The journey to the 2013 Salmon League Draft is officially under way.
Following on the heels of Saturday’s official keeper announcement, we’ve got a lot of interesting free agents sitting atop this year’s draft board. In fact, eight of the top nine players available are all former keepers and all are legitimate top 25-level talents.
On the surface, this appears to be one of the deepest first round classes in recent history.
Here are the top 14 free agents available heading into the draft, as determined by Yahoo! pre-season rankings.
Top 14 Free Agents in the Draft
01. Adrian Beltre – 3B – TEX
02. David Wright – 3B – NYM
03. Justin Upton – OF – ATL
04. Yoenis Cespedes – OF – OAK
05. Ian Kinsler – 2B – TEX
06. Ryan Zimmerman – 3B – WAS
07. Matt Cain – SP – SF
08. Jacoby Ellsbury – OF – BOS
09. BJ Upton – OF – ATL
10. Paul Goldschmidt – 1B – ARI
11. Allen Craig – 1B/OF – STL
12. Matt Holliday – OF – STL
13. Billy Butler – 1B – KC
14. Yu Darvish – SP – Tex
On paper this is one of the best draft classes we’ve seen in quite some time. In recent years, there has been one, maybe two, players worthy of keeper-level status sitting in the draft. This year, however, half of the first round could qualify as keepers in any given year.
Talented fantasy studs like Beltre, Wright, Upton, Kinsler, and Zimmerman could be very desirable to many of the teams with high-draft priority this season.
Mike Kunkel and Travis Morfitt—who have the first and second draft priority slots, respectively—are renowned strategists, but with this type of top-heavy talent expected to jump off the board, one has to wonder if they’d be willing to sacrifice overall draft positioning to ensure the acquisition of a third keeper-level offensive juggernaut for their roster.
This may be one of the first seasons wherein teams are fighting one another to acquire the top draft spots rather than jockeying for spots in the middle of the draft. Rest assured, with talent like this on the board throughout the first round, no one should be unhappy at the end of round one.
The real question figures to be how the later, less star-studded, rounds treat those teams that jump for early draft positions in round one.
In 2011, Radioactive Rush General Manager, Grant Morfitt jumped the gun and went for the first overall pick to snag Matt Holliday, widely-considered the top player in the draft and a would-be keeper at the time. In doing so, Morfitt essentially took a hit the rest of the way throughout the draft due to his positioning and was ranked 12th out of 14 teams to start the year. He went on to finish the regular season and playoffs in eighth place.
In 2012, Sea Bass General Manager, Craig Denny followed suit and took the top overall spot in the draft to ensure he added five-tool outfielder Carlos Gonzalez to his stable. In doing so, he too sacrificed elsewhere in the draft and was ranked 13th out of 14 teams on Mike’s rankings system and 12th out of 14 teams on my rankings system. He would go on to miss the playoffs finishing the regular season in eighth and landing in tenth place after the consolation playoffs.
It should be noted that since we started doing live, offline drafts in 2006, no team has ever won the pennant or a championship after drafting in the number one slot. In fact, there has been very limited success of any kind (in regard to pennants and championships) for early drafters throughout the history of the offline draft era.
In fact, here’s a list of where past winners drafted each year (total teams in parenthesis):
2012 (14 Teams)
Pennant – 14th
Championship – 12th
2011 (14 Teams)
Pennant – 11th
Championship – 11th
2010 (12 Teams)
Pennant – 6th
Championship – 12th
2009 (10 Teams)
Pennant – 2nd
Championship – 8th
2008 (10 Teams)
Pennant – 8th
Championship – 5th
2007 (10 Teams)
Pennant – 9th
Championship – 7th
2006 (8 Teams)
Pennant – 5th
Championship – 8th
It doesn’t take a scientist to note some patterns.
The most obvious pattern being that nearly every championship winner of the offline draft era has drafted in the final third of the first round. Only Jay’s magical, pitcher-loophole-fueled run in 2008 stands out as an exception to that rule.
Nearly all of the regular season pennant winners have done their damage in the middle-to-late half of the draft as well. The lone exception being my pennant won during the 2009 season from the two-hole in the draft (Brandon Phillips with the #2 pick? Yes please!).
There’s enough concrete evidence to see that drafting early has rarely paid off for a general manager, but there has rarely been this level of talent available in the early-goings of a draft.
This conundrum leads to a serious catch-22 for a number of teams as we approach draft day.
Needless to say, there is a big decision to be made by the teams with high draft priority. Do they go for the early first-round superstars and risk weakening the rest of their draft or do they learn from history and look for a draft slot nestled somewhere in the mid-to-late half of the draft?
There’s less than week until draft day and there’s no doubt that Mike Kunkel probably knows exactly where he’s going to draft (he’s probably known since October) and Travis Morfitt probably has a good indication of where he wants to sit at the table as well.
Beyond those two, however, everyone else is either a wildcard or at the whim of everyone in front of them on the draft priority list.
What will win out: the allure of top shelf talent or the lessons of past?
I guess we’ll all find out on Saturday.