Tanking. It’s a word that sports franchises hate. It implies that they aren’t trying to win at the highest level. And the reason that they are doing so is because they want a high draft pick in order to gain access to what should be a higher quality player that can turn around the franchise. In basketball, one superstar can carry a franchise quite far. We’ve seen LeBron James carry your cousin Frank and his buddy John to the NBA finals. In football an elite quarterback can take a team from the have-nots to the haves rather quickly.

In baseball it’s much tougher. No single player is valuable enough to change a franchise like that. In Cincinnati we’ve seen it first hand. Joey Votto is arguably the best hitter in baseball over the last eight years. Over the last four years the Reds haven’t sniffed a winning season, much less made the playoffs. The Angels have had the best player alive for the last six seasons. Mike Trout has been the best player on the field every single one of those seasons. The Angels have had three winning seasons in that span and made the playoffs just once. Landing one player does not turn around a franchise like it can in other sports.

And yet, despite everyone knowing that, Major League Baseball is in an era where it seems that teams are fighting to finish at the bottom. In theory, yes, drafting higher does give you access to the better talent. But in practice, well, that’s another story. Among the Top 10 position players according to Fangraphs version of WAR in 2017 who were drafted (non-international signees), here’s where they were drafted:

  • Aaron Judge: #32 overall
  • Anthony Rendon: #6 overall
  • Giancarlo Stanton: #76 overall
  • Mike Trout: #25 overall
  • Kris Bryant: #2 overall
  • Joey Votto: #44 overall
  • Charlie Blackmon: #72 overall
  • Tommy Pham: #496 overall
  • Francisco Lindor: #8 overall
  • Corey Seager: #18 overall

Nine of the ten players were taken in the Top 76 picks – the second round or higher. Only Tommy Pham went lower, and he went in the 16th round. His 2017 season was the first full one of his career and came at age 28. He’s a strange outlier to this group. Six of the ten players were taken in the first round. None of this is surprising. The best players do tend to be drafted high. But only one of those players was taken in the Top 5: Kris Bryant.

That, of course, is only looking at the position players. But what about the pitchers? Does that tell us a different story? Let’s look and see where the Top 10 pitchers were drafted:

  • Chris Sale: 13th overall
  • Corey Kluber: 134th overall
  • Max Scherzer: 11th overall
  • Stephen Strasburg: 1st overall
  • Zack Greinke: 6th overall
  • Jimmy Nelson: 64th overall
  • Clayton Kershaw: 7th overall
  • Chris Archer: 161st overall
  • Jacob deGrom: 272nd overall
  • Aaron Nola: 7th overall

The overall story is worse among the pitchers. Sort of. You do have Stephen Strasburg mixed in there going #1 overall. And if you expand the list to 11 guys instead of 10, you also add in Justin Verlander who went #2 overall. But, among the Top 10 you have four guys taken in the Top 10 of the draft, but only one in the Top 5. Six of the players, though, were taken in the Top 15. Three of the Top 10, however, were taken after the third round.

The story here is mostly the same: The best players tend to come from the top of the draft, but they don’t necessarily come from the Top 5 picks in the draft. Among the Top 10 pitchers and the Top 10 position players according to Fangraphs WAR in 2017 only two players were taken inside of the Top 5.

Let’s take a look back over the last 10 years, starting with 2015, and see how the top pick in the draft has done, just to see how good teams have been at drafting.

2015: Dansby Swanson

It’s still very early on this entire draft class. Brendan Rogers went 3rd overall in this draft and he’s going to be 21-years-old for almost the entire 2018 season. So, things are far from settled with this draft class. With that said, Swanson doesn’t look like the best from this group. He’s reached the Majors, and he’s been a positive contributor, but he’s struggled to hit early on in his career. Meanwhile, Alex Bregman (#2), Andrew Benintendi (#7), and Ian Happ (#9) are all out to better starts in the Majors.

2014: Brady Aiken

This situation is a bit of a tough one. Brady Aiken agreed to a high, slot value-ish signing bonus at #1 with the Astros, but his physical showed that his UCL in his elbow was smaller than it should be. The Astros rescinded their initial offer and made a series of lower offers and Aiken refused to sign with them. But we can look at the #2 pick that year, Tyler Kolek. He’s already missed a season after having Tommy John surgery and has a career 5.23 ERA in the minors over 134.1 innings where he’s walked 88 batters. Carlos Rodon went 3rd that year. Aaron Nola went 7th. Michael Conforto went 10th. Trea Turner went 13th.

2013: Mark Appel

One of the bigger “prospect” stories of the offseason was that Mark Appel was retiring from baseball. The Astros selected him 1st overall in 2013 out of Stanford. Kris Bryant went 2nd. Jon Gray went 3rd. But after that, the Top 16 picks in the draft have been rather unproductive thus far in the Major Leagues. There are still some promising guys in that group, without a doubt, but for the time being things don’t look so great beyond Bryant and Gray.

