Would you trade your top draft choice ?

Speculation over possible trades before the July 31 non-waiver deadline is a fun part of the baseball season. Teams with a chance to play in post-season may become buyers and their fans salivate over the possible acquisition of Cliff Lee (Seattle), Roy Oswalt (Houston) or Dan Haren (Arizona). Teams that are falling out of contention can become sellers and possibly stock their farm system with prospects that can help the team in the future. Teams on the bubble, like the Chicago White Sox, have a difficult decision to make – and even that can lead to some wild speculation. Yes, this is like taking the entire hot stove season and compressing it into a single month of rabid speculation and debate. The best part is that everybody gets to play.

This brings me to the hottest debate in Cardinals Nation – Cliff Lee or Dan Haren ? I’ll leave it up to the experts with their walls of charts and statistics to debate which of the two would be the better fit. Instead, I want to look at what the Cardinals will be asked to give up, just to start the discussions for either of these top of the rotation guys. The negotiations will begin with Shelby Miller and go from there. Would you trade Shelby Miller and the six years of team control that comes with him for either three months of Cliff Lee or the salary burden of Dan Haren for the next two seasons ?

Our friend and baseball historian, Bill Ivie, said “… give me a known major league arm over a hot ‘can’t miss’ prospect. I’ll take my chances.” OK, let’s put Bill’s statement to the test and see what we can learn.

Since 1980, the Cardinals have drafted 23 pitchers in the first round.  Of these, the last four are still developing and there is not enough information to form any conclusions, although I suspect that if somebody suggested Adam Ottavino straight up for Cliff Lee,  the excitement in Cardinals Nation could not be contained. The four “too early to tell” pitchers are

Seth Blair (2010) – RHP

Tyrell Jenkins (2010) – RHP

Shelby Miller (2009) – RHP

Adam Ottavino (2006) – RHP

The remaining 19 have played out their professional careers, although one of them is still lurking in the shadows, hoping to be called into action soon.  This gives us a chance to see what happens when a pitcher is drafted in the first round, and how often that player helps a team get into post-season.

Chris Lambert (2004) – RHP – After an impressive start in A ball, Lambert failed to develop in AA.  He was eventually the player to be named later in the Mike Maroth deal, and I think that says enough about his contributions to the Cardinals.  He did play in 14 major league games for Detroit and Baltimore.  Lambert is currently out of baseball.

Justin Pope (2001) – RHP – After an impressive year with Peoria in the Midwest League (A), Pope ran into trouble in AA and soon became a Yankee where he bounced back and forth between AA and AAA.  Pope is out of baseball.

Blake Williams (2001) – RHP – never made it beyond A ball.

Chance Caple (1999) – RHP – A tall right hander, every scout’s dream.  He never made it past A ball.

Braden Looper (1996) – RHP – An example of the new pitcher of this century: a frighteningly high ERA, never dominating but somehow just good enough to hang on until his team can come back and win.    Looper had some success as a closer and turned his career around and had some success as a starter.   72-65 career, 103 saves.   The Cardinals had their choice of Jeff Suppan and Braden Looper when Kyle Loshe went on the disabled list and chose Suppan.  I think that says it all.    Currently out of baseball.

Matt Morris (1995) – RHP – 11 big league seasons with a 121-92 career record.  Came in second to Scott Rolen for Rookie of the Year in 1997.  Lost some time due to injury but came back as the ace that we always hoped he would be be.  Morris was the Adam Wainwright of his era – the guy you wanted on the mound if you needed a big win.  Morris never had a losing season in St. Louis.

Bret Wagner (1994) – LHP – At one time,  ranked by Baseball America as the #84 prospect.  Wagner never made it past AA.

Alan Benes (1993) – RHP – Younger brother of two time Cardinal, Andy Benes.  He was supposed to be the better of the two Benes brothers, but arm troubles ended his career before we could find out.  A short major league career with flashes of brilliance.   The Cardinals also had a third Benes brother  in their system for a while.   Adam did not make it past AA.

Sean Lowe (1992) – RHP – A local kid from Mesquite, Tx.  He never developed in the Cardinals system and was eventually traded to the White Sox for a minor league pitcher that hit his ceiling at AAA .  Seven big league seasons with a career record of 23-15.  His best years were with the White Sox in long relief and as a spot starter.

Allen Watson (1991) – LHP – A tall lefty that was supposed to be the next Joe Magrane.  Baseball America ranked him as high as #9 in 1993.  Watson gave the Cardinals 4 years as a starter and was a better hitter than pitcher.  We heard all about his development through the farm system, but he turned out to be a left handed Todd Wellemeyer.  An 8 year major league career with 6 different teams.  Finished with a 51-55 record and 5.03 ERA.

Brian Barber (1991) – RHP – Ranked in the top 100 by Baseball America for three different seasons and as high as #30 in 1994.  Barber was a strikeout pitcher, averaging over a strikeout per inning several times in his minor league career.  He did make it to the majors and played in 26 games.  Over 4 seasons with St. Louis and Kansas City, Barber had a career record of 5-8, mostly as a starter.

