There have been a few positives that have come out of a 100+ loss season. There has been the development of players like Jeff Samardzija, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and Welington Castillo. There has been the defense and possible Gold Gloves from Darwin Barney and even Alfonso Soriano. There has been the resurgence of the farm system, particularly at the lower levels. Just as importantly is that the Cubs have pared down their payroll, and with a full year's knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the team, they are now in position to accelerate the rebuilding process. Some of that will be through trades and free agencies, as we've noted in the first two parts of our offseason series, but today we'll take a break from that to discuss another asset the Cubs have acquired: the 2nd overall pick in the draft -- and the options that come with it.
The first option is that theoretically, the Cubs should get a better player at the 2nd pick than they will at the 3rd. They will certainly have their choice of all but one of the players from the 2013 amateur draft class. If the draft were held today according to most early draft boards, that player would be U. of Arkansas RHP Ryan Stanek. Because the #1 pick is held by the Astros, and they've already passed on the guy many felt was the top talent, Stanford RHP Mark Appel, when he didn't take a lesser deal. So it's also possible that the Cubs will get a crack at Appel, who is once again the consensus top overall talent with that 2nd pick. The hunch here is that he will still be available because I expect the Astros to take a similar strategy as last season. If you recall, they took a lower rated player (Carlos Correa) who agreed to a lesser deal to save money for later in the draft. History suggests it's doubtful Appel would agree to that and I'm not sure Ryan Stanek would agree either. The Cubs may even get their choice.
The question then becomes, would the Cubs take the same strategy and take a lesser player in order to save some money for a "signability" pick later in the draft?
Last year the Cubs took Albert Almora, the player whom they believed to be the best available at #6. Most observers felt he was ranked in the Cubs top 3 overall. Rather than select a lesser prospect, they took Almora, knowing full well his agent, Scott Boras, would demand all the money set for his draft slot and more.
But that also brings up another interesting thought. What if the Cubs had, for example, the 3rd or 4th pick? Would they still have picked Almora? The Cubs had him rated at least that highly, so the answer is likely yes, but the question then becomes would they have tried to sign him for less knowing that he would not have gone until the 7th or 8th pick if they didn't pick him at #3?
We're assuming right now that, if nothing changes, the Cubs will end up with one of the consensus top two players in the draft, both of them college arms. If they feel that Appel and/or Stanek are the best players available then I believe they'll take one of them and worry about re-allocating pool money later in the draft. You have to take the guy you feel is the top impact player when you get the chance. Entire drafts can be made successful if you can land just that one special player. They don't come around very often.
But what if they don't have those guys ranked as their top players, or what if they just feel the choice isn't that clear cut? What if they believe Indiana State LHP Sean Manaea or U. of Florida RHP Jonathan Crawford is the better (or at least equal) choice. Both pitchers aren't expected to be in the top two at this point, so perhaps they'll take a fraction of the 2nd pick pool money. Last year the 2nd pick slot was worth $6.2M while the 3rd pick was worth $5.2M. Using those figures, the Cubs could tell Manaea, for example, that they'll pick him if he signs for $5.2M, otherwise they'll take another player who they have rated about the same. Manaea could agree knowing that it if he doesn't, he'll fall into the $5.2M slot anyway -- and with players such as Austin Wilson, Austin Meadows, Jonathan Crawford, and Clint Frazier (not to mention one of either Appel or Stanek) likely to be on the board, it's no guarantee he'd even get picked that high. Appel found that out the hard way last year. If Manaea would agree to such a deal, that would mean the Cubs would have an extra $1M to spend on an extra player later in the draft.
So the decision comes down to how good the Cubs think either Mark Appel or Ryan Stanek is, or whomever the consensus top talent is when the draft rolls around next year. If you think that player is head and shoulders the best player available, then you take him. If that top quality, can't miss guy isn't perceived to be there by the Cubs' brass, then perhaps they'll go the route the Astros did and take a lesser ranked player and try to spread that money around lower in the draft.
One thing is for certain, the Cubs should have plenty of options and it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out when it's time to make one of their most important draft picks in recent memory.