Monday, May 18, 2009

Revisiting the 1992 Expansion Draft

I wrote this article about 3 weeks back, as a submission to the "Baseball Prospectus Idol" competition the guys over there were having. For those of you who didn't see that before (I only saw it thanks to a Rob Neyer link), this was a competition, in the American Idol-style, to find a new weekly writer at Baseball Prospectus. Candidates would submit an article (max: 1,500 words) to BP and they would then choose the 10 best. From there, the finalists would write a new piece every week based on the theme provided and the community would vote on their favorites. The lowest vote getter would be sent home, while the others continued on another week.

Well, the finalists have been announced, and it doesn't look like I've made it. I'm disappointed, of course, but I can't complain too much. It does mean that I can finally post the article I wrote up here without fear of it interfering with the contest (the rules allowed me to post it if I wanted, but I wanted to wait until the finalists were named). My initial draft was close to 3,000 words, so I had to cut out a lot. That actually may have harmed the quality of the piece a little, but I can't complain. I think it still managed to come out pretty well. It was an idea that I had had for a while, so it seemed worth exploring. I hope you all enjoy it...


Revisiting the 1992 Expansion Draft

In the 1992 issue of the Sporting News Baseball Yearbook, Newsday’s Joe Gergen took a look at the current state of the two recently announced expansion teams from Colorado and Florida. With only a year left to build a franchise, Gergen points out many of the issues that were still facing the clubs at the time, from scouting players who may or may not be available in the Expansion Draft to building a major league stadium to even finding minor league ballclubs with which to affiliate. It's a good look at the difficulties of bringing a ballclub into existence out of thin air.

The most fascinating piece of the article, though, dealt exclusively with the Expansion Draft. Though the article was written in early 1992, at least nine months before the draft would take place, Gergen imagined what would happen in that time, choosing not only the clubs' draft choices but also predicting which free agents they would sign in an effort to be competitive that first year.

Gergen may not have been able to predict how things would play out, but his look at an alternate history piqued my curiosity - especially since his history put Mark McGwire in Colorado throughout the late-'90s.

(Quick aside: This is what McGwire's numbers would've looked like from '97-'99 if he played in Colorado, courtesy of Baseball-Reference:

Year..Age....G...AB....R....H..2B.3B..HR..RBI...BB...BA..OBP..SLG...OPS
1997...33..156..568..108..176..32..0..69..155..120..310..434..731.1.165
1998...34..155..538..157..181..26..0..84..177..193..336..513..853.1.366
1999...35..153..548..148..172..25..1..77..184..158..314..466..785.1.251

Wow.)

It's now been over 15 years since this draft took place and, with the benefit of hindsight, we can easily say what moves would and wouldn’t have worked out. What is difficult, though, is saying exactly how that draft should have gone. Considering the rules of the draft (only one player drafted per existing club per round, the initial 15 protected players, etc.) and the secret nature of "protected player" lists, there's a little more to it than saying "Man, the Marlins should've drafted Pedro in '93!" or "The Rockies should've taken Manny!"

What is the internet good for, though, if we can't take the time to figure this out ourselves? So I did just that. Using the expansion draft rules as explained on Wikipedia, a list of active rosters from 1992 and 1993 from Retrosheet, and a "leaked" list of the protected players published in the November 13, 1992, issue of USA Today, I set about running the "perfect" draft. Instead of each team always choosing the best player available at the given draft spot, the teams would choose the player who would best fit in on that particular club. It was also important to consider the limitations of the draft when making these choices so that both teams could get the best possible lineup available. Finally, I only did the first round of the draft, since it was hard enough making those 26 picks in the first place. I also allowed each team to sign a couple of free agents, though I limited signings to players who I judged might be willing to move to an expansion city. Maybe it's arbitrary, but it seemed necessary since there was no way that Greg Maddux or Barry Bonds or Kirby Puckett would ever have landed in Colorado or Florida. A list of available free agents was compiled using Retrosheet's transactions database.

