One of baseball’s weird little quirks is draft pick compensation. If a team signs a free agent considered to be among the top 20% at his position based on outdated methods, they’ll send their top pick to the team that lost him. Last year we saw free agent compensation limit the markets for Juan Cruz and Jason Varitek (among others), and already this year we’ve seen one high profile Type-A free agent accept arbitration (Rafael Soriano) in lieu of a potential multi-year deal for fear of having his market limited. As the game has shifted towards younger (and cheaper) players, draft pick compensation has become a major consideration when targeting free agents.
From what I’ve been able to find, MLB starting handing out draft picks as compensation for losing free agents back in 1979, fifteen years after it instituted the draft. The rules regarding draft pick compensation have changed over the years; there wasn’t always a supplemental first round, the first 15 picks weren’t always protected, and some other stuff as well. As you can imagine, the Yankees have surrendered a ton of draft picks as a result of their free spending ways, 38 picks in 30 years in fact. In the compensation pick era, the Bombers have kept their true first round pick just 12 times in those 30 years.
Surely some of these forfeited picks turned into decent players, right? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out. In part one of the series today, we’ll take a look at the players the Yankees signed as free agents from 1979 to 1985, as well as what happened to the draft picks the Yankees forfeited to sign those players. If there’s any missing/incorrect info in any of these posts, let me know. It was tough to research some of the older players.
Fun starts after the jump.
1979 First Round Pick
Free Agent: Tommy John, LHP
Forfeited Pick: Steve Perry, RHP (Dodgers)
The Yankees added John to their rotation five years after his breakthrough elbow surgery, and he went 62-36 with a 3.20 ERA in three-and-a-half years in pinstripes before being traded to the Angels in 1982 for a player to be named later. By signing TJ, the Yanks forfeited the 25th overall pick in the 1979 draft as compensation. LA used the pick to take Steve Perry, a righthander out of The University of Michigan. Perry spent six years in the Dodgers’ system, topping out at Triple-A. He made 74 starts and 77 relief appearances in his career, posting a 5.34 ERA with a 372-350 K/BB ratio in 573 IP. He never reached the big leagues, and was out of baseball by 1985.
1980 First Round Pick
Free Agent: Rudy May, LHP
Forfeited Pick: Terry Francona, OF (Expos)
May rejoined the Yankees as a free agent in 1980, more than three years after they traded him to Baltimore in a ten player deal that included Rick Dempsey and Doyle Alexander. In his second stint in the Bronx, May made 45 starts and 79 relief appearances, posting a 3.30 ERA with a 313-106 K/BB ratio in 447.1 IP. He remained with the Yankees until the 1983 season, after which he hung up the spikes.
As compensation for losing May, the Expos received the 22nd overall pick, taking University of Arizona outfielder Terry Francona. Francona reached the big leagues just a year later in 1981, and went on to hit .274-.300-.351 with 16 homers during a ten year career as a part-time player with the Expos, Cubs, Reds, Indians, and Brewers. Of course, Tito would really make his mark as a manager, going 285-363 in four years with the Phillies before going 565-407 with two World Championships in six years (and counting) with the Red Sox.
1980 Second Round Pick
Free Agent: Bob Watson, 1B
Forfeited Pick: Mike Brown, RHP (Red Sox)
Before he was the general manager, Watson wore the pinstripes for two-and-a-half seasons, hitting .282-.355-.438 with 19 homers in 196 games for the Yankees. The Yankees sent their second round pick to the Red Sox as compensation for signing Watson, and they used the 48th overall pick to take Clemson righty Mike Brown. Brown bounced back and forth between the majors and minors for eight years, finishing his career with a 5.75 ERA and a 115-102 K/BB ratio in 61 career big league appearances (42 starts, 19 relief appearances). He was done with baseball by 1989.
1981 First Round Pick
Free Agent: Dave Winfield, OF
Forfeited Pick: Frank Castro, C (Padres)
George Steinbrenner made Winfield the highest paid player in baseball history by giving him a ten year, $23M contract prior to the 1981 season. He went on to hit .290-.356-.495 with 205 homers in more than eight seasons with the Yankees before being traded to the Angels. In exchange for losing their best player, the Padres received the 26th overall pick from New York, using it on University of Miami catcher Frank Castro. Castro would go on to play just 456 games in the minors, topping out at Double-A. He was out of baseball by 1987, finishing with a .254-.264-.385 career batting line.
