Free agent or draft pick? It's hit or miss proposition

January 04, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

The Major League Players Association, if not the owners, has recognized the potential impact of losing top draft choices as a result of signing free agents.

In an effort to encourage movement, the players insisted in the last labor negotiation that teams ranking in the lower half of the combined major-league standings now give up a second-round pick rather than a No. 1. Teams losing Type A free agents (many of whom are not impact players) also are compensated with a supplemental pick between the first two rounds.

Acquiring a surplus of draft choices is not necessarily a guarantee that teams will be successful in the long run. But there is evidence that success comes to those who build from within. Because draft choices are nameless at the time, little attention is paid to the compensation issue when free agents change teams.

The California Angels, for instance, had five No. 1 picks and two supplemental choices in 1986, but few people realize they wouldn't risk one of those picks on Bo Jackson.

At the other extreme, the Oakland A's were able to gamble one of their three No. 1's to take Todd Van Poppel, rated the top prospect in the country last year.

The A's have been particularly successful with additional draft choices. By contrast the Yankees have had only two No. 1 picks since 1978, and haven't won since 1981.

For the most part, the Orioles have gotten mileage out of the free agents they have signed, but not without paying a price. In 1981, when they signed role players Jim Dwyer and Jose Morales, they lost any opportunity to select Frank Viola, Tony Gwynn, Mark Langston, Sid Fernandez, David Cone, Sid Bream and Tony Benzinger -- all of whom were available through the second round. Four years later, after they added Fred Lynn, Lee Lacy and Don Aase, the players available were Bobby Thigpen, Randy Johnson, Mike Schooler and Dave Justice.

The big hits on the free-agent market came in 1981, the fourth year compensation was a part of the system.

Houston picked up Joe Morgan and Nolan Ryan, the Yankees signed Dave Winfield and the Angels drafted pitcher Dennis Rasmussen.

By contrast, there have been plenty of misses:

* 1979 -- The Angels signed pitcher Jim Barr, and in return the Giants drafted pitcher Scott Garrelts.

* 1981 -- The Cardinals signed catcher Darrell Porter, and the Royals drafted pitcher Mark Gubicza. The Rangers signed infielder Bill Stein, and the Mariners drafted pitcher Mark Langston.

* 1983 -- The Yankees signed Don Baylor, and the Angels drafted Wally Joyner. The Giants signed outfielder Joel Youngblood, and the Expos drafted pitcher Brian Holman.

* 1985 -- The Padres signed pitcher Tim Stoddard, and the Cubs drafted first baseman Rafael Palmeiro. The Pirates signed outfielder Sixto Lezcano, and the Phillies drafted pitcher Bruce Ruffin.

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