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Dream DraftBA staffers try their hand at team-building
by Will Lingo
What if you really could take the best player available?
That's what it came down to with the Baseball America Dream Draft, our effort to put a BA spin on the construction of a major league roster.
We considered several possibilities when trying to develop this idea, concluding a straight ranking of the best players in the major leagues was too straightforward and probably not very enlightening, while assembling a roster with players using their current contracts was too complicated.
So what we ultimately came up with was the Dream Draft, in which 10 BA staffers gathered to pick a roster of any 10 players from the baseball universe. So it's a top 100 in its way, but it's significantly affected by the personal preferences of the 10 people picking.
The essence of the idea was that each person just took the 10 players he rated the highest on his draft board at the time. We weren't building teams or lineups, just a core of the best players possible. So individuals could draft a catcher or shortstop if they valued middle-of-the-diamond players, but didn't have to reach for a catcher just because their team needed one. In that way we hoped to avoid the run on positions because of scarcity that is endemic to any fantasy draft--though we did use the serpentine style of most fantasy drafts.
As always, though, people wanted more information. Am I picking just for this year? Am I picking for five years out? Ten years out? So our instructions were: "Pick the always beloved best player available, recognizing a player's present value but, as in all things BA, casting an eye to the future. So don't draft a bunch of prospects who won't play in the big leagues for a few years, but also don't draft a bunch of guys who will be dead in a year. Think of a window of, say, 2006-2011."
A player's salary also wasn't an issue, so as much as we could we boiled it down to pure major league talent. We drew a draft order, did our homework and gathered together in a conference room, and here's what we came up with.
J.J. Cooper drew the first pick, followed by Aaron Fitt, and almost immediately the debate boiled down to two players: Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez. Cooper settled on Pujols because he's younger, which presented the first quandary of the draft: Fitt, a Massachusetts native and lifelong Red Sox fan, was loathe to take the hated A-Rod, but eventually gritted his teeth and took him.
The rest of the first round fell pretty much without surprises, though Will Lingo's selection of Twins catcher Joe Mauer drew a few groans from people who had hoped he would fall a little bit further.
Some wondered about Jim Callis taking Cubs righthander Mark Prior and Marlins outfielder Jeremy Hermida so early, but the first truly controversial pick of the draft came early in the second round when Chris Kline took Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. The debate over Zimmerman's value in this draft is indicative of a larger office divide over his value, so now Kline has firmly staked out "Zimmerman as future star" territory.
The first (printable) pointed comment of the draft came when Cooper took Brewers righthander Ben Sheets in the third round, prompting Callis to quip, "I hope you've got a good team doctor." Several picks later Callis took Blue Jays righthander Roy Halladay, prompting several similar retorts from around the conference table.
Callis also prompted a lot of discussion by taking Justin Upton--an inarguable talent as the No. 1 overall pick in last year's amateur draft but someone who hadn't set foot on a professional diamond yet--with the last pick of the third round. Callis said he was striking back at Alan Matthews, who took Delmon Young right before Callis in the first round.
As Callis' focus on Young and Upton showed, he went for prospects more than anyone else in the draft, in spite of going into the process with the opposite intention (see box, Page 20). This also made him the flash point for most of the in-office discussion of the draft.
The best line in the draft room may have come after Callis took two Diamondbacks prospects with his back-to-back picks in the fifth and sixth rounds: first baseman Conor Jackson, for whom power is a question, and shortstop Stephen Drew, who raised questions about his grit in college by missing a lot of time with nagging injuries.
"Those are the Wizard of Oz picks," Will Kimmey said. "You got one with no strength and one with no heart."
Kimmey also shot a quip at Matthews at the beginning of the draft, when Matthews walked in with his laptop computer, calling him the Paul DePodesta of the Dream Draft. That was amusing on its face, but even moreso because Matthews is probably the least sabermetrically inclined member of the staff. He showed that by picking 19-year-old Marlins pitching prospect Chris Volstad in the 10th round.
The good-natured zinging continued throughout the draft, and the only real drama of the process came as the draft wound down and John Manuel continued to not pick Athletics closer Huston Street. Manuel's love affair began when Street pitched for Team USA in 2002, and it has only grown in the succeeding years as Street has continued to prove himself.
Yet here we were in the later rounds, when Street's selection was justifiable, and Manuel was still going against his instincts. The buzz grew in the eighth round when he took C.C. Sabathia, and the peer pressure was even greater when he took Carlos Quentin (another personal fave) in the ninth.
Kline finally pulled the trigger on Street with the next pick, causing Manuel to second-guess himself for the rest of the day. The only more predictable occurrence was Fitt second-guessing his selections even before the draft ended, as he declared in the seventh round: "I hate this team."
In the end, everyone (other than Fitt) ended up pretty happy with the roster he took out of the draft room. Judging from the spirited discussion it generated around the office, the Dream Draft turned out to be an interesting conceit.
Was it a little self-indulgent? Sure, but by limiting ourselves to 10 players and focusing on not building a lineup, we hope to emphasize that we do not fancy ourselves as general managers. We're just 10 people much like you, who really enjoy slicing and dicing the value of players in as many ways as we can think of.
In the pages that follow, you can find analysis of the draft pick by pick and team by team, done by the staff members who participated. We don't think we came up with all the answers by any means, however. So we encourage your participation. You can go to BaseballAmerica.com and place your votes for the best and worst Dream Draft rosters, and let us know how your selections would have differed from ours.
We're not trying to settle a debate, just start one. And the most fun thing of all is that soon enough, those box-score lines will start showing up again, and the games and players will provide all the answers.