2012: Carlos Correa

The Astros absolutely nailed this one. There was plenty of conversation leading up to draft day as to who should go #1 between Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton. Many felt Buxton was the guy, but the Astros went with Correa, signed him to a smaller bonus and used the additional money to also ink Lance McCullers with their #41 pick. With some time from draft day, we can get a better feel for this class – though many of the high school picks are still just getting their careers started. Buxton has struggled to hit, but his base running and defense are elite and his bat has been enough to make him quite valuable. Mike Zunino has been a solid catcher in Seattle and he went #3. Kevin Gausman has been an average big league starter for the Orioles and he went 4th. The next six picks, however, have all pretty much been misses. At #11 you get Addison Russell before having to go to #18 and #19 to see Corey Seager and Michael Wacha. At #22 you get to Marcus Stroman.

2011: Gerrit Cole

You can make the argument that Gerrit Cole wasn’t the best pick to be made here. Maybe it was Anthony Rendon (6th) or maybe it was Francisco Lindor (8th). But either way, it was a quality pick. The Pirates didn’t screw it up and they landed a franchise caliber player. The next four picks, however, didn’t bring that. Danny Hultzen went 2nd overall and has never pitched in the Major Leagues. Trevor Bauer is a quality Major Leaguer, no question, but he’s never posted an ERA under 4.18 in any season of his career. Dylan Bundy is another guy who is a quality big leaguer, and he’ll be just 25 this season, but he’s posted ERA’s of 4.02 and 4.24 in his two seasons with 100+ innings in the Majors. Bubba Starlin went 5th overall that year and he hasn’t yet reached the Majors. Later on in the 1st round you could have landed George Springer (11th), Jose Fernandez (14th), Sonny Gray (18th) or Jackie Bradley Jr (40th).

2010: Bryce Harper

You want to say that this was a grand slam. And maybe it was. But, at least according to the Baseball-Reference version of WAR, Bryce Harper is only the third most valuable 1st round pick from this class. Now, it’s worth noting that he’s also the youngest from this class, so that does come into play a tad here. Jameson Taillon went 2nd overall in this draft. It took him until 2016 to reach the Majors, and he’s been solid for the Pirates in his two seasons. At #3 you get to Manny Machado – another superstar. Christian Colon went 4th overall. Drew Pomeranz was the 5th pick and he’s had a quality career as an above-average pitcher. Barret Loux went 6th, but failed his physical and eventually became a free agent later in 2010. Matt Harvey went 7th, while Delino DeShields Jr went 8th. The next three picks combined for -1.9 WAR in the Major Leagues. Two All-Stars went next. The Reds took Yasmani Grandal 12th and the White Sox landed the top player by bWAR 13th by taking Chris Sale. Later in this first round you could have also landed Christian Yelich (23rd) or Noah Syndergaard (38th).

2009: Stephen Strasburg

Viewed as a generational pitcher, it’s probably fair to say that Stephen Strasburg hasn’t quite lived up to that. But, he’s been outstanding in his career. He’s second in the draft class by bWAR and has a career ERA of 3.07 in 184 games. The next six picks, in order, were: Dustin Ackley, Donavan Tate, Tony Sanchez, Matt Hobgood, and Zack Wheeler. Then you get to Mike Minor and Mike Leake. Over the next eight picks the best of the bunch is Drew Storen – who has been a quality big leaguer, but he’s also a reliever – hardly a game changer. This draft wound up being a bit weak, particularly in the 1st round. Only four players have racked up more than 9.0 bWAR for their careers. Of course, it may have also produced the best player we’ll all ever see. Mike Trout went 25th overall in this draft and to this point in his career, he’s the best player ever. AJ Pollock went 17th in this draft and has been the 3rd best from the 1st round. The 2nd and 3rd rounds saw Nolan Arenado (59th), Jason Kipnis (63rd) and Kyle Seager (82nd) selected, and they would be 2nd, 3rd and 5th in terms of bWAR in the entire draft.

2008: Tim Beckham

The Rays took Tim Beckham 1st overall in 2008. He’s been a solid player, but hardly a game changer. Pedro Alvarez went next. Eric Hosmer went 3rd, and while he did just sign a huge contract, he’s hardly been a star to this point in his career. At #4 you get Brian Matusz who eventually became a solid reliever for a few years in Baltimore. It was the #5 pick that was a game changer when the Giants landed Buster Posey. No one else in the Top 15 has made a big mark. Brett Lawrie went 16th overall and he’s been the second most valuable player from the entire group according to bWAR. Lance Lynn (39th), Charlie Blackmon (72nd), and Craig Kimbrel (96th) went later on in the draft.

2007: David Price

Tampa Bay didn’t miss on this one. David Price has been an Ace at times in his career, and above-average for the rest of it. He’s posted a 3.22 ERA in 269 games in the Major Leagues. Mike Moustakas went 2nd overall, and while he’s been a solid big leaguer, he’s not been a real difference maker. Josh Vitters and Daniel Moskos went 3rd and 4th. Matt Wieters was a quality pick for Baltimore at #5. But you then have to jump to the 10th pick to get to another good pick, and it was a great one. That’s where the Giants took Madison Bumgarder. Later in the draft you could have landed Jason Heyward – say what you will about his recent struggles with Chicago, he’s been the 3rdnd most valuable player from this draft so far with 34.9 bWAR – just edging out Price (33.7) and Bumgarner (32.6), Rick Porcello (27th), Todd Frazier (34th), or the top guy in the draft, Josh Donaldson (48th). In the second round that year you could have also grabbed Giancarlo Stanton (76th), Freddie Freeman (78th), Jordan Zimmerman (67th) or Zack Cozart (79th). Corey Kulber was available in the 4th round that year.

