What a crazy offseason it already has been for general managers, as the three longest-tenured GMs all have left their jobs, and we didn't see any of the moves coming. Atlanta's John Schuerholz (who became the Braves' GM in October 1990) and Minnesota's Terry Ryan (September 1994) have resigned, while St. Louis fired Walt Jocketty (October 1994).
That leaves San Diego's Kevin Towers (November 1995) and San Francisco's Brian Sabean (September 1996) as the only GMs who have held their current job for a decade. Oakland's Billy Beane celebrates his 10-year anniversary next Wednesday.
James named the four college first basemen who have a chance to go in the first round of the 2008 draft, though Wallace and Dykstra are more sandwich picks than true first-rounders. Smoak is a candidate to go No. 1 overall, while Alonso likely will fit into the middle of the first round. Eric Hosmer (Heritage HS, Plantation, Fla.) headlines the class of high school first basemen and could go ahead of Smoak.
We presented detailed scouting reports on all four players as part of our summer league coverage. Here's what we said:
Justin Smoak, 1b (No. 2, Team USA)
Based solely on performance, Smoak would not have cracked the list. After collecting three doubles and three home runs during Team USA’s six-game tour of the New England Collegiate League, Smoak went 20-for-102 without any more homers, finishing with paltry .223/.291/.380 numbers. The performance was atypical for Smoak, who tore up the Cape Cod League last summer and batted .315/.434/.631 as a sophomore at South Carolina. He has plus raw power from both sides of the plate and a swing that has leverage.
Changeups gave him fits this summer and he didn’t adjust quickly, often lacking balance, spinning off the ball and failing to recognize pitches consistently. He’s a poor runner but has good hands and playable arm strength and footwork at first base.
"I couldn’t pick out anything mechanically in his swing that was an obvious concern," an American League scout said. "We expect the world from this guy because he set the bar so high. In the end, it’s one summer and I think you can give that type of player a pass because he’s done so much."
Yonder Alonso, 1b, Brewster (No. 2, Cape Cod)
Alonso was the consensus choice as the Cape's top all-around hitter. He had the best approach in the league, and it was tested when the Whitecaps lost all of their other power threats to injuries and early departures. Alonso remained patient and continued to use the whole field, finishing with league highs in walks (36) and on-base percentage (.468) while hitting .338.
"He's more than a power bat," a second NL scouting director said. "He's a hitter with power, so that's all the better. He's pretty advanced."
Alonso has a loose, compact stroke and excellent balance, and most of his current power comes in the form of line drives to the gaps. He should become more of a home run threat once he turns on and lifts more pitches. He's a below-average athlete who could work harder on his conditioning and defense, and even then he probably still will be limited to first base.
Brett Wallace, 1b/dh (No. 7, Team USA)
The Pacific-10 Conference Triple Crown winner and a first-team All-American as a sophomore, Wallace knows how to handle the bat. He spent most of the summer batting behind Pedro Alvarez and Smoak, and made consistent contact, posting a .312 average and .345 on-base percentage. He joined the team after Arizona State was eliminated in the College World Series and homered in his first at-bat, but managed just one more homer and four doubles the rest of the summer.
He's a mature hitter who drives balls to both gaps and has mastered the backside single. He'll show above-average bat speed and average raw power in batting practice, but it didn't translate to games with wood. All his value lies in his bat, as Wallace is a below-average runner and lacks the mobility to play the outfield as a professional, so he's likely locked into a role as a first baseman or designated hitter. As a result, the development of his power will dictate his draft stock.
Allan Dykstra, 1b, Chatham (No. 16, Cape Cod)
Dykstra also was back for his second stint on the Cape, and though his home run total dropped from seven to five, he was more impressive this time around. He improved his batting average 76 points to .308 and started hitting the ball to the opposite field with authority. He's a huge (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) lefthanded hitter with lots of raw strength and lift in his swing. His bat will have to carry him because he's limited to first base.
The second question is easier to answer than the first. I would take them in this order: Justin Upton, B.J. Upton, Delmon Young, Chris Young. (And just to clarify, though most of you know this, the Uptons are brothers but the Youngs aren't related.)
Justin will be the best hitter of that foursome. I think B.J. will produce a little more offense in the long run than Delmon, and he'll be a better defender. Chris comes in fourth, though I'd no longer be surprised if he wound up surpassing Delmon.
Both Uptons and Delmon Young have superstar potential, while I think Chris Young will max out as a star. So if I have to choose a pair, I'll take the Devil Rays, B.J. and Delmon. In a quick survey of the BA office, John Manuel concurs with me while Will Lingo and Alan Matthews opt for the Diamondbacks.
There are two groups of arbitration-eligible players, those eligible for free agency (because they have six or more years of major league service time) and those who are not.
With Type A (in the top 20 percent at their position, as determined by a statistical ranking) and Type B free agents (in the 21-40 percent bracket), teams can get compensation for them if they sign elsewhere—but only if they offer them arbitration. They have to weigh that decision versus the risk of having the player accepting and possibly landing a hefty one-year salary that the club didn't want to pay for.
This happened to the Braves after the 2002 season, when they offered Greg Maddux arbitration in anticipation of getting first-round and supplemental first-round picks when he departed. But Maddux accepted, and Atlanta wound up paying him $14.75 million for 2003. When he became a free agent again after that season, the Braves didn't offer him arbitration and got nothing when he signed with the Cubs.
When the arbitration-eligible player doesn't have potential free-agent compensation attached, the decision comes down to his expected salary after arbitration versus his worth. Most of the time, teams will nontender lesser players rather than risk going to arbitration with them. Rather than overpay, the club will either re-sign the player to a lesser deal or find a cheaper option elsewhere.