1982 First Round Pick
Free Agent: Dave Collins, IF/OF
Forfeited Pick: Scott Jones, LHP (Reds)
Collins lasted just one season with the Yankees, playing four positions and hitting .253-.315-.330 with three homers in 393 plate appearances in 1982. The Bombers’ first round pick, 22nd overall, was surrendered to the Reds as compensation. Cincinnati used the pick on Illinois high school lefty Scott Jones, who didn’t make it out of A-ball. Jones’ career was over by 1985, during which he’d posted a 5.33 ERA and a 33-122 K/BB ratio (not a typo) in 147 minor league innings.
It’s also worth noting that the Reds received a supplemental first round pick as well, taking another Illinois high schooler – this time first baseman Robert Jones – 28th overall. He did not signing, instead opting to attend Southern Illinois University. He stock dropped considerably, as he fell to the 20th round of the 1986 draft. Jone hit .271-.338-.421 in five years with the Brewers organization, never making it out of A-ball.
1983 First Round Pick
Free Agent: Steve Kemp, OF
Forfeited Pick: Joel Davis, RHP (White Sox)
Kemp had had some big years (i.e. 100+ RBI, 130+ OPS+’s) with the Tigers and White Sox before coming to the Bronx, though he hit just .264-.341-.401 with a disappointing 19 homers in two years with the Yankees. To sign him, the Yankees forfeited their first round pick to Chicago, who took Florida high school righty Joel Davis 13th overall. Davis rode the bus back and forth between the big leagues and Triple-A for parts of four seasons, putting up a 4.91 ERA with a 126-111 K/BB ratio in 41 starts and eight relief appearances for the Pale Hose. He was out of the game by 1990.
1983 Second Round Pick
Free Agent: Bob Shirley, LHP
Forfeited Pick: Joe Oliver, C (Reds)
The Yankees brought in the versatile Shirley and watched him become a bullpen staple for more than four years in the Bronx. In 126 relief appearances and 39 starts for the Bombers, he posted a 4.05 ERA and a 232-156 K/BB ratio in 470.2 IP. As compensation for losing Shirley, the Reds received the Yanks’ second round pick in 1983, taking Florida high school catcher Joe Oliver 41st overall.
Even though he spent the first six seasons of his career in the minor leagues, Oliver went on to enjoy a 13 year big league career as a serviceable backstop, mostly with the Reds. A career .247-.299-.391 hitter, Oliver put up a .258-.319-.421 batting line with 37 homers during a three year span (age 29-31) for the Reds and and Brewers. He also appeared in 12 games for the Yankees in the first half of the 2001 season, hitting .250-.263-.361 in 40 plate appearances while wearing pinstripes.
1983 Third Round Pick
Free Agent: Don Baylor, 1B/OF/DH
Forfeited Pick: Wally Joyner, 1B (Angels)
One of baseball’s more accomplished hitters at the time he was signed, Baylor went on to hit .267-.345-.472 with 71 homers in three years with the Yanks. To get him, they forfeited their third round pick to the Angels, who selected first baseman Wally Joyner out of BYU 67th overall.
Joyner went on to have a long and distinguished big league career, mostly with the Angels. He broke into the big leagues with a .290-.348-.457 rookie campaign that garnered him an All Star Game berth and some MVP votes. A career .289-.362-.440 hitter with 204 homers and more walks (833) than strikeouts (825), Joyner played against the Yankees in the 1998 World Series with the Padres, reaching base just three times (all walks) in 11 plate appearances. He retired following the 2001 season with 2,060 hits and 2,931 times on base.
1985 First Round Pick
Free Agent: Ed Whitson, RHP
Forfeited Pick: Joey Cora, IF (Padres)
A former All Star, Whitson joined the Yankees rotation and posted a disappointing 5.38 ERA in 34 starts and 10 relief appearances in a year and a half in the Bronx. He was sent back to the Padres for reliever Tim Stoddard midway through the 1986 season. San Diego received the 23rd overall pick as compensation for losing Whitson, and took Vanderbilt shortstop Joey Cora. Never much of a hitter, Cora spent 11 years in the big leagues, mostly as a backup infielder. His best year came with Seattle in 1997, when he hit .300-.359-.441 with a career high 11 homers, making the All Star Game. Overall, Cora hit .277-.348-.369 with the Padres, White Sox, Mariners, and Indians.
Baseball-Reference.com’s Amateur Draft Database was an invaluable reference tool for this series.