2006: Luke Hochevar

The Top 12 from this draft tells us a lot about building through the draft. You can either absolutely NAIL it. Or you can be left wondering. At #3 you got Evan Longoria. At #7 you have Clayton Kershaw. The #10 pick was Tim Lincecum. At #11 you have Max Scherzer. Drew Stubbs, Andrew Miller, and Brandon Morrow also went in that Top 10, and had quality careers, but weren’t exactly franchise caliber players. And that doesn’t include top pick Luke Hochevar, #2 pick Greg Reynolds, or Brad Lincoln or Billy Rowell – also Top 10 picks that year. I didn’t look beyond the 4th round, but Ian Kennedy has been the 5th best player by bWAR from this group.

Building through the draft doesn’t work

Looking at how things have played out in recent history, the answer seems to be unequivocally, no. Sort of. The Houston Astros are seen as the smart team with the plan to follow for rebuilding. They drafted 1st overall three years in a row. Houston came up completely empty twice. They hit a grand slam the other time. But time after time we see that most of the Top 5 isn’t churning out players you can build your team around, and that you wind up seeing much better players taken between 10 and 30.

Right now it seems that teams are almost losing on purpose in order to attain that high draft pick with the hopes of hitting that grand slam. But the data shows us that you’re far more likely to hit a grounder to second base, even in the Top 5. Maybe losing on purpose isn’t the right phrasing – they would like to win with what they have, but they aren’t all actively seeking out the best players to try and win. Chasing future wins in the draft via losing now just doesn’t seem like a good plan. The baseball draft is not reliable. Landing a star isn’t easy and a lot of teams miss along the way. And even when you do land that star, it still takes a whole lot of other quality players to win.

Building through the draft does work

Trying to build through draft picks in the Top 5 isn’t a good plan. But building a winning team through the draft can work. You better not miss, though. The core of your team can come from drafting well. The Reds are proof of that – when their core was made up of Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, Mat Latos and Todd Frazier – they were building around their draft (and by trading some drafted players to acquire talent). The Astros have benefited from the draft, too. Carlos Correa was huge for them. George Springer was a 1st rounder. They used highly drafted Daz Cameron to acquire Justin Verlander. What’s worth noting here, though, is that you can build through the draft without soul-crushing losing for five years. Teams can try to win, and still build through the draft, IF they draft well. You don’t need to draft 1st or 2nd or 3rd overall. Most teams don’t do well in those spots as it is.

The Chicago Cubs rebuild was initially talked about as “through the draft”, but realistically, the big player from their drafts has been Kris Bryant. What other draft pick have they had that’s been great? They made good trades and spent a boatload of money. The Houston Astros did alright in the draft, but they had some very high profile misses, too. And it’s not like all of their stars were drafted. Jose Altuve signed for $15,000. Almost their entire pitching staff came from outside of the organization. Teams need to look beyond just the internal options. Sometimes you have to trade for a Mat Latos or a Justin Verlander. Keeping all of your guys and hoping just isn’t practical.

Wrapping it all up

At the end of the day, you can’t build a winner through the draft. Not alone. You need to draft well. But you also need to supplement those players from the outside. The Astros are the blueprint. The Cubs are the blueprint. But what those teams did was make some good picks in the draft – and not always in the Top 5 or 10, but they also made good trades. And they also spent a lot of money. And both made some poor draft picks inside the Top 10 along the way.

Try to win baseball games every year. Don’t try to lose on purpose to build through the draft. It’s a losing game. Even when it seems the teams that win are doing it – they didn’t. The drafting helped, but so did a lot of other factors along the way.

49 Responses

  1. Seadog101967

    Awesome post Doug. I could not agree more. One thing I would like to point out to you is… That 15 draft Happ/Benentendi both Cincy area players. Happ at U.C. Benentendi at Madeira. Promote the local kids…

    • KyWilson1

      Didnt the Reds draft Benentendi out of high school in something like the 20th round but couldn’t come to terms with him? If not I’ve been lying to a lot of people. Either way, he’s a Red Sox player now, hopefully he performs well but his team does not. I can’t stand Boston sports teams or their fan bases.

      • Doug Gray

        I think it was the 30th or 31st round, but yes, they drafted him out of high school.

    • CMT

      I don’t know what you meant by “promote the local kids”, but the Reds picked #11 in 2015 and you can’t trade up in the MLB draft. So they literally had no chance to draft either player.

  2. IndyRedsFan

    Doug, Good article. It prompted me to think some about the whole “tanking” thing, and I came to this conclusion.

    I really don’t believe teams “tank” to get a high pick. Here’s what I think happens.
    Once they decide they can’t win with the players they have, they do 2 things.

    1) trade any veterans that have any value for as many quality prospects as possible.
    2) then, play those prospects as soon as they are “somewhat” ready to play in the big leagues. (even if that’s a year or two earlier than optimal)

    This then results in losing. So then, losing is an outcome of a rebuild strategy, rather than the goal. It just happens to result in getting another couple of good prospects thru the early draft choices.

    I believe this is what Houston and Chicago did.

