Reimagining the 1987 draft (Part 2)

In our first installment, we examined picks 1 through 8 in our alternate reality. This time we tackle the next eight (a complete list of the reimagined draft so far is at the end). As a refresher, here are the assumptions we make in conducting this exercise:

{exp:list_maker}Assumption 1: WAR is the best way to determine a player’s value. We’re using WAR because it is both a good metric and easy to find when examining drafts at Baseball-Reference.
Assumption 2: A player spends his entire career with the team that drafted him. This is ridiculous, of course, but so is the entire exercise of reimagining a draft in light of what we know 23 years after the fact. I can live with that.
Assumption 3: Every player drafted signs with his team. Some of these guys didn’t (and wouldn’t, which is why they slipped in the actual draft) sign out of high school. For our purposes, we’re pretending that, e.g., the promise of a Stanford education holds no value and that every kid wants to play pro ball right now.
Assumption 4: A player performs at the same level he actually did. There is no regard for potential changes in development, ballpark, etc. We’re working with the real statistics these guys compiled in their careers. {/exp:list_maker}Onward…

9. Kansas City Royals

Actual pick: Kevin Appier, RHP, Antelope Valley College (Lancaster, Calif.), 49.9 WAR
Revised pick: Jeff Cirillo, RHP, Providence HS (North Hollywood, Calif.), 33.2 WAR (Actual: 37th round, Chicago Cubs; did not sign)

We discussed Appier in Part 1 (the Cubs drafted him in our world), determining that despite a solid career, he probably wouldn’t have made a big difference in Chicago. Sadly, his absence from the Royals wouldn’t have done much to change their fate either. In his decade in Kansas City, the Royals never finished higher than second in their division (and that came in ’95, when their 70-74 record put them 30 games behind the Cleveland Indians).

As you might imagine, if Appier couldn’t help the Royals, then neither could Cirillo. Drafted as a pitcher out of high school, Cirillo didn’t reach the big leagues until May 1994 but eventually became a solid third baseman for many years.

It’s hard to tell what the Royals would have done with Cirillo, mainly because it’s hard to tell what the Royals were doing at all. In 1995, Cirillo’s first full year, Kansas City had Gary Gaetti at third. At age 36, Gaetti hit .261/.329/.518 (116 OPS+) for the Royals and led the club with 35 homers. Cirillo also could play a passable second base, but journeyman Keith Lockhart was enjoying a career year there (.321/.355/.478, 114 OPS+).

Joe Randa took over at the hot corner the following year, which is somewhat amusing because Randa is Cirillo’s most similar player according to Baseball-Reference. Cirillo was a better hitter, but on the surface, their numbers look a lot alike. (I also like that Kevin Seitzer appears on Cirillo’s list; I’ve always thought of those three players as belonging to the same “family” of line-drive hitting third basemen with middling power. Randa represents the low end, Seitzer the high end, with Cirillo at the midpoint.)

Cirillo would have been a great fit on the Royals of that era: Not a bad player, but anonymous and easily forgotten 20 years down the road. He could have been the original Mark Teahen, only better.

10. San Diego Padres

Actual pick: Kevin Garner, RHP, U. of Texas (Austin, Texas), N/A
Revised pick: Travis Fryman, SS, Gonzalez Tate HS (Pensacola, Fla.), 32.5 WAR (Actual: 1st round supplemental, Detroit Tigers)

The highlight of Garner’s career was tossing a no-hitter while a member of the same rotation as Greg Swindell in college. As a professional, Garner logged exactly 38.1 innings. He pitched well (3-1, 2.11 ERA) in stops at Spokane and Riverside before moving to the outfield. Despite posessing some power, Garner’s hitting ability was undermined by poor plate discipine (shades of Rick Ankiel 20 years later). He eventually became part of the deal that saw cult figure Warren Newson head from San Diego to the White Sox.

Fryman, meanwhile, had a good big-league career. For a time, it looked like might have a great one. Through his age 24 campaign, Fryman was hitting .277/.337/.451 (115 OPS+) and had 72 home runs under his belt while splitting time between shortstop and third base. Before long, though, he moved permanently to the hot corner and saw his offensive production fizzle.

Padres pitchers might have led a revolt against manager Greg Riddoch, but this would have been a fun left side of the infield in 1992:

Player         Age  PA   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+ WAR
Gary Sheffield  23 618 .330 .385 .580 170  6.1
Travis Fryman   23 721 .266 .316 .416 103  4.4

In real life, the Padres had Tony Fernandez at shortstop, which could have complicated matters. Then again, owner Tom Werner was just about to rip apart his team, so an opportunity would have arisen soon enough.

In fact, once Sheffield went to Florida, Fryman would have had third base all to himself. Considering that the Padres never trade for Ken Caminiti in our alternate universe, this is a good thing (unless you assume that Werner would have paid—excuse me for laughing—actual cash to sign Troy Glaus out of high school or think that Scott Livingstone represented a long-term solution to anything).