Donovan Osborne (1990) – LHP – Another “can’t miss” prospect.  Osborne was twice ranked by Baseball America in the top 50.  Osborne did have a long major league career, mostly because tall lefties that can throw strikes are always in demand.  He compiled a record of 49-46 record over those 9 years.  His best year was 1996 when he went 13-9 with a 3.53 ERA (a career best).  A high WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched)  and inability to keep the ball in the park (over 1 home run per game allowed) kept Osborne as a back of the rotation hurler for most of his career.

John Ericks (1998) – RHP – Gargantuan super hard throwing right hander.  A can’t miss prospect, if there ever was one.  Ericks washed out in the Cardinals system.  The Pittsburgh Pirates tried him as a starter and then as a closer – neither worked.  3 major league seasons in Pittsburgh with an 8-14 record.

Brad DuVall (1988) – RHP – never made it out of A ball.

Cris Carpenter (1987) – RHP – Not that Chris Carpenter, but was supposed to be that Chris Carpenter.  Arm troubles plagued his career, but he did play in 8 major league seasons, compiling a 27-22 record, mostly out of the bullpen in long relief.   This Cris Carpenter was more Brad Thompson than that Chris Carpenter.  In one of those “you can’t make this stuff up” coincidences, Cris was originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays, the same team that drafted that Chris Carpenter in 1993.

Joe Magrane (1985) – LHP – Injuries cut short a very promising career.   Magrane was part of the 1987 Port Siders Club when the Cardinals  had three, and sometimes four, lefties in the rotation (John Tudor, Greg Mathews plus  spot starts from Rick Horton, Dave LaPoint and Tim Conroy). Big Joe came in third in Rookie of the Year voting.  Followed up his rookie campaign with an incredible ’88 and ’89 season. Lost a year due to injury and never recovered.  8 big league seasons and a career mark of  57-67 with 3 different teams.

Mike Dunne (1984) – RHP – Traded to Pittsburgh as part of the  Andy van Slyke for Tony Pena deal. One monster year in 1987.  Dunne came in second in Rookie of the Year voting behind Benito Santiago.  Joe Magrane would come in third and Greg Mathews would finish sixth.  After his sensational rookie season, things fell apart.  5 major league seasons and a 25-30 record, mostly as a starter.

Todd Worrell (1982) – RHP – Broke onto the scene in late 1985 and solidified a bullpen that helped the Cardinals finish one of the best pennant runs in their history.  Worrell was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1986.   The big right hander had an electric fastball, a devastating slider and became one of the best closers in the game.  Worrell developed serious arm trouble and it cost him 2 years out of what would have been the prime of his career.  It took him a while, but he reinvented himself and had further success as a closer with the Dodgers.  256 career saves, twice led the league (once with Cards and once with the Dodgers).  He had 30 or more saves in six different seasons.

Don Collins (1980) – RHP – never made it out of A ball.

What have we learned from all of this ?  Of the 19 pitchers drafted in the first round, only two of them were long term contributors to the big club.  Todd Worrell was instrumental in two different postseason runs for the Cardinals and one more later in career with the Dodgers.  Matt Morris was one of the best right handed pitchers in the last 15 years and helped the Cardinals get into postseason five different times,  including the 2004 World Series.  Two more helped the Cardinals get to postseason, although their contributions were rather short lived.   Joe Magrane pitched in some big games  in 1987 and if we really broaden the definition of “help”, Braden Looper contributed in 2006 as a setup guy to Jason Isringhausen and Adam Wainwright.

Although my initial reaction was quite different, I have now come to agree with Bill.  Only 1 in 10 pitchers drafted in the first round have had any long term contributions to the major league club.   Maybe Shelby Miller is another Todd Worrell or Matt Morris, but the odds are significantly against that.   We know what a Dan Haren or Cliff Lee would mean to a late postseason run.  A 1 in 10 bet versus a sure thing (as much as a sure thing can be for a major league pitcher) ?  I’ll take the sure thing any day.

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4 Responses to Would you trade your top draft choice ?

  1. Bill Ivie says:

    Great work, sir, and thanks for giving me a shout out.

    I remember getting Watson’s autograph as a young man in St. Louis. He was, I believe, 6-0 at the time in his rookie year.

    “Can’t miss” does not apply to anyone that ever played the game…veteran or rookie. Sometimes you take a chance. Sometimes you get a Mulder, other times you get Big Mac…that’s one of those things that makes you say “That’s what I love about this game.”

    – Bill Ivie


  2. Erika says:

    Fantastic list!! Shows how uncertain a player’s future can be — especially a pitcher. First round doesn’t guarantee a better future performance, just as 13th round draft selection failed to reflect the potential of Pujols.

    Seeing it all spelled out puts the ‘risk’ of trading Shelby Miller into a more well-rounded perspective. Thanks for clearing through a lot of the hype!

    Always appreciate your take on things. =)
    Thanks for taking the time to share!


  3. Pingback: Rethinking the Shelby Miller for Roy Oswalt trade « Throatwarbler's Blog

  4. Pingback: Matt Adams and the upcoming trade deadline | On the Outside Corner

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