanc and Gyorko turns into Headley. Is getting a fourth starter and a decent #6-type bat (along with a couple of spare parts, no doubt) a good draft?

B: No, it isn’t. But if Barbato and Cates are the two who pan out as opposed to Spence and Gyorko, then things start to look good. After all, the Padres have plenty of promising bats around. The key is getting plus young pitchers in the Latos-led rotation.

A: So, that makes the Whitson debacle even worse. If the Padres had picked some hitter like Delino Deshields Jr. ninth, then I wouldn’t be so upset.

B: The important thing to remember, though, is that the Padres get the eleventh overall pick as compensation. I reiterate, all they’re out of here is: 1) Karsten Whitson, 2) The ninth pick (sliding down two spots to 11th next year), 3) One extra year of time between the 2010 and 2011 drafts, and 4) Their seventh-round pick this year. Next year’s draft is said to be deeper, so sliding from 9th to 11th may not be an issue. The current Padres are good, and in fact, the extra-year wait may prove to be something of a blessing, giving the team a key player a year into the future, when they may need him more.

A: In theory, that’s a good point. In practice, it’s not. The 11th pick next year won’t be protected, so the player the Padres pick will have all the leverage. This is a front office that is 0-for-1 on signing first-round picks, so clearly, they don’t have this whole “negotating” thing mastered. There are two bad directions that pick could go. The first is that the Padres take some signability guy who really belongs in the 20s, like Drew Storen for the Nationals last year, which means the Padres will have thrown away Whitson for some non-impact prospect. The second is that the Padres take a quality player again, but fail to sign him, completely losing the pick. Look, Whitson was the only pick in the first round who didn’t sign for financial reasons. Heck, even the supplemental rounders all signed. I can’t trust this front office to get it right when they have even less leverage. The other issue I have is that the Padres, in drafting Whitson, picked a player who fit their needs perfectly and deserved to be a high draft pick. What are the odds that’ll happen again? Maybe San Diego picks a college outfielder or something next year–they don’t need that like they need Whitson.

B: Okay, so there’s potential to screw it up, I suppose. But there is a very real chance the Padres pick a better player in next year’s loaded draft and, with their backs against the wall, give him what he wants. Just like there’s potential for a negative outcome, there’s certainly the chance that it could all work out.

A: Well, yeah, but after this, I feel like the process of drafting and signing next year’s first-rounder is going to be like following Dayton Moore’s actions at the trade deadline this year. It’s like, I’m so incredulous he’s making a good move, so I keep waiting for the inevitable screw-up.

B: We do talk about small sample size all the time in baseball, and I think it applies to a situation like this, too. If the Padres called up, say, Cory Luebke from the minors, and he made one bad start, you might say “Okay, I don’t trust this guy to pitch well right now.” But if he followed it with a good one, you’d relax and give him a chance. The same applies here for Jed Hoyer with the draft stuff. He’s 0-for-1, but it’s not like he has some long track record of terrible drafting. The guy comes from a Boston front office that doesn’t shy away from big bonuses themselves, after all.

A: Well, that’s Boston. They’re rich. The Padres are not.

B: Well, yeah. But if that’s the case, then don’t blame Hoyer.

A: But Hoyer shouldn’t draft a top-ten-overall pick he doesn’t think he can sign.

B: Well, Whitson said he wanted to sign. Quotes indicate Hoyer was somewhat misled.

A: Which brings me back to small sample size. Maybe this is a fluke and Whitson changed his mind, but there aren’t any reports of this being a Gerrit Cole “Eh, I just want to go to school” thing. Why would Whitson randomly raise his asking price? If anything, you’d think that once an 18-year-old gets close to millions of dollars, the money would get harder and harder to turn down. But hey, if that story is to be believed, then Hoyer will put everything to bed in the 2011 draft, and we can stop worrying. One fluky mishap? Okay, if Hoyer goes and gets another high-upside pitcher and signs him next year (a catcher would work too). But if he screws up again, I’m going to be very worried about his draft acumen. Hell, Dayton Moore deservedly catches a lot of heat, but the man drafts well and actually signs his high draftees, almost to a fault. And it’s not like the Royals have money. When you come out badly compared to Dayton Moore, that’s not good.

B: So, there’s an easy way out of this decision. It’s not the mess that say, the Ryan Howard extension is for the Phillies. It’s not the sort of crippling move that could kill the Padres for years.

A: True. But that’s hardly a defense. There’s simply no way this is a good decision. The good decision is to just sign everyone with major league upside, costs be damned. Get a ton of young talent going, and become the Rays of the NL. If Kevin Correia‘s 2009 season was enough to pay for most of Stephen Strasburg‘s draft bonus, that’s an incredible market inefficiency to exploit. It sounds like a lot of money, but if two of Whitson/Cates/Barbato/Vanegas panned out, then the Padres wouldn’t need to spend a bunch on Jon Garland types. The Padres didn’t sign everybody, and they most importantly didn’t sign their best draftee. The question is how bad of a decision this is, how easily it can be corrected, and how likely Hoyer is to correct it. How bad is it? Pretty bad, but not the sort of thing that will turn the Padres into the Astros by itself. How easily can it be corrected? Easily; just draft another high-upside arm with the 11th pick next year and sign him. How likely is Hoyer to correct it? It’s anyone’s guess; he doesn’t have much of a track record on it, but the one major item on that track record doesn’t inspire confidence.

So, that’s my sort of mental back-and-forth, alternately being frustrated with 2010 and placated/intrigued by the possibilities of 2011. Feel free to add any aspects of this situation I’ve missed/overlooked, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.