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“The draft has never been anything but a f—— crapshoot. We take 50 guys and we celebrate if two of them make it. In what other business is 2-for-50 a success? If you did that in the stock market, you’d go broke.” — Billy Beane
While 2003 may have been the end to an era, it would be difficult to argue that much had changed following the 2004 Amateur Draft. In a draft where the executive decisions were inexplicably carried out by owner John Moores, the Padres drafted local Mission Bay High School product, Matt Bush. The team immediately felt the return of their $3.15 million investment when, 13 days later, Bush was arrested in a night club scuffle under suspicion of “felony assault, and misdemeanor trespass and disorderly conduct … [and] underage drinking.” What’s worse, the dude’s a biter.
The move was immediately scrutinized as many believed it was merely predicated due to a financial bottom line as opposed to acquiring top shelf talent. While this isn’t necessarily a fair assessment (Bush was considered a Top 10 prospect in many circles and the Padres weren’t the only team who refused to pay premium prices for first round picks), the move ushered in a new philosophy and face for the front office:
John Moores rebuilt the Padres’ entire draft and development department, from the top down. Sandy Alderson, former executive with Major League Baseball became a part owner and team CEO. Grady Fuson, who nearly worked his way to general manager in the Texas Rangers’ system due to his extensive experience as a scout and talent evaluator, was named Padres director of scouting. Paul DePodesta, former executive vice president and general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers, became Padres special assistant for baseball operations.
The franchise distanced itself from frivolous spending and settled with modest payrolls ranked either near or below the Major League average; fan favorites left via free agency. While the casual fan saw departing players and the concept of a modest player payroll as a black mark upon the franchise, the team began a new approach to the draft to create an advantage.
Since the move to Petco Park, the Padres have struggled promoting from within due to years of neglect that relegated their farm system near useless, ranking near the worst in the league up until this past season (courtesy of Baseball America):
The marked improvement can definitely be attributed to the new franchise philosophy and although this couldn’t happen overnight, the franchise continues to exhaust every effort in order to restock their depleted farm system. The methods in which Alderson and company sought to improve this franchise were dubbed by sportswriter Tom Krasovic as “Sandyball,” and simply reiterated the importance of acquiring extra draft picks in any way possible:
[Getting extra draft picks] is done by offering salary arbitration to a free agent who played for your club the previous season. If the player declines and signs with another team, the original club gets one or two high-end picks in the next June amateur draft. Under Alderson, the Padres have obtained 12 extra picks, including seven in 2007 and another three for the upcoming June draft. From 2000-2005, they had two extra picks. “The farm system has improved,” Alderson said. “That’s partly because of more draft picks. But it’s also partly more effective use of draft picks.”
The method — from the standpoint of retooling the farm system — worked. As outlined above, over the past three years the Padres have hoarded sandwich picks more than at any other point in franchise history and, in that time, selected more players in the first three rounds than any other team in baseball.
Money allocated for contracts to Padres’ draft picks is also far more significant than in years past. In 2007, the Padres managed to sign all but one of their 12 first-day draft picks and this year they not only had a successful Amateur Draft, but they locked up an additional $4.8 million in player contracts during the International Draft — which, not so coincidentally, is the first year in which the Padres’ $8.5 million scouting facility in the Dominican Republic has been open. That total, according to a report in the Union Tribune, was approximately five times their normal amount, “as the Padres spend about $1 million during the international signing period.” Of the five players taken that day, all four that played in Latin America made ESPN’s Top 12 “Best Latino Prospects of 2008” list.
The hope is that their growth and maturity as a franchise continues with an unshakable focus for sustained future prosperity, no matter how the major league squad is playing at the moment. With this front office and the impressions they’ve made through their accomplishments, there’s reason to be optimistic.