Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tip For Rebuilding Teams

I wasn't bright enough to figure this one out before it happened, but I stumbled onto it so thought I'd share.

One of the problems many rebuilding teams face is the lack of minor-league talent coming up to the majors. It's tough to piece together a contender entirely through free agency (and even when you do it's easy to end up with some bad contracts in the out years). You have to get some young, cheap talent coming up, so you go to work rebuilding through the draft and the international market.

Any time you can do something to get one more piece for the future, it's quite a bonus. I stumbled onto one way in Season 17, when I took over the moribund Buffalo franchise (now Detroit). Here's what happened:

I had the #1 pick in the draft, and also thought I would get some comp picks for Type B free agents (I ended up with 4). So the basic rebuilding goal for the year (get 1 star-caliber prospect and 1 or 2 others who had a shot at ML careers) was in pretty good shape through the draft.

I also wanted the team to be much more competitive than the 49 wins my predecessor had posted in Season 16. Since I would only lose a 2nd-round pick by signing a Type A FA (the "top 16 discount"), I targeted C Richie Elder and signed him pretty early to a 4-year, $5.6MM per year deal. I figured he'd be a cornerstone of the offense for 4 seasons, that his ratings wouldn't decline much over the course of the contract, and that I might not get another chance at a Type A for a 2nd-rounder.

Richie started hot, although my team struggled as expected. I started looking around for trade possibilities. I contacted several teams about Elder and got only minor interest and a couple of so-so offers. Then I took a look at the New York Necromancers. They were clearly a team on the way up. They had a loaded farm system and needed a C. They had rookie monster Ellie Roenicke at 1B, and more importantly, nowhere to put former #19 draft pick Miguel Rivera. Seemed like a natural.

We made the deal, and I think it's worked out well for both teams. New York just missed the playoffs the last 2 seasons, but is still improving. Richie's been solid and shows no signs of slowing down. Rivera would've still been in AAA with the Necromancers (or traded somewhere else), but instead won AL ROY for Detroit last year.

Rivera isn't an All-Star. He lacks power for a 1B and needs too many days off. But he's a good fit for my ballpark...he's a switch-hitter and his value isn't based solely on his power rating. If and when my team becomes a real contender (unlike last season's crazy-lucky squad), he'll probably be a part of it. A great pickup for a cost of the #61 pick in a not-great draft.

A lot of things went right for that to fall into place. I got a fairly young FA for a pretty good price, and found a ideal trade partner. I could very easily still have Elder on the roster, which wouldn't be so bad.

I'll definitely try to pull this off again with another rebuilding team...there's very little downside in signing a Type A when the only thing it costs you is a 2nd-rounder.

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