Friday, February 4, 2011

Did the Compensation Rule Cost the Brewers MikeTrout?

With Prince Fielder almost certain to leave via free agency after the 2011 season, the Brewers knew they needed to make some aggressive moves in order to make one last run at achieving postseason glory.  In doing so, they decided to address their most glaring weakness:  their starting rotation. 

On December 5th, they made their first move by trading second base prospect Brett Lawrie (37th on Keith Law's top 100) to Toronto in exchange for SP Shaun Marcum.  Two weeks later, the Brewers let the whole league know they were going "all in" for 2011 when they completed a blockbuster trade in which they received 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner Zach Greinke from the Royals in exchange for SS Aclides Escobar and three minor league prospects.  While both of these trades were mutually beneficial to all parties involved, it gutted the Brewers farm system.  When Keith Law released his Top 100 prospect list a couple of weeks ago, the Brewers were the only team in baseball that did not have a single player on the list. 

The funny thing is that it didn't have to be this way.  According to Tom Hardicourt of the Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal, the Brewers could have drafted consensus number one prospect Mike Trout.  Trout was selected with 25th pick in the 2009 amateur draft by the Angels.  That pick originally belonged to the New York Yankees, and was initially awarded to the Brewers as compensation for losing C.C. Sabathia via free agency.  Unfortunately for the Brewers, they never had the opportunity to use that pick.  Why?  Hardicourt explains:
"Later that off-season, the Yankees signed free-agent first baseman Mark Teixeira, who had played for the Angels. Because Teixeira was a higher-ranked Class A free agent - the only one rated above Sabathia that winter - the Angels inherited New York's first-round pick and the Brewers were bumped back to fill the Yankees' second-round slot, the 73rd pick overall."
 "(The compensation rules) hurt us that particular year," said Brewers general manager Doug Melvin. "The only player we could lose that (first-round) pick on was Teixeira, and the Yankees signed him. We thought that was an unfair part of the system."
Yeah, the compensation system is a little unfair, but a few teams get screwed every year.*  It's the nature of the beast.  I doubt the Brewers would've been upset if their position with the Angels had been reversed.  Still, it couldn't have been enjoyable to lose the first round compensation they were owed for Sabathia all because the Yankees decided to sign Teixeira as well. 

* The Blue Jays got really screwed in 2009.  They received the Yankees third round pick because he was rated lower than both Teixeira and Sabathia.

As Hardicourt mentions, instead of receiving the 25th overall pick, the Brewers received the 73rd pick (plus the 39th pick in the "sandwich" round).  While they weren't compensated in the manner they would've preferred, they were still pretty well compensated.    

The problem with the premise of Hardicourt's argument is there's no way of knowing whether or not Brewers would've selected Trout with the 25th pick.  While Brewers Scouting Director Bruce Seid stated they had him "rated high as an impact player with tools," he would not comment as to whether they would've used that slot to select the top prospect.  Furthermore, GM Doug Melvin goes on to say:
"Whether he would have been the pick, I can't say for sure, but there's a good possibility," said Melvin. "I know Trout was on the board for us."
Unless Hardicourt has insider information he's not sharing, it's pretty clear that he's speculating, pure and simple.  Yes, the Brewers could've selected Trout with the 25th or 26th pick in the draft, but it's just as possible they could've passed on him like the previous 24 teams did.  Playing the "what if" is fun, but it doesn't solve the issue the Brewers have with regards to their farm system's depth.  The fact they missed out on an opportunity to draft Trout is unfortunate, but that's the way the cookie crumbles.  Sometimes life isn't fair.

The compensation system (and possibly the amateur draft) that's currently in place will almost certainly be one of the key topics that come up during the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations.  Players, agents, and some front office executives are unhappy with the current process, and will likely push for it to be changed.  As it currently stands, the compensation system in place will become obsolete when the CBA expires on December 11, 2011.

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