A Tale of (the drafts of) Two Cities
Yes, Seattle is one of them
As we talk about the Ms potentially climbing into the AL West driver's seat and taking aim at the playoffs, I gazed at a team that was us just a few years ago and wondered at the changes.  
Mariners, meet Brewers.  They used to be the Seattle Pilots, so I guess one good theft deserved another.
First, a (more recent) history lesson:
Zduriencik's run as the grand poobah of the Brewers farm from the 2000-2008 drafts netted them Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy (later traded for Carlos Gomez), Prince Fielder, Tom Wilhelmsen, Rickie Weeks, Yovani Gallardo, Lorenzo Cain (who is what we want James Jones to be, basically), Ryan Braun, Andrew Bailey, Michael Brantley, Jeremy Jeffress, Jonathan Lucroy, Brett Lawrie and Jake Odorizzi (among others). That's quite a chunk of change.
What were the Ms doing over that time?
2000: Jamal Strong (hahaha)
2001: the immortal Michael Garciaparra, Rene Rivera
2002: John Mayberry
2003: Adam Jones, Ryan Feierabend, Eric O'Flaherty
2004: Tui, Rob Johnson, Mark Lowe, Michael Saunders. 
2005: Clement (URGH!!), Lance Lynn (didn't sign him).  
2006: Morrow, Tillman, Fister, Adcock (who? exactly). 
2007: Aumont, Shawn Kelley 
2008: LaFromboise, Maurer 
So while Zduriencik was fueling up the Brewers with as many All-Stars and HOF-type bats as he could find, we were struggling to find a 4th OF or decent relief pitcher. Apart from Saunders, Jones was the only hitter we added in those 9 drafts.  We whiffed on every other available bat, even with the #3 pick in one of the greatest hitter drafts in history (2005).  And the only reliable started in all those years is Fister, despite flashes from Morrow and Tillman.  Three arms, two bats, some effluvia, and a decade of hapless futility for the Mariners and their fans.
But how have the paths of these two teams diverged since? Was Jack really the Man over in Milwaukee or was he just a piece of the solution?
Brewers domestic draft, 2009-2014:
'09 - Khris Davis (smallish corner OF with suprising power), Scooter Gennett (2 WAR MIF), Mike Fiers (most famous for plunking Stanton in the face)
'10 - Jimmy Nelson (#3 starter with wildness problems but a live arm), Tyler Thornburg (reliever)
'11 - Nobody from this draft has made the bigs for them yet, though a couple like RHP Jungmann should shortly
'12 - waiting on their HS catcher Coulter in order to start getting anything out of this draft (assuming the 6'4 kid stays at catcher)
'13 - nothing obvious yet
'14 - drafting prep arms and bats and hoping for some success with that 5 or 6 years from now.
Mariners, 2009-2014:
'09 - Ackley, Franklin, Seager, James Jones
'10 - Walker, Paxton, Pryor, Romero (would have been Stanek if he'd signed too).  Blash and Landazuri are still unknowns.
'11 - Hultzen (argh...), Miller, Capps, Carson Smith.
'12 - Zunino, Diaz, Pike, Kivlehan, Chris Taylor, Dom Leone, others
'13 - DJ, Austin Wilson, Tank O'Neill, others
'14 - Jackson, Morgan, Yarbrough, a bunch of unknowns
But maybe the Brewers have a wealth of talent waiting to burst onto the scene, and my slanted draft profile is camoflauging it.  Well...
Brewers top 10 for 2015, BP:
SS Orlando Arcia (basically like our Ketel Marte)
OF Tyrone Taylor (fast, lots of batspeed, single digit HRs - CF with contact skills about to reach the upper minors)
RHP Devin Williams (live arm, no touch, mediocre results. Teen in rookie ball - Jose Campos type).
RHP Taylor Williams (short, dual threat closer/starter in low-A as a college man)
OF Monte Harrison (18 yo OF in rookie ball who can get on base but shows zero XBH at the moment
3B Gilbert Lara (top-5 international prospect in 2014. Brayan Hernandez equivalent, just 16, might move off 3B)
RHP Jorge Lopez (low minors ERA near 5 with good stuff. Not ready for primetime, and might be a reliever)
RHP Tyler Wagner (great year in High-A, somewhat like Victor Sanchez except Sanchez is 4 years younger)
LHP Kodi Medeiros ('14 draftee, bad results in rookie ball but has promise)
RHP Miguel Diaz (19 year old rookie-ball arm. They hope he turns into Gohara)
The Brew-crew can't hold a candle to our minor leagues, and ours are probably down compared to recent seasons (very little top-flight pitching left on our farm, for one). The Brewers have very few legit plus hitters, and their pitching is scattered, with work to do. I find it a little odd BP doesn't have Jungmann on this list, but maybe they think his stuff is overblown.  He's a big, strong kid, but I guess he doesn't scare me (or BP apparently). Gatewood had such a deplorable debut that I can see why he's not on it (much as Gareth Morgan has trouble making our list: just too much growth needed to guess at it). Coulter not being on that list is much weirder, because even if you think he can't catch, he showed this year that there is some hitting ability in that bat. 
