If you listened intently during Ted Leitner’s introduction of Padre owner Jeff Moorad at Trevor Hoffman’s wonderful number retirement ceremony on Sunday, you may have heard awkward cheering from one fan in the second row of the upper deck. That fan was me. Leitner’s remark that Moorad had been busy last week signing almost every top draft pick had me clapping and screaming.
And the reason it was awkward? I can’t answer that; Leitner was referring to the most promising day for Padres organization over the last couple years. I expected more cheers.
I’ll now direct your attention to figure A (those liney things next to this text). On the rightermost section of the graph, which shows the Padres spending budget compared to the rest of baseball year by year, you’ll notice the 2010 payroll and draft numbers wayyyy down at the bottom. The payroll ranking for the preceding and following years also displays on the southern end. (note, I couldn’t find draft data for 2005 and prior, or 2007)
Meanwhile, the Padres record this season is awful. The driver behind the (in my opinion, overrated but good) 2010 ballclub is no longer with the team. Also note the absolutely embarrassing draft budget in 2010 and 2008, though the latter was under a different ownership. Many of the team’s best prospects including Casey Kelly, Simon Castro, Donavan Tate, Drew Cumberland, to name a few, took steps backward in 2011. This organization needs talent, badly.
This was the environment fans saw while watching the draft and subsequent signing window. A bad team. A step back from the farm. A low payroll. A traded star. And while the team’s explanation behind not signing 2010 top draft choice Karsten Whitson seemed plausible, we fans have no way of knowing for sure. We’ve followed organization known for publicly and historically skimping on the draft, such skepticism is warranted. Even if Whiton accepted the team’s reported offering, the 2010 draft budget likely only match the mid-point of spending across the majors.
These days, even the big spenders are catching up with the times. Draft spending is up across baseball, and teams are valuing prospects more than ever before. So yes, spending does not guarantee anything. But it helps. Just like navigating city streets in a car without breaks can be done, so can winning with a low budget. But it has never been easy, and isn’t getting any easier.
So for me, the new players in the Padres organization are important and great to see. But even better is the confirmation that Padres intend to follow their stated plan of adding talent through the draft. Because even at record costs, it’s worth it. The team is showing that the Karsten Whitson fiasco likely was an exception to the rule. But you have to pay for talent at some point, and the draft is a pretty good place to get it. With a payroll this low, they can’t afford otherwise.