Investing within

O's president isn't afraid to spend big money on draft picks

Andy MacPhail

August 22, 2008|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,JEFF ZREBIEC

In some baseball circles, Orioles president Andy MacPhail is viewed as financially conservative.

He cut his baseball teeth with the perpetually small-market Minnesota Twins. Now, with the Orioles, he is knee-deep in a rebuilding effort that has already included dealing away two of his best players for 10 cheaper alternatives.

He has also gone on record as saying, in most circumstances, he doesn't believe in giving big dollars to free-agent pitchers.

Yet MacPhail doesn't fully buy his financially conservative tag.

"Not necessarily. I think I try to pay attention to applying resources in the most efficient or effective manner," MacPhail said. "I suppose you would think that could be considered fiscally conservative. And there are areas that I have been. But there are other areas I haven't been."

While MacPhail was with Minnesota, the Twins made outfielder Kirby Puckett the highest-paid player in the game and Frank Viola one of the highest-paid pitchers.

In his 12 years with the Chicago Cubs, that club doled out several eye-popping contracts, including Sammy Sosa's nearly historic four-year, $72 million extension.

He also wasn't shy about paying handsomely for highly touted but unproven draft picks, something that seems to be carrying over to his Orioles regime.

Consider this: In the two summers MacPhail has overseen amateur signings, the Orioles have spent $14.6 million total in bonuses. In the four previous years, the Orioles spent $14.5 million, according to Baseball America.

Those numbers are a bit misleading. The $14.6 million in 2007 and 2008 includes $9.2 million for two players, 2007 first-round pick Matt Wieters (a club-record $6 million) and 2008 first-round pick Brian Matusz ($3.2 million). In contrast, the Orioles spent $1.3 million on draft picks in 2004, partially because they didn't sign top pick Wade Townsend.

This year, the Orioles signed 36 of 50 draft picks (and five nondrafted free agents) for a total of $6.9 million in bonuses, the 10th-highest in the majors. They would have been in the top seven had they signed a couple of high school pitchers - including Gaithersburg High's Kevin Brady - who decided at last week's deadline to attend college.

Last year, the Orioles' $7.7 million in signing bonuses was the most spent in the league. According to Baseball America, in the previous four years, the Orioles didn't crack the top 10 and were last in 2004.

"As long as you can properly evaluate players and [MacPhail] feels comfortable with those evaluations, he's going to do whatever he can to give you the financial support to sign those players," Orioles scouting director Joe Jordan said. "I think that's been the process since he's been here."

Jordan wasn't always so confident, though. With Jordan's recommendation, the Orioles took two risks in 2007, selecting Wieters with the fifth overall pick and Texas Christian right-hander Jake Arrieta in the fifth round, knowing both were represented by super-agent Scott Boras and would be challenges to sign.

Within two weeks after the draft, MacPhail was hired to oversee the Orioles, and Jordan and the rest of the front office were unsure how the dealings with Wieters and Arrieta would be affected.

"I didn't really know how to react, but I felt like what was done was done and we had drafted two very talented players, one of them arguably the best player in the draft," Jordan said. "I was concerned, but I was really just curious as to how he would handle it."

Both negotiations went down to the deadline, but Wieters signed a record deal and Arrieta agreed to a $1.1 million bonus. The two are considered among the Orioles' brightest prospects.

"This year and last year, the idea was to make an investment in the infrastructure," MacPhail said. "We did reduce what the major league payroll has been, and we have been able to put that money in the infrastructure."

Pre-MacPhail, the Orioles had just one draft pick receive a bonus of more than $2.5 million - left-hander Adam Loewen ($3.2 million). The Cubs had four draft picks receive signing bonuses of $2.5 million or larger while MacPhail was there.

Paying big money to amateurs, however, doesn't guarantee success. In fact, none of the four Cubs who received $2.5 million or more bonuses under MacPhail - Mark Prior, Corey Patterson, Lou Montanez and Bobby Brownlie - is still with the franchise.

The philosophy has an inherent risk, MacPhail said. But he'll assume it, compared with the cost incurred by filling holes with free agents.

"As a club, it's easy to spend a couple extra million [for draft picks] opposed to what it costs in major league free agency," he said. "All of a sudden, the risks look more attractive, even though the odds are such that the vast number of players in the amateur world won't work out."

Signing and properly developing draft picks, MacPhail said, bolsters a franchise even if those players don't become stars. And he has brought that mind-set here.

"One of the ways to try to develop depth in an organization, in a system, is through the amateur draft," he said. "To get those players, you have to be looking for things that make sense up and down the draft."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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