Even including those men, though, there's no way I would trade our minors for theirs.  We have literally twice as many prospects with a legit chance to be impact players, and are better at finding essentially-free bullpen arms as we go. The Brewers were a bottom-rated system before 2014, and I'm not too thrilled with what they did over the course of the year to fix that either.  They're drafting the rawest players the can find, it feels like, with the most "upside" and trying to coach themselves a win or two in the prospect sweepstakes.  I saw the Ms do that for years to no avail - and I wish them luck trying to do better.
Basically, here's how it shakes out in the draft wars:
Jack vs the Mariners, 2000-2008: +105-ish WAR to Jack's side, not to mention the budgetary savings/redistribution that allows under their club-controlled years.
Jack vs. the Brewers, 2009-2014: +20 WAR to Jack and Mac already, with more due to pile up now that Paxton, Walker, Taylor, etc are here, and Zunino/Ackley/whoever should be improving. This doesn't include all the pen arms who save us cash and do a terrific job, but don't rack up WAR. And Jack's minors remains relatively stacked despite promoting aggressively from within, while the Brewers have only a piece or two left that isn't half-a-decade away or a candle-lit prayer for aid.
Because the Brewers are no longer aces in the draft, they've had to do it a different way: trading away or losing some players like JJ Hardy from the base that Zduriencik was able to set, and receive players like Carlos Gomez in return.  There's more than one way to win Major League battles.  Pat Gillick didn't care one whit about the draft and established World Series contenders or champions at three different stops.
But if you have management that is a) willing to spend on what they believe are low-risk acquisitions but b) do not want to go out of their comfort zones for strangers or unknowns, then you definitely want to be able to build from within - to let players be Mariners For Life and have ties not only to the community but to the ownership's idea of themselves.
After we blew the Florida trip in April last year I thought Jack might be getting phased out if we couldn't get back on track. That his last draft with us might be coming up.  Instead, he got an extension, we have a major league team with more firepower and a minors that can keep supplying pieces to move us forward, and a plan that seems worlds better than whatever the Brewers are trying for.
Don't like Morrison?  Kivlehan, DJ and Choi are all in AAA trying to earn a promotion.
Ackley has plateaued? Kivlehan, Blash, Henry, Pizzano and Guerrero are all clawing toward his position, with the big guns of Jackson, Wilson, Morgan and O'Neill behind THEM.
Need to trade Miller or Taylor?  Marte, Reinheimer, etc are looking to surprise.
We have glove positions (except center field, and even that has Jones in the upper minors and Cousino in the lower, with Brayan Hernandez and the $1.8 million bonus baby in the rookie-ball wings).
We have corner bats for what feels like the first time in my lifespan as a Mariners fan.
We still have arms - maybe more #3s and 4s instead of #1s and 2s, but we have em - and I expect to add more this coming draft. And we're basically throwing away relievers like Kohlscheen and Brazis (both of whom should go on to nice little careers) because there's no room at the inn.
Phase One in this whole thing was rebuilding our pitifully depleted talent level.  Check that one off.
Phase Two was getting enough minor leaguers to the bigs to allow Jack to play ball with a more restrictive salary than Bavasi had.  Also check.
Phase Three was an increase in payroll due to the increase in revenue streams.  Check as well - thanks for negotiating that, suits!
Phase Four is to maintain the pipeline to the bigs in perpetuity, so that as players get too expensive or do not perform, we can replace them with internal, cheap (and talented) players who allow us to continue to run an effective and large payroll even if some dreaded "Dead Money" shows up.
That's what the next 2 years will hopefully show - no need to extend Morrison or Ackley for 8 figures a year when minor league guys can hit like that for free.  Pay to keep the Seagers, be able to ditch the Smoaks, and have plenty of internal grist on hand.
If Jack had gotten fired this past year, that still would have been his legacy to us: providing all the raw materials for the next GM to fashion into a pennant winner and title contender.
As it is, he'll be free to show he knows how to do that himself.  I really hope he can, because all the material does seem to be there. 2015-2020 looks like some good baseball ahead.  I'm sorry for Brewers fans that we cut your legs out from under you, and I hope you rebound to become dangerous in the NL again - but I'm glad to finally start seeing some good baseball again in the Northwest.  Considering you stole our entire ballclub back in the day, I guess this makes us even.
And I hope this presumably-upcoming peak lasts a good, long time.