    Back to our Reds, my criticism of their rebuild approach is that they didn’t go “all in” on either of 1 or 2. One….they held on to some veterans too long after it was clear they weren’t going to win with them, and 2) they brought in aging veterans (eg: Arroyo) who took playing time from prospects who might have gained from playing…even if not totally “ready”.

    • Colorado Red

      Indy,
      Think you hit the nail on the head.
      Before the rebuild started, I told of buddy of mine (Rockies fan), that the Reds where going noway, and need to start the trading.
      They did not.
      With any luck, 2019 we are in contention for the playoffs.
      Had it been done right, it would have been now.

    • Wes

      Reds signed arroyo as a cheap inning eating option while reds whole rotation was hurt. He wasn’t suppose to make team. Yet He wasn’t that much worse than homer and better than bobsteve and reed at beginning of season. Not sure how u can be critical of that signing ?

      When trading vets- u have to have a trade partner! If not, you give players away for a mediocre return. The marlins crushed the trade market this offseason in a wave of completely imbarrassing trades! So teams filled needs for fraction of market value. Then other teams who traded- had to trade base on new market value. So pirates trade their 2 best players at below average return. I applaud Dick for not giving away talent bc if he was gonna trade- it woulda been for below value on player he’s trading.

      • AndyBado

        It’s easy to be critical of the Arroyo signing: the Reds had several young talented starting pitchers in AA and AAA or wasting away deep in the MLB bullpen (Stephenson, Reed, Mahle, Romano, even Lopez, Mella… heck they could have given Lorenzen time as a starter last year). There were so many internal options. Most young guys need time in the majors to figure things out before they are good. But instead of giving more starts to young guys without regard to performance, they gave time to an old veteran without regard to performance. There is no future value in Arroyo, but plenty in those young starters.

      • Wes

        At the time- none of those guys had figured out AAA- why waste the service time when reds aren’t ready to compete ? Arroyo was sign as a pr stunt since fans liked him and it rolled into filling a need. He wasn’t suppose to break camp.

        It sucks as a committed fan who follows more in depth that Bronson got all those innings but reality it was a good cheap alternative for reds and worked out nicely for them.

      • IndyRedsFan

        Wes, I didn’t have an issue with them signing Arroyo….I think it would have been a reasonable sign if he had been used in the bullpen as the long man. My issue was with them giving him 14 or so starts….particularly when they had Stephenson and Reed sitting in the bullpen early in the year. Both only got used about once every 10 days…Reed for a full month, and Stephenson for 2 full months.

        One or both of these guys should have been getting starts, with Arroyo “mopping up” if they had a bad one.

        Others have lamented that the Reds aren’t trading their “surplus assets” for ML ready players. I think part of the reason for this is that they aren’t sure yet which of these guys is the next Johnny Cueto and which is the next Tony Cingrani.

        If they had used the youngsters more last year, they would be further down the road on that evaluation.

      • wes

        I hear ya indy! A couple years ago the Reds were suppose to have two aces atop their rotation by now- Bobsteve and Reed.

        I felt the same way you feel today in the moment but now that I look back- it’s pretty clear neither of those guys were ready to pitch at the big league level and prob still aren’t today. It’s pretty safe to call those guys busts imo. They may figure somehting out and have decent careers, but I doubt either will ever be top of rotation guys they were projected to be. I think the reds know what they got and that’s why they played arroyo….

      • Doug Gray

        Homer Bailey was a bust at the same age as Stephenson is. And then he wasn’t. Jake Arrieta was a bust at the same age. And then he wasn’t. I don’t know how many times I need to say it, but I’ll say it again: Giving up on pitchers who are 24-25 is terrible business.

    • AndyBado

      Indy, my thoughts exactly. The high pick is an added benefit of tanking but not a main goal (or at least it shouldn’t be). I don’t really like the term “tanking” for baseball because of the connotation that it’s for draft picks.

      I’m a bit less critical of the Reds trades. They’ve made some decent trades, had some that fell flat, and have quite a few that are TBD. You can’t win them all; no team does.

      The playing time for prospects last year was inconsistent, and some veterans/non-prospects were inexplicably given a longer leash than some of the prospects. I’m still bothered by it.

      The Reds don’t have many more veterans to trade off, so they don’t have much opportunity for your #1 anymore (except maybe Gennett and Duvall/Schebler); they are brimming with AAA- to MLB-ready talent, so much so that they don’t have room for all of their guys to get playing time in the majors. They need to move to strategy of favoring present wins over long-term value.

    • Gilbert Keith Chesterton

      “Back to our Reds, my criticism of their rebuild approach is that they didn’t go “all in” on either of 1 or 2.”

      Preach it!

      They seemed hesitant to go all in when the situation dictated, opting to languish in mediocrity for a bit until accepting the fact that a reset was required.

  3. cinvenfan

    Interesting article.

    My conclusion:

    1. Rebuilding through draft does work, especially for small market teams. Being able to pick a Joey Votto, Nick Senzel or Hunter Greene definitely changes the future of any team, let alone a team like the Reds.

    2. As important as drafting is an appropiate development system. You can draft Mantle but if coaches, medical staff and organizational philosophy is not good, is extremely hard to come with a good player.

