Then, in another spreadsheet (here) I tracked all the team's signing bonuses for players in the draft from 2009 through 2006, with 2003 added to round out the group. I had intended to include 2004 and 2005, but that data was not available on Baseball America's site and I haven't been able to find it anywhere else.
So, what did I learn?
The Astros haven't changed.
Out of those five seasons, the Astros have spent the least amount of money on draft picks of any team. That's dead last. I took the average of the median bonus spending in each of those five drafts and the Astros aren't even within a million dollars of that average. In fact, there are only four teams that are over 1 million short of the league average for slot spending: the Angels, the Mets, the White Sox and the Astros. It's not all about position in the draft either. Among the highest spending teams are Boston, San Francisco, the Yankees, Atlanta; all are teams that regularly contend for the playoffs. Oakland is under that average of $4,900,000, but that's including a 2006 draft where they spent just $1,910,000. If you exclude that year, the A's have averaged $5,481,700 in bonuses each year.
It's not just about the money either. Looking at the Organizational Rankings that Baseball America puts out, the Astros rank last over the past four seasons and third to last since 2001. That's how bad the organization has been. Granted, that doesn't take into account the work that has been done the past two seasons, but it shows the general trend to which this lack of spending can lead.
I'm also not trying to show that spending money is the answer. I will point out, however, that of the top 15 teams in talent ranking from 2006 to 2009, only three spent below the league average on bonuses. On the other hand, five teams spent more than 6 million per year and are still in the bottom half of the organizational rankings.
It's not about the gross total of money, it's how you spend it. The Astros don't need to give Scott Boras a blank check for prospects, but good organizations take shots on players late in the draft. For instance, the Astros picked Chad Jones in the 13th round of the 2007 draft, even though Jones was committed to LSU and was a good cornerback prospect. In that disastrous draft, the Astros had already failed to sign their top two picks (a third- and fourth-rounder). Instead of channeling that money into Jones to get a top talent signed no matter when he was drafted, the Astros let him go. Good teams will take advantage of the system that is in place, which leaves talented players dropping into the middle of the draft because of bonus demands. The Red Sox do this, the winningest team this decade does this (the Yankees); hell, even the Pirates do this.
Yes, the Astros did go above and beyond last season to sign Ross Seaton, Brad Dydalewicz and Luis Cruz. They did what was necessary and took some chances. This season, though? Where was the risk? Where were the interesting signings late in the draft? As I said, the Astros paid less than recommended slot price for their draft in 2009. In all the hype that they got 16 of the top 17 signed so early, let's not forget WHY they got them signed. They didn't take anyone as talented as some of the harder signs.
I believe in Bobby Heck. I think Ed Wade is doing a good job of not rushing the farm system guys. I don't like the organization feeding me chicken feathers and calling it chicken salad. If Wade does get fired after this disappointing campaign is done and if Heck loses his job, I wonder if they'll be relieved. I have a suspicion that they found the wallet closed a little tighter this season as people forgot the 2007 draft disaster. If we gave them truth serum, they might tell us that 2008 was the abberation and that 2009 is the way it's going to be. Living at the bottom of the league in money spent but expecting results like you're at the top.
Some other thoughts:
- Teams like the Yankees and Red Sox always outspend the competition, both with their MLB payrolls and in the draft. I'm not saying the Astros need to spend 10 million a year in the draft, but the Yankees consistently find bargains in the draft, paying a little more here and there but still spending only 2 million more than the Astros on average. You'll also note that since the Yankees averaged nearly 95 victories per season this decade, they've usually finished behind the Astros in the draft order.
- The Red Sox have also had success, but here's an example of how money doesn't provide everything. In 2006, the Red Sox drafted Matt LaPorta late, but couldn't get him signed, even though they were willing to offer him big money for that late in the draft. LaPorta signed with Cleveland for 2 million after the Indians drafted him in the first round of the 2007 draft.
- The Astros 2007 class was disastrous on a number of levels, but the most damning evidence is this: Out of 150 possible draft classes, the Astros spent the least money of any team in any season over that time span.
- Even though the Washington Nationals doled out a 7.5 million dollar bonus and 15 million in total money to top 2009 draft pick Stephen Strasberg, they still found the money to sign two draft picks outside the first 10 rounds for over-slot money. It only came out to an extra $350,000 dollars, but sometimes that's the difference from having a productive farm system and being barren as the desert.
- Following that same line of thought, the Pittsburg Pirates, who picked Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez fifth overall because of his signability, signed two late-round picks for a total of half a million dollars. As I said, I'm not advocating spending money wantonly, but there is a way to spend money smartly in the draft. It just appears the Astros cannot do this.
- The median draft value for 2009 should also rise a bit once Kansas City and Texas come to terms with Aaron Crow and Tanner Scheppers, respectively. Each will get deals worth a couple million dollars, which will skew that $5,066,450 number upwards.