With the second pick in the 1993 draft, the Los Angeles Dodgers selected right-handed pitcher Darren Dreifort. Despite appearing in a major league game before ever seeing minor league action, Dreifort is considered one of the draft’s most famous busts, made even more infamous because of the five-year, $55 million contract the Dodgers signed him to after the 2000 season, at which point Dreifort was 29 years old and had already failed to meet expectations. By the end of the contract they had to wonder what might have been, had MLB enacted the current draft rules a decade earlier.
Tyler Kepner has a quick three-paragraph post on the matter. It was the Dodgers, not the Mariners, that finished with the worst record in 1992. Then why did the Mariners pick first? Because, like the World Series at the time, the draft had an alternating system for the first pick. One year it was the worst NL team, the next year it was the worst of the AL. The Mariners got the lucky break and picked first, while the Dodgers got the shaft.
A-Rod, as we know, debuted in 1994, a year after the draft, and played most of the 1995 season in the majors. He would have offered the Dodgers quite the option in 1996. In 1995 the team employed Jose Offerman as its everyday shortstop, and in that year he was decent, hitting .287/.389/.375. Rodriguez fell below those marks with the Mariners, and presumably, with Offerman already under contract, the Dodgers would have left him in the minors for most of the season.
After the 1995 season the Dodgers traded Offerman for Bill Brewer, who had stumbled in his third season after pitching well in relief during his first two. The Dodgers actually ended up trading Brewer to the Yankees that year before he threw a pitch for them. If you’ll remember his 5.2 innings, he was pretty horrible. I have no recollection of him. In any case, the Dodgers replaced Offerman with Greg Gagne, then 34 years old and declining quickly. I’m fairly certain at that point that the Dodger would not have signed Gagne as a free agent, but rather would have plugged in Rodriguez as their everyday shortstop.
Rodriguez, as you surely recall, went on to have one of the best seasons of his career, hitting .358/.414/.631 with 36 homers and a league-leading 54 doubles. He also won the batting crown that year and led the league in total bases. He got screwed out of the MVP by writers who were seduced by Juan Gonzalez’s home runs and RBI. The Dodgers sure could have used that. Dreiford did pitch in relief that season but produced -0.2 rWAR. Greg Gagne produced 2.3 WAR. Alex Rodriguez, however, produced 9.4 WAR. That year the Dodgers made the playoffs, finishing one game behind the Padres in the NL West. I wonder, though, if finishing first and drawing St. Louis in the first round might have changed things. The Rodriguez-less Dodgers got swept by the eventual NL champion Braves, their own 1993 No. 1 pick pitching just 0.2 innings, the final two outs of the series.
In the mid-00s MLB changed the draft rules to award the No. 1 overall pick to the team that finishes with the overall worst record. Had those rules been in place a decade earlier the Dodgers would have ended up with Rodriguez and probably would have made more of a run in the late 90s. They had just one good year from a shortstop during that span, the 1999 season from Mark Grudzielanek, but even after that he slid over to second, making way for Alex Cora. For Dodgers fans, this must be a very difficult what-if story to stomach.