I created a spreadsheet with all the relevant information here, including the list of protected players, the list of available players, and the list of available free agents. You can also see the full hypothetical rosters I came up with (as well as Gergen's full rosters ), including the full draft and the free agent signings. In the meantime, here are the top 15 picks in the draft (with some commentary), including what team they were drafted from and how many Win Shares they earned after 1992.

1992 Expansion Draft - Revisited

1. Colorado chooses Jim Edmonds, CF, from the California Angels (302 WS)

Other more successful players like Chipper Jones or Manny Ramirez were left off the protected lists, but only because they were already ineligible for the expansion draft. Of the eligible players left off the protected lists, Edmonds is by far the best and most successful among them. With his power and range, he would be the perfect man to cover Coors Field's vast centerfield.

2. Florida chooses Jeff Conine, LF, from the Kansas City Royals (194)

3. Colorado chooses Ellis Burks, RF, from the Boston Red Sox (154)

4. Florida chooses Jamie Moyer, P, from the Detroit Tigers (179)

I can only imagine that, in 1992, people were already saying Moyer was too old to keep playing. Of course, 16 years later, he's still going. There's no way he could ever have succeeded in Colorado, though, so he goes to the Marlins.

5. Colorado chooses Al Leiter, P, from the Toronto Blue Jays (146)

6. Florida chooses Trevor Hoffman, RP, from the Cincinnati Reds (158)

Hoffman, as we all know, was actually drafted by the Marlins in '92. This time, they keep him.

7. Colorado chooses Vinny Castilla, 3B, from the Atlanta Braves (143)

8. Florida chooses Carl Everett, RF, from the New York Yankees (148)

9. Colorado chooses Dante Bichette, LF, from the Milwaukee Brewers (128)

10. Florida chooses Mark McLemore, 2B, from the Baltimore Orioles (138)

11. Colorado chooses Fernando Vina, 2B, from the New York Mets (126)

The Dodgers' Eric Young was available here, but that would prevent his teammate Tom Goodwin from getting drafted later. Vina should fit in well with the Rockies.

12. Florida chooses Miguel Batista, P, from the Pittsburgh Pirates (83)

13. Colorado chooses Robb Nen, RP, from the Texas Rangers (119)

14. Florida chooses Tom Goodwin, CF, from the Los Angeles Dodgers (50)

Goodwin may not be the most decorated player in this draft, but I think he would work out really well in Florida's outfield. With his speed and defense, I always thought of him as a poor man's Kenny Lofton. On a young team like the Marlins, he would be a quality contributor.

15. Colorado chooses Shane Reynolds, P, from the Houston Astros (93)

To round out these hypothetical rosters, I gave each team two free agent signings. As I said before, I limited the signings to players who might have realistically landed with an expansion club, so no Madduxs or Bonds or Pucketts here. These hypothetical signings are based on the actual contracts that they signed that offseason.

Hypothetical Free Agent Signings

  • Colorado signs Mark McGwire for 5 years and $28 million: by far the biggest acquisition-that-could-have-been, Mac had a terrible 1991 but played well enough in '92 to earn this nice, big contract. It's hard to say if Mac really would have left Oakland, but I think, if the money was right and the A's weren't serious enough, he would have.
  • Colorado signs Benito Santiago for 2 years and $7 million.
  • Florida signs Andres Galarraga for 1 year and $500 thousand (plus $600 thousand in incentives): Galarraga turned his career around in Colorado, hitting in the light air. His stint in San Francisco, though, shows that it wasn't a fluke. I think he would have been able to make it work in Florida as well.
  • Florida signs Wade Boggs for 3 years and $11 million: This may seem like a signing that shouldn't be possible, but, in reality, Boggs fled Boston for New York in 1993. If Florida had been the one to pursue him instead, I imagine he would've signed with them. He did sign with the expansion Devil Rays in 1998.


