Wooden's World of Baseball

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The changing offseason focus

As I transition my baseball focus away from the independent brand – or maybe just turn it down a little; I'm finding myself watching the Southern Maryland website these days just as much as any other – I've determined that the difference between independent and affiliated ball boils down to this: The indys focus on the life and death of the team and/or the league, the affiliates focus on the coming and goings of players.

Now, this may seem rather obvious, but it's a tough transition. Granted, there is always a chance of an affiliated team losing its parent club, but since these agreements are generally done in 3- or 4-year terms, it's only when the agreement is about to expire that I've seen much talk about it. Case in point: The Potomac Nationals this time last year were all about positioning for a new stadium in 2008, but once the funding measure was voted down, the talk seems to have died down, presumably because the current agreement is signed through the 2010 season.

Contrast that to the Can-Am League, which has had two teams fold already this offseason and just this week signed a one-year agreement with Ottawa to give the Grays a home. Nashua says it's not going to fold now, but even with monies to be forfeited, teams have gone belly-up in April and May during this decade.

Back to the affiliates, who have the luxury of focusing on players: Who's moving up, who's moving on, who's moving out, who's moving in.

Who's Moving Up
I think most casual fans see this via players that came up in September and wondering which ones they'll see next April. But it's also which players are ready to make the jump from the lower minors to the higher minors. For me, it's wondering which of the stud pitchers in Vermont I'll get to see this season, and when.

Who's Moving On
Being a fan of independent ball has led me to look at the older players at Potomac and think which ones would be good to see at the indy level. But in an organization that's being rebuilt, I'm sure to be surprised at some of the players that will get cut.

Who's Moving Out / Who's Moving In
The Rule 5 draft is what I'm talking about here. As I've written about earlier, the true essence of Moneyball is not drafting college players because they're more likely to become major-leaguers sooner, it's because they're under control of the organization at an older age. That written, there are a group of players that can be moved from one organization to another based on their status when they were drafted. In short, this year it's 2003 h.s. players and college players drafted in 2004 that aren't on the parent club's 40-man roster.

Divided into three portions, the MLB, AAA, and AA, teams draft from each other's organizations with a cost ranging from $4,000 to $12,000 to $50,000 being paid back to the organization. The MLB phase requires that the players taken be kept on the major-league roster or be offered back to the original club for $25,000. This usually results in back-of-the-bullpen types being taken, though the Nationals gambled on a position player this time last year (Jesus Flores) and it looks like he's going to be the Opening Day starter in 2008.

The process is repeated for AAA and AA teams,without recourse if players don't stick. Last year, the P-Nats lost their 2006 Player of the Year this way, as he was a 26-year-old that hadn't played much above high-A but was back in the organization by mid-April 2007. This year, he'll most likely spend time in Harrisburg and/or Columbus "filling the roster" until a true 3B prospect is ready.

Unfortunately, the list of players available for the 2007 Rule 5 draft is huge, approximately 400 players according to Baseball America, but MLB being MLB, there's no official list for the fans to pore over. So it's left to the diehards to build the lists themselves and guess, which achieves professional baseball's aim (the independents are just as guilty, truth be told): generate interest without actually revealing anything remotely proprietary.

So, like the indys, I find it useless to speculate about player movement until the players are named. Unlike the indys, though, the wait isn't as long... but then it starts all over in Spring Training, as then it becomes who comes in above or below expectations.