bsr's picture

Can't get any clearer than that before/after Brewers comparison. Consider me fully convinced Z and his crew are draft gurus. Where do you think he stacks up vs all the GM's in MLB on this front? I looked at Beane's recent drafts and he's not even remotely in Z's league. I don't follow well enough to know who else is considered great at it.

bsr's picture

I wonder what Z's advantage/method is that's generated such a strong track record in the draft? I don't recall seeing any in depth analysis or interviews on the topic in the local media. Whatever it is, it doesn't seem to translate to him being anything more than average at MLB talent acquisition. Would be interesting to compare what makes the great MLB talent GM's (Beane, Gillick, etc) successful at that, vs what makes Z good at drafting. They appear to be different skills.


He's good at trades, usually, but his draft skills are null. The mariners are probably behind Washington, St. Louis, and perhaps another team or two for drafting...but that may be it


Drafting the best hitting prospect and best pitching prospect in a decade with the #1 pick each year, plus picking up Rendon (the best hitting prospect in his draft if GMs like ours weren't afraid of his injury history) doesn't take a ton of skill.  
Nobody would have done differently in any of those slots.  Might as well credit the Ms with being "skilled enough in the draft" to take Junior and A-Rod.
St. Louis has a fabulous draft-to-bigs program that lets players flourish on their own schedule.  Wish we had that.  Not rushing Zunino would have been nice.   But I would say that St. Louis is what we're trying to build.  With a top-5 drafting guru, it should be doable.  He won't have to spend on too many free agents, just keep his own that work out, and be willing to let go of some to maintain his contender status.
I wasn't sure Jack's drafts were gonna kick in in time to save his job, since as bsr said he doesn't seem to have some of the other requisite skills of a top GM.
But since it looks like it will, assuming Paxton and Walker do what Paxton and Walker are SUPPOSED to do, St. Louis should be a model worth shooting for.
Another reason I'm hoping to slow down some bats as they come through the system from now on.  Without the urgent black holes that need filling, maybe it won't take players 3 years to acclimate once they get up here.
That'll be better for everybody.


Let Pat (or someone like him) turn all this amazing raw material that Jack has gathered into a finished product.
But Jack has secured the gig for a couple more years at least, so let's hope that he can rely on his one superior skill to carry him in this gig while he improves at the rest.
Jack, along with his right-hand man Tom McNamara, have really turned this thing around. Tom started as a scout for us, don't forget, before he joined Jack in Milwaukee and they started destroying the draft together.  It's nice to come full circle, I'm sure.
Now we just need a couple more of the blue chippers to turn into actual All-Stars.  Nothing too big, right?


You laid this out wonderfully Gordon.
Now if we only had some success out of the DR / international draft that we could point out how much better that scouting group is now than before... but that evidence will take a long time to out shine Felix and a few others.


1) Logically, scouting high school and college players would seem to be MUCH harder than scouting existing major league players...since the latter already have a track record at the highest level. So how is it that an organization could be better at judging youngsters than the MLB talent they acquire?
2) At this point, how do we rate the work of Gwynn et al in developing players in our system?