After all of that, the new rosters for the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies look like this:

Position

Colorado

Florida

C

Benito Santiago (FA)

Darrin Fletcher, Joe Girardi

1B

Mark McGwire (FA)

Andres Galarraga (FA)

2B

Fernando Vina, Joey Cora

Mark McLemore, Luis Alicea

3B

Vinny Castilla, Mike Blowers

Wade Boggs (FA)

SS

Jose Hernandez

Ricky Gutierrez

LF

Dante Bichette

Jeff Conine

CF

Jim Edmonds

Tom Goodwin

RF

Ellis Burks

Carl Everett

SP

Al Leiter, Shane Reynolds, Andy Ashby, Bobby Witt

Jamie Moyer, Miguel Batista, Dave Burba

CL

Robb Nen

Trevor Hoffman, Eddie Guardado


Personally, I think the Colorado team looks more dangerous, though there are some definite weaknesses. McGwire and Edmonds would keep the offense going, but there are a lot of strikeouts on the team, and the defense is pretty suspect. Even with all that power, they could have some trouble getting past that. The Marlins, on the other hand, are a more balanced team. There's some good offense in the outfield, and the pitching staff looks strong, especially in the 'pen.

Regardless, one would be hard-pressed to argue that the actual 1993 Rockies and Marlins squads were better than the ones assembled here. Sure, the fact that the Marlins went on to buy the 1997 World Series may put a damper on this exercise, but it doesn't change the fact that, with better knowledge and better choices, these two teams could have fielded much more competitive teams than they did.

7 comments:

tHeMARksMiTh said...

Nice article.

And I empathize with you on the Idol thing, and I put mine up on my blog as well. Can't win 'em all, but I like the post anyway.

jorgesaysno said...

The only problem I have with this article is that it was not longer...one of the best pieces I have read in a long time.

Well done!

chiaone said...

Just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed the article. I haven't had the chance to check out the finalists in BP's competition yet, but this piece certainly seems like it should have been worthy of consideration.

lar said...

Thanks, everyone. Glad you all are enjoying it.

As I said, it's a bummer about the BP Idol, but it's okay. If you read their selections, it's pretty clear that they were looking for more technical pieces. It's understandable.

Still, it's good to see people enjoying it anyway.

Jordi said...

Good article, except I don't know if I agree with the idea that FL would have better off keeping Hoffman if I understand you right. Hoffman was traded in the Sheffield deal. Shef was on the team when they won the WS and gave the Marlins their first real all-star and more credibility than a young closer could have given. Then, of course, Shef was moved for Piazza, who was moved for Preston Wilson, who was moved for Juan Pierre, who helped the Marlins win their second WS. Pierre was then traded for Nicky Nolasco. So technically, the Marlins return on Hoffman includes two titles and a current number 2-3 starter.

lar said...

That's fair, Jordi. I completely understand that the Hoffman trade turned out pretty well for the Marlins and, if they had it to do all over again, I'm sure they would do it again.

The main focus of this post was supposed to be on the '92 expansion draft and nothing else, so any mock decisions made here are meant to reflect a 1992 mindset. Basically, I only wanted to focus on 1992 because, once you start considering trades and draft picks from subsequent years, it gets ridiculously complicated. Maybe I should've just kept my mouth shut about Hoffman... in this exercise, though, you'd definitely want to draft Hoffman and, if the Sheffield trade were ever to present itself again, you'd hope to make it without giving up Hoffman...

Chris said...

Revisionist history is always fun. I never studied the Rockies draft, but as a Rockies fan, I did study and watch what happened. To this day, it is amazing the talent available to both clubs. If the Rockies could do it over, I am sure they would keep Asmus. As it was, they got Castilla, Bichette (trade, right?), Ashby, Girardi, EY, Holmes, and Ruffin. Maybe I am missing one or two but that's a good start. As to whether I would have preferred the McGuire to the Big Cat, I wouldn't trade now the years with Big Cat. He was great for this franchise.
Thanks for the article and a chance to reflect