    3. At some point the rebuilding through draft needs help from outside. Again with the Reds, the Latos trade was the right move at the time (You might say they overpaid). It almost worked (sigh for the 2012 nightmare). Trading redundant/blocked pieces acquired in the draft (Grandal, Alonso) brought what was supposed to be the difference maker. Not every team can afford to sign a Jon Lester.

    4. Tanking is inevitable. One of many consequences of the Free Agent era, when a team cannot afford to keep their homegrown talent (see Royals) they have to sell it so the Yankees, Dodgers or Red Sox can buy new toys. Even then, the LA Blues haven’t won a ring in 40 years.

    At the end of the day, is a combination of good scouting , appropiate player development and lots of luck (health, Dusty-ish Managing ;), etc).

    • Colt Holt

      1. You are assuming that Nick Senzel and Hunter Greene are in Joey Votto’s category. For Senzel, he might be, but they also could have just as easily picked Kyle Lewis, who is two knee surgeries deep. How about the Phillies with Mickey Moniak? Hunter Greene has pitched a handful of pro innings…despite his talent, he has a long winding path to the bigs, let alone stardom.

    • asinghoff

      Every team could have drafted a Joey Votto since the actual Joey Votto went in the second round.

  4. Jonathan Linn

    Perhaps, in summary – a team can see huge benefits by investing in Scouting and Draft preparation. Not neccessary in securing a Top 3 pick. Would that be fair?

    • Doug Gray

      I don’t know that teams can do something to get better at scouting/draft preparation than they are capable of right now. Maybe they can.

      You’ve got to draft and develop well. But you don’t have to draft in the top 5 in order to do that, which was essentially the point that I was trying to make.

      • Jonathan Linn

        Yes agree. I thought that was your point.

        NFL and NBA teams see faster results picking in the top 5.

  5. Kap

    Very interesting. A long time ago, votto was a second round pick, not a top 5. This is why I like “safe” picks (senzel) in the top 5 instead of “high upside” picks (greene). I.hope greene works out but it will sting to see kyle wright or Mackenzie gore succeed and greene become mediocre or worse. Long story short, there is no exact science

    • Colorado Red

      Kap,
      I think a combination is a good approach.
      Take the Senzel one year, and the Greene the next.
      If Hunter works out, it is great.
      Else I do basically agree with you

    • Doug Gray

      I’ll go ahead and say that Wright was a safe pick. I can’t agree at all that Gore is a ‘safe’ pick, though. He’s a high school pitcher years away. There’s nothing safe about that.

  6. sultanofswaff

    “Keeping all of your guys and hoping just isn’t practical.” THIS.

    My hangup with the rebuild, the thing that’s keeping me from being all-in with the new GM, is that they’re now sitting on redundant prospects who cannot help the big club because there are only so many spots to go around. To look around this off-season and see quality major league players moved for prospect packages that are light by comparison to what the Reds could offer is deflating.

    • Michael Smith

      Sultan which ones were deflating? Yelich was a pretty good package, Staton involved taking on 6.7 trillion dollars.

      • Doug Gray

        Marcell Ozuna was moved for what would have been roughly 1 Reds top 10 prospect, two guys in the late teens or early 20’s and someone outside the top 30.

    • Wes

      You’re still going to finish 3-5 in central if u acquired any one of those guys. It’s not reds time so why do it ?

      I was thinking about this though- since the marlins took an embarrassing return on such high quality players-

      Reds coulda Traded for all 3. Headline Greene trammell and mahle with more filler pieces. That’s a better return then what marlins got

      • Doug Gray

        Well, you could argue finishing 3rd in the Central gets you the wild card. And it’s also going to increase your revenue because if you can finish 3rd, it means you probably won a decent amount of games, which is going to bring in more ticket sales, this year and next. And so on. The Cardinals don’t have some built in market advantage over the Reds. But they always make more money, and sell more tickets, and why? Because generally speaking they’ve won for 25 straight years. If you win, and try to win, people buy tickets, you can spend more, and it generally just keeps happening. They’ve gotten lucky a few times – they lost out on Pujols and Heyward despite their best efforts to land what turned out to be terrible contracts – but they have continuously tried to win, and it’s worked. The turnstyles kept on turning.

      • wes

        Great point doug! hope the reds follow cardinals and astros blueprint

  7. Wes

    Great piece Doug! You’re rolling!

    One thing to touch on is uniqueness of teams who are drafting. Teams like dodgers and Astros draft very well and it shows in their farm regardless of when they pick.

    Reds need to be rebuilding through draft because reds draft well. It’s their best opportunity to acquire controllable talent due to budget. I prefer the Astros way vs Cubs way. Cubs traded all their talent for short term glory. Astros developed that talent and have a substaining franchise that’ll compete for several years. Cubs window is closed or atleast closing.

    I see reds building a very deep well rounded franchise similar to Astros. And if a few guys reach close to ceiling potential- this could be a very good team for a very long time.

    This isn’t going to be reds year. I want to see them improve but also would like to see them get one more chance to pick in top 10. I’m cool w tanking but price isn’t so it doesn’t really matter

    • Doug Gray

      But do the Astros draft well? As I noted, they got absolutely nothing on their Major League team out of two different #1 overall draft picks. Now, they did eventually flip one of them in a trade, but they certainly didn’t get #1 draft prospect value by the time they did so.