There aren't a lot of good free agents hitting the market any more.  Most of them have issues.  Teams are locking up players for the best parts of their careers, and without as much of an HGH/roid induced flattening of the age curve, It's not normally a great bet to go in on a late-30s player (yes, I know we've done it twice - but that was the only way to get a player of that ilk).
So you have three sets of GMs:
1) the ones with enough money to play with that age curves are laughable and dead money is a relatively acceptable part of doing business (we do not have ownership that allows for this)
2) those who have to pinch pennies for a decade to be allowed to write even one decent check (we have owners who believe they are here without actually being here)
3) those who don't have a blank checkbook but also can afford some reasonable splurges year to year.  This is now us.
In that bracket, you can trade for things with higher price tags, but because you ALSO happen to be a top-5 drafter you will lose more talent in said trade than another team.  Our #5 prospect tends to be better than a lot of others.  Even this year - let's say you take Miller, Taylor, Zunino, Paxton, Walker AND Elias off the table.  That still leaves you with 3 top-100 bats (I expect Jackson, DJ and Marte to all fall into the 40-100 range, and probably in that order), plus Kivlehan (discounted because of age, but every bit what DJ has been with even less experience), plus Austin Wilson.  Austin Wilson is the college version of the Brewers' top-2 prospect Tyrone Taylor, with the added benefit of actually hitting for power in games and being in the bigs quicker.
It's very hard to lure free agents to locations that flash 95 losses every year.  So during the rebuild Jack had to offer on guys with discounts due to injury or attitude, or try to trade for useful pieces.  His record there is mixed at best.  
Life as a GM gets easier when you have a winning team, and money to spend.  Now that we have both of those things, voila!  Cruz appears.  Still would have wanted to add Melky or the like, but if you're Jack and you believe that Austin Wilson is Dave Winfield, or DJ Peterson is Hunter Pence, then what need have you for Melky on a 4 year deal? And with Jack's drafting record, why wouldn't he think he could hit on one of a dozen guys in the minors to get the star he needs?
 I just think Jack has a talent in upside projection that does not work when considering downside projection.  So he can find minor leaguers with great talent who can REACH that talent, but can't tell when Cinderella's time at the ball is about to expire.  Which means he might be the guy you want drafting Seager and extending him into his early 30s, but not in making calls on mid-to-late 30s bats (which is another reason why Cruz understandably unnerves some folks).
And it's also why Jack decries the value of his prospects around the league, because he sees the packages that are offered in trade and thinks he should be able to give away his 15th best prospect just because that's the equivalent of someone else's #5.  Sadly, it doesn't work that way.   The price of a deep system is losing major league talent when you make a swap.  How much of that is Gwynn's doing, I don't know.  I still feel like we don't do the job we should in preparing our young talent for immediate success in the bigs, but part of that may be the enormous rush to get them TO the bigs in the first place.
We certainly seem to churn out a couple of new big-leaguers every year, which means there should be plenty of credit to spread around to all the coaching and developments staffs.
But we're starting to reach the point where all we should have to sell off are our duplicates.  Where we can do what the Indians did and trade a Richie Sexson because you have Jim Thome at first and you don't really need him (And he can't replace who you already have there).  Which is fine... until the minor league well dries up.  Let's hope that doesn't happen to us for a good long time, because I want a really significant run at not just this ring but a handful to come in the following seasons.
It's weird to be the best at the hardest thing, but some people can do quantum physics but can't tie their shoes or coordinate their wardrobe.  Might be an easier skill, but it's also a different one.  Jack's just good at hard things - which is great, since in theory that should mean that either he can learn to do "easier" ones or there's a larger pool of assistant-GMs who can be chosen from to do that thing.
There's a definite benefit to already having the hardest one to master already locked down.


This one was particularly thought-provoking:
 I just think Jack has a talent in upside projection that does not work when considering downside projection.   
:: taps chin ::
Hrm, hoom, no need to be hasty
:: purses lips ::
Another time.


We all knew what we were dealing with here, in terms of a coin-op draft machine, but who knew it was to this extent.  (And Nick Franklin, practically an afterthought in this system, brought in a legit minor star for CF.)
Honestly think that Zduriencik has been snakebit with his Smoak, Montero, Ackley, Pryor, Capps, Saunders etc talent or the turnaround time would have been shorter.
Am inclined to think that when the talent influx is *this* good then you've got to keep the guy almost regardless of his other shortcomings.  It's like saying, in your roto league, Smerdley is the dumbest guy there but he brings $360 to the table rather than $260.  Not much way to keep him out of the top three.
Your thoughts G-Money?  Having waited as long as you have, for some minors stuff worth drooling over, I'd think you would be first in line to get Zduriencik a lifetime deal :- )

kevlar's picture

Gillick has lots knowledge, but he was also a contributer to the dwonfall to ths team. He and Bavasi traded away many good prospects that flourished elsewhere. The Mariners farm system was almost totally depleted by these guys. I agree that Gillick can put a winner on the field, but not sure he his drafting was any good. Look at the Phillies system now that Gillick and the Amaro have left it hurting also.

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