Corey Kluber was obtained by the Indians in a three-team deal while he was at Double-A. The Cubs found Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks under minor league rocks. The Rangers signed Yu Darvish out of Japan, while the Mariners signed Felix Hernandez as a teenager out of Venezuela.
Those are examples that prove that it takes more than the draft to win.
“Building a championship team,” Indians president Chris Antonetti said, “is based around scouts and everyone in the organization working together on the draft, on major and minor league professional scouting, and in the international world.”
Cleveland has drafted well, particularly in the past five years. Internationally, they signed potential superstar catcher Francisco Mejia.
But what Antonetti refers to as “collective effort” has enabled them to acquire gems such as righthanders Kluber and Carlos Carrasco and outfielder Michael Brantley in trades. They got first baseman Carlos Santana for Casey Blake back in 2008.
The Indians also acquired supporting players such as catcher Yan Gomes and relievers Bryan Shaw and Zach McAllister in minor trades. Starter Trevor Bauer joined the organization after the 2012 season in the same three-team trade that yielded Shaw.
Granted, the Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948, and, granted, the Cleveland market size ranks among the lowest two-thirds in the game. But the Indians have worked tirelessly, knowing they cannot compete with the high-revenue teams for free agents or in the international market. While Major League Baseball has tried to level the economic playing field, small markets do not have the access to elite talent the way markets in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Boston or San Francisco do.
The draft is important, especially when a team gets to pick in the top 10 overall. But it is not everything.
The Cubs have drafted well but also done well internationally. The previous front-office regime signed Willson Contreras and Jeimer Candelario, who might be a trade chip this summer. The current regime signed Jorge Soler and Gleyber Torres—who yielded closers Wade Davis and Aroldis Chapman in trades—and another potential star in outfielder Eloy Jimenez.
But look at the Cubs’ pro scouting success. They got Arrieta, Hendricks and Pedro Strop from organizations who didn’t see them as major contributors. They got Hector Rondon in the Rule 5 draft. They got it right when they traded for Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell.
The Astros have drafted well, but George Springer, Jose Altuve and Dallas Keuchel were acquired by the previous regime, which included scouting director Bobby Heck. They have done extraordinarily well with pro acquisitions. They got reliever Chris Devenski from the White Sox for Brett Myers. They got Will Harris as a waiver claim.
The Astros stole Francis Martes and David Paulino as throw-ins from the Marlins and Tigers, respectively, because a young scout named Alex Jacobs doggedly roamed the back fields in extended spring and recommended them before they got to a full-season leagues.
The Cubs, Indians and Astros are testaments to the fact that good organizations have to hit in the draft, they have to scour opposing organizations for misplaced or undervalued talent, and they have to know for whom to trade and what free agents make the most sense.
It takes a Jason McLeod to see Anthony Rizzo at the age of 18, say “he may have the best makeup of anyone I’ve ever signed.”
Winning is about depth of talent, makeup and leadership. How all that gets put together is an exceedingly complex process that might begin with the first round of the draft, but cannot be executed without the eyes and the minds and the vision of those who run the business.