      I’m not saying they draft poorly, but I’m not sure they are good, either. When they did it right, they nailed it. Correa. Bregman. But they also took Aiken and Appel between those picks.

      What the Cubs and Astros did well was use their farm to add real, legitimate talent to their big league club. While the Reds have done that with Castillo, Suarez – that’s not quite the same as adding a Verlander or Jose Quintana, who were established #1/#2 type of guys. Maybe the Reds aren’t exactly there yet, but at the same time, those types of guys aren’t exactly available whenever you want them to be.

      • wes

        They draft outstandingly well!

        2017 pick 15 Bukaukas. He was in mine and yours top 5ish? Now a top prospect
        2016 took whitley pick 17. If redrafting 2017 today whitley and senzel would be top 2 picks.
        15 took Bregman w pick 2 and he’d be a top 5 pick if redrafted today. Pick 5 was tucker- seems like he’s a winner….3rd pick was cameron and they rolled him into Cole.
        2012 Buxton was the concenus #1 by a mile. No one said Correa. Yet they took a chance and now they look like geniuses.

        No one’s gonna bat a thousand in draft. Everyone blows it. 20 teams passed on Mike Trout. Hunter Greene may never pan out or ever play in big leagues- does that make him a bad pick at 2? IDK….he’s gotta 80 grade fastball with other solid intangibles- hard to ever question that. Same with t stephenson. when I go back and look at the guys they passed on- it’s still hard to question reds making that pick.

        Sorry for blowing up your comment thread today! love this talk though

      • Doug Gray

        A year or two after the draft a lot of guys still look like “good picks”. Five years later, many of those guys, well, baseball is hard.

        I think you are misremembering 2012 a little bit. Buxton was #1 for a lot of people, but some were saying Correa.

        I’m not questioning the picks. I fully understand how insanely difficult the draft is. But that is exactly the point. You can’t rely on the draft to rebuild. You need to do a whole lot of things, along with using the draft. And that drafting 3rd instead of 9th isn’t actually all that different. But going into a season with a team projected for 73 wins, versus a team projected to win 80 games can be a very big difference.

  8. Vander

    “Try to win baseball games every year. ”

    This is one of the rare instances where I disagree with you, Doug.

    Tanking works. It’s been proven to work. Your argument is ostensibly a straw man. You’re trying to say that teams tank to secure top 5 pick in the draft, which is only one of many reasons.

    1. Yes, they want a top pick because higher picks, on average, generate higher career WAR totals. There are busts, of course. But on average, you have a higher success rate the higher you go in the draft. https://www.fangraphs.com/community/success-rate-of-mlb-first-round-draft-picks-by-slot/

    2. Winning it all requires burst financial commitments in the form of mid-season trades and expensive free agent contracts. Many teams, small markets especially, will claim that they can’t always do that (debatable, I know, but it’s what they say). Going through multiple years of saving money on payroll allows them to put money aside to spend more in future years when contention is more likely.

    3. Trading stars with only a few years on contract offers great upside. For example, look at the James Shields trade. At the time, the Padres knew that they weren’t going to contend with Shields. They traded him for Tatis, who at the time, hadn’t even made it to rookie ball yet, but oozed with potential. That trade obviously made them worse in the short term, but they ended up with a top ten prospect in baseball who could be a cornerstone player for their team for years.

    4. There’s no reason to win 80 games. None. Zero. Zilch. You get no benefit from it at all. You pick lower in the draft, often you’re spending just as much money as contenders for a lesser squad, and you’re not even sniffing the playoffs. The only types of season that the current system incentifies are ones where you win enough to go to the playoffs, or where you lose enough to pick high in the draft. If you see a pathway to sneaking into the playoffs, you go for it. Most teams do that. For example, look at the Royals, who probably should have started rebuilding a year ago, but have been trying to hold on. But if you know it’s out of reach and you’re stuck in mediocrity, trying to win is nonsense.

    If it were up to me, MLB would have a payroll floor. That would force teams to spend a good amount of money on payroll every year. It wouldn’t end tanking completely, but it would make it harder and less worthwhile. I also don’t like it that some small market teams claim poverty to keep payrolls down even when they’re valued over a billion dollars. But they have a certain profit margin they want to maintain, and it’s their business, so they can do as they will.

    But still, I think I’ve shown that tanking is about more than just high draft picks. It’s a trend in baseball right now among the smartest MLB front offices for a reason. It works.

    • Doug Gray

      I’ll address this point by point to make it easier.

      1. The link about drafting higher and all of that is true. Sort of. The odds are in your favor. But not by much. And, that original study that is linked to in the Fangraphs article was from 2012. It’s no longer available on that website that’s linked to. But, given that it was published in 2012, it means that it’s probably only looking at the history of the draft through about 2005 so it had enough time to actually give you real data. That’s a real long time in the draft. Teams are doing very, very different things today in the draft and how they evaluate talent versus how they went about it when that study is viewing information.

      I’m also not saying that teams only tank for the high draft pick, but it’s certainly a big part of it.

      2. Teams always say things like “we’ll spend this money later”, but there’s never really been any evidence that teams actually take that saved money and spend it in the future.

