As soon as Brian McCann passes his physical and his five-year contract becomes official, the Yankees will forfeit their first round pick (18th overall) in next summer’s draft. It will be only the third time in the last eight drafts that New York has surrendered its first rounder as free agent compensation, believe it or not. That surprised me. They used to give away their top pick every year, it seemed.
Young players reign supreme in baseball these days. Everyone wants them because they’re cheap and tend to be on the upswing of their careers. As a result, prospects and draft picks have become highly valued. I’d argue overvalued. Either way, they are important. Most teams do not want to give up their first rounder to sign a free agent, but the Yankees were cool with it and now they have one of the five best catchers in baseball.
Now that McCann is on board, the offseason dynamic has changed for New York. Most teams are trying to figure out ways to improve their team without surrendering a draft pick. The Yankees don’t have that problem anymore. They’ve already committed. While other clubs wrestle with the decision about whether to forfeit a first round pick to sign a qualified free agent, the Yankees only have to consider giving up a less valuable pick later in the draft, either their second rounder of one of the compensation picks they’ll receive for losing one of their own qualified free agents, depending how things play out. (Yes, you can lose those picks now.)
“It’s like buying the buffet instead of ordering off the menu. You might as well go back for seconds and thirds,” said one executive to Buster Olney (subs. req’d) recently, referring to giving up a draft pick. The first rounder is the big one, the one teams don’t want to lose. But once you’ve crossed that line, you might as well go all-in and get the players you need. Giving up a first and second rounder this year is better than giving up a first rounder both this year and next. Catch my drift? The cost of signing free agents has dropped for New York with the McCann deal. Not in terms of contract size but in terms of the draft pick they’d have to give up.
This changes the Curtis Granderson vs. Carlos Beltran debate, for one thing. Before it was “Granderson and the 18th overall pick” vs. “Beltran and a supplemental first rounder.” With McCann signed, both Granderson and Beltran would cost the same pick*. Like I said, much different dynamic now. Next year’s free agent class is really bad and it’ll only get worse as a few of the high-end guys sign extensions. Pass on Granderson or Beltran this year because you want to keep the pick? Fine, but the best available outfielder next winter is … Colby Rasmus? Nate Schierholtz? Nick Markakis? The Yankees need long-term help in the outfield and it appears they’d be better off surrendering another draft pick to get it right now rather than roll the dice and wait for a future free agent class. Salaries are only going up and it seems like the quality of the free agent class only gets worse.
* No, Granderson wouldn’t technically cost a draft pick to sign, but the Yankees would not get the compensation pick if they re-signed him. That pick is gone either way as soon as they sign another qualified free agent.
With their first rounder gone and losing later picks not being enough of reason to pass on adding additional qualified free agents, I think the Yankees could benefit the most later in the offseason, near Spring Training. Remember, Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse didn’t sign until camp had already opened last season because teams didn’t want to forfeit a pick. The Brewers stepped forward and gave up their first rounder for Lohse, and they were rewarded with a really good pitcher at a relative bargain. If, say, Granderson or Ubaldo Jimenez is still sitting out there when spring rolls around, New York will be in a position to pounce because giving up a later pick isn’t a big concern. Needless to say, giving up a third draft pick to sign a third qualified free agent would be an even easier decision than doing it the second time.
Five years ago, the Yankees forfeited their first, second, and third round draft picks to sign CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira. They did all of their shopping at once and had fewer needs to fill in subsequent years. The draft pick cost was high, but only in that one year. They didn’t spread it out over multiple years and lose multiple first rounders, which would have hurt both the big league roster and several drafts. They can do the same thing now, only on a smaller financial scale. Giving up that first round pick is the step no team seems to want to take, but giving up second and third rounders after that is a much easier pill to swallow.