      I’m not saying “win it all”. I’m a big believer that once the playoffs start, even in baseball with 5 and 7 game series, that things happen and the best teams don’t always win – in fact, they usually don’t. But you’ve got to get there to have a chance.

      3. Agree and disagree at the same time. It depends on where your team is at on whether you should trade a guy. If you’re a contender, you don’t trade those guys unless someone is willing to pay the right price AND you can replace them immediately. If you probably aren’t a contender, then you can make those kind of moves without changing the odds that you are going to the playoffs.

      4. There is a benefit to winning 80 games, though. First, you’re going to sell more tickets in that season, and the next one, versus if you won 68 games. Even if that is only, say 2500 additional tickets per game, on just ticket revenue, that’s $4M a year if the average ticket price is $20 (I think it’s actually a few bucks more in Cincinnati, but it’s a round number). That doesn’t factor in any money you’d pick up because of those people spending money on parking/concessions/gear at the game. Is that worth the trade off of increasing your odds slightly in the draft? Is that enough to make up what you spent to get those extra wins? We don’t know without having the team in front of us. But, we are talking about a team projecting at 80 wins going into the year – not the year end total. The error bars on an 80-win team is what, 5-6 games in either direction based on luck in a few areas (1-run games, injuries, breakouts/guys having down years). On one side, that 80-win team could be a 75 win team and you look dumb. On the other side you are in the hunt, make a good trade on Jule 27th, win 87 games thanks to the help from your new guy and now make the playoffs. That changes the math a little bit above on tickets. Maybe now it’s 3000 tickets per game you are moving up. And maybe you win that wild card game. If it’s a home game, you get $1.5M in ticket sales for that one game. If you get another playoff game, you get that again. And again. It’s going to also boost season ticket sales, and just overall ticket sales the next season, too.

      There’s risk involved. You wind up with that 75-win team and it’s harmful. You wind up with that 85-win team and things could go really, really right.

      I think there’s a problem with baseball front offices. Yes, I do believe that they are all a lot smarter than they were 10 years ago. But I think the problem is that they want to prove how smart they are by trying to win while spending the least amount, rather than simply trying to win within their actual means. Maybe that’s on the owners somewhat, too.

  9. Cguy

    International signings have become an important part of rebuilding through the draft(s), & here the Reds have hamstrung themselves-being unable to pay more than a $300K signing bonus for an international prospect until midseason of 2019. The Reds didn’t accomplish anything of note in last season’s trading deadline, nor much in the offseason waiver wire moves, no pickups in the Rule 5 draft, nor any major trades since last season. Yet there still may be an opportunity for Williams to upgrade the Reds roster for 2018. Lots of FA still unsigned, which means probably a bunch of late roster moves just before the season starts. I think the Reds should leave Arizona with 23 players on their 25 man roster (4 sp, 7 rp, 8 position starters, & 4 bench players). It’s worth the effort to be ready to pick up another Straily and/or Gennett this spring.

    • Doug Gray

      Short of Ohtani, or the outfielder I wrote about yesterday, the guys the Reds are hamstrung on right now with their international limitations, won’t be in the Major Leagues and making a difference until the 2023-2025 seasons. While it’s not nothing, eventually those years will be here, I don’t think that’s something that is changing things too much. If one of the guys they signed that led to that turns into an above-average big leaguer, it’s a big win that was worth it.

      • Cguy

        if the Reds had been able to obtain Luis Robert last year, that would have constituted a big win. Unfortunately the Reds had to pay the penalty & lost out. Robert is ranked by some higher than Trammel & projected to make his ML debut in about 2020. Hamstrung.

  10. AirborneJayJay

    Very interesting read. Makes you put on the thinking cap. They say now in today’s baseball, finishing in the middle of the pack is the worst place to finish a season. Middle of the round draft positions in each round theoretically leads to lesser prospects than higher in the round selections for losing teams. Winning brings lower in the draft rounds selections. In small markets, or really all markets, your scouting and drafting have to be above average if you want to win.
    St. Louis seems to make it work the best. They win and have lower in the round selections, usually down in the 20’s. But they always seem to draft very well. They always seem to have a steady pipeline of talent rising. And they also seem to make the astute trade to fill a glaring need. They sign young players to extensions, and if they feel they made a mistake, they deal that extension away. Piscotty and Aledmys Diaz come to mind.
    The Reds rebuild was something that had to come about because of not good drafting at the top rounds from 2011-2014. The Reds had very few young players ready to take the place of aging stars like Bruce, Phillips, Cozart, Frazier, Cueto, etc. in 2015, 2016 or 2017. The development also seemed to be lacking. But once the Reds started to finish with lower in the standings results, followed by higher draft positions, their drafts picked up steam and quality starting in 2015. The Reds have had 3 solid draft years in a row now as a result of finishing last. Picking #5 in each round in 2018 with good selections will only enhance the farm system.
    The key to the draft isn’t always draft positioning, but quality picks wherever you do pick. St. Louis has shown the way here. The Reds have to follow suit after they start winning again and have lower in the round draft selections again that are down in the 20’s. They have to draft well, better than they did from 2011-2014, when they win too, much like St. Louis has done.

    • David

      One additional reason for winning 80 games versus 68 is that you tend to build more of a fan base with a “winning” team versus one that is out of contention day one. The Reds are losing young fans because they don’t have the patience or interest in rebuilding and draft picks that are 3-6 years away from making an impact. In other sports draft picks provide immediate hope and can be seen right away. Most fans aren’t as dedicated or invested like the people on this site.

    • Doug Gray

      Has St. Louis actually drafted well? Here’s every 1st rounder they’ve picked from 2008-2014:
      Brett Wallace
      Lance Lynn
      Shelby Miller
      Zack Cox
      Seth Blair
      Tyrell Jenkins
      Kolton Wong
      Michael Wacha
      James Ramsey
      Stephen Piscotty
      Patrick Wisdom
      Steve Bean
      Marco Gonzalez
      Rob Kaminsky
      Luke Weaver
      Jack Flaherty

      There’s some hits in there, but there are a lot of guys who never sniffed the Major Leagues.

      • AirborneJayJay

        And some they’ve traded some of those for other pieces. For usually drafting in the 20’s each round most years, they have done pretty well. You know it is more of hit & miss drafting in the 20’s Like with the extensions, if they think they made a mistake or found a better option by trade, they pull the trigger. None of this standing pat crap.

  11. AirborneJayJay

    Do the Reds still have a 40-man roster spot open after losing Labourt on a waiver claim? If so can they fill it with another reliever?
    Mariners DFA’d Shawn Armstrong, a RH reliever. M’s got him from Cleveland this winter. He had a very good minor league career in the Indians organization. A pretty decent run in limited time with the Indians in 2015-2017. So he has some decent ML experience in Cleveland’s good bullpen. Great K rate in AAA for 3 seasons (2015-2017), but the BB’s are a concern. Doesn’t give up very many HR’s. But his K rate seemed to be cut in half when he got up to ML. Maybe just a small sample size thing.
    The downside would be he has no options left.
    Reds could make a minor trade for him or wait and see if the M’s have to put him through waivers and then try to claim him. A neat little sidebar is he and his former teammate, Zack Crockett, could be the last 2 pieces for the bullpen.

    • Colorado Red

      I think they have 1 open spot on the 40 man.

  12. asinghoff

    Drafting and making good trades go hand in hand. Drafting earlier in each round gives you a better chance at a better prospect which, in turn, gives you more movable pieces to trade and bring in a better piece. On the flip side, drafting a stud player gives you the opportunity to develop, play and trade for a strong prospect return.

  13. Gilbert Keith Chesterton

    Some things that hurt the Reds’ rebuild

    Trades that didn’t work out…
    Peraza for Frazier
    Dilson for Bruce
    Fin/Reed/Lamb for Cueto
    Nothing for Chapman

    Bad decisions…
    Holding onto Chapman too long
    Holding onto Frazier too long
    Opting to let Cozart walk instead of taking whatever they could get for him

    And then there is the whole Brandon Phillips trade refusals which pretty much eliminated any chance for them to get any return for him.

  14. Jon Ryker

    You need talent, but you also need a winning mindset and an understanding of how to win. Organizations like the Reds who swim in mediocrity never get the understanding of winning throughout their system, and consistently end up with talented players who are less effective than they should be. Tanking a lot will put you in the loser mindset.

    • Tom

      I think this is hard to pin down, but I generally agree this is what has taken place this year.

      You’re seeing an organization content with having gone through a rebuild, intending to do better this year, but just not as good as they could do…because they have to wait and see on pitching.

      Arrieta, Lynn and Cobb could all come at a bargain price. The Reds should be sniffing around trying to find a reliable arm from this group for the rotation if for no other reason than the price. It will pay off, if not this year, then by next.

      Part of a small market strategy is finding a free agent at a below market cost.

      Doug’s article speaks to where the Reds are now. You can’t only rebuild through the draft.

      Take a step back, look at this group and determine who has an actual minor league track record that suggests he really can be a true playoff caliber starter, much less a stable rotation piece:

      Stephenson
      Garrett
      Reed
      Lorenzen

      Which one of these guys is really going to throw 175 innings this year or even next?

      Bailey
      Disco
      Finnegan
      Travieso

      In my opinion these two are the best hope for becoming a playoff starter in 2019, maybe even 2018 because they control the strike zone and eat innings:

      Castillo
      Mahle

      But can Castillo even stay healthy as his innings go up?

      So my point is that there is *absolutely* room for a healthy, veteran arm on this staff – right away.

      For teams to be so blase about Arrieta suggests that he must really be a pain in the rear and headed for a terrible decline.

      Not to even kick the tires on Cobb or Lynn on a 3 year deal is odd and speaks to Jon Ryker’s point, this team is in a losing mindset.

      Joey Votto is not an ageless wonder because no one is. What a waste of “gee wiz” 1 more year. “Maybe” it will all work out by next year!

      Be realistic, our pitching situation is a complete and total mess.

      Explain why the Reds feel the need to wait to fix it?

      Pitching is not where it is supposed to be by now. In that sense the plan has failed.

      Staying the course is indeed recommended, but not without some remedy for the crazy amount of uncertainty that has been around the staff for 3 years.

      If you’re not careful, you might be reminded of all the wasted years of Griffey, Larkin, Dunn, Encarnacion, and Phillips, etc, that happened because the ownership was terrible about the pitching staffs of 1997-2009. This doesn’t look much different.