On the downside, Fryman was no Caminiti, at least not during the years Caminiti spent in San Diego (1995-1998):

Player     PA   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+  WAR
Fryman   2593 .276 .335 .447 100  12.1
Caminiti 2351 .295 .384 .540 146  18.6

Interestingly, Caminiti appears as Fryman’s most similar player at Baseball-Reference. Parts of their career lines are eerily alike:

Player      G   AB   R    H  2B 3B  HR  RBI   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+  WAR
Fryman   1698 6481 895 1776 345 40 223 1022 .274 .336 .443 103  32.5
Caminiti 1760 6288 894 1710 348 17 239  983 .272 .347 .447 116  33.0

Still, without Caminiti, the Padres don’t make the playoffs in ’96. From there… well, we’ve already discussed that in our previous installment (see the bit on Steve Finley).

11. Oakland Athletics

Actual pick: Lee Tinsley, OF, Shelby County HS (Shelbyville, Ken.), 1.4 WAR
Revised pick: Jack McDowell, RHP, Stanford U. (Stanford, Calif.), 26.8 WAR (Actual: 1st round, Chicago White Sox)

Tinsley provided an excellent counterexample to the cliche “speed never slumps.” This draft came not long after the Cardinals had achieved considerable success because of (or despite) guys like Vince Coleman who were fast but couldn’t hit. The first round in that era typically featured at least one offensively challenged speedster: Brian McRae (Royals) in ’85, Lee May Jr. (Mets) in ’86, Tinsley in ’87, Willie Ansley (Astros) in ’88, Jeff Jackson (Phillies) and Tom Goodwin (Dodgers) in ’89.

Tinsley never played for the A’s, being traded in 1991 to the Indians for an old-before-his-time Brook Jacoby, who hit .213/.255/.277 (51 OPS+) in his 56 games with Oakland. From Cleveland, Tinsley bounced around several organizations in a series of trades for forgettable players, the most notable of which was Heathcliff Slocumb. In short, Tinsley provided no return on investment for the A’s.

We talked about McDowell in Part 1 of the series, but what kind of a difference might he have made for the A’s? Well, he would have fetched more than Jacoby in a trade.

Snark aside, McDowell could have helped the A’s a great deal. He probably wouldn’t have meant much in ’88, when the A’s did just fine with Curt Young at the back of their rotation. Maybe McDowell would have gotten them to 105 wins and extended their division lead to 14 games over the Twins, but maybe not. Either way, he wouldn’t have made enough of a difference to alter the outcome of the World Series that year.

Where things get interesting is in ’90 and ’92. McDowell would have represented a significant upgrade over Mike Moore in 1990:

Player      IP ERA+  WAR
McDowell 205.0 101   1.6
Moore    199.1  80  -2.1

That said, the A’s won their division by nine games and swept the Red Sox en route to the World Series. There, they got swept by a torrid Reds team. Sure, maybe McDowell doesn’t get lit like Moore in Game 3. Maybe there’s a Game 5 because of McDowell. But the way Cincinnati was playing, I wouldn’t count on it. And even if there was, the Reds probably would have won that, too.

In ’92, the A’s still had Moore in their rotation and he still wasn’t very good. McDowell, meanwhile, placed second in the AL Cy Young Award voting that year:

Player      IP ERA+ WAR
McDowell 260.2 123  5.0
Moore    223.0  91  0.7

Again, the A’s didn’t need those extra wins during the regular season, as they finished six games ahead of second place Minnesota. However, McDowell might have been enough to push Oakland past the Blue Jays in the ALCS. The A’s lost the series, 4-2, with their only wins coming in Dave Stewart‘s starts.

Moore also made two starts. He pitched well in Game 2 but lost thanks to a brilliant performance by David Cone. Then, in what turned out to be a decisive Game 6, Moore imploded as he had two years earlier and the Blue Jays went on to beat Atlanta in the World Series.

Granted, Juan Guzman shut down the A’s in this game, but maybe, just maybe, McDowell gives his team a fighting chance. And if the A’s win Game 6, maybe Stewart comes back (skipper Tony LaRussa was quoted in the Oct. 14 New York Times as saying “everyone should be available” for a potential Game 7) and leads his team to the World Series.

Eh, that’s a lot of maybes.

12. Montreal Expos

Actual pick: Delino DeShields, SS, Seaford HS (Seaford, Del.), 19.9 WAR
Revised pick: Jeff Conine, 3B, UCLA (Los Angeles, Calif.), 22.3 WAR (Actual: 58th round, Kansas City Royals)

DeShields was a good player—not the second coming of Lou Whitaker he once appeared to be, but still good. He also was traded to Los Angeles for a young pitcher named Pedro Martinez. Without DeShields, the Expos never steal Martinez from the Dodgers.

Not that it matters much. Montreal was going to be terrific in ’94 anyway, and the strike was going to happen, thus denying Les Expos a shot at their first championship. If Martinez couldn’t save the franchise from being destroyed by MLB, it’s doubtful anyone could have.

Conine, meanwhile, is one of the all-time great picks from beyond Round 50. In today’s world, he wouldn’t be drafted at all and he might not have had the opportunity to collect nearly 2,000 hits in a 17-year career. Conine might have had to fall back on his racquetball skills. I’m guessing that’s a less lucrative line of work.

What would Conine have meant to the Expos? Well, he didn’t arrive in the big leagues for good until ’93, at the relatively old age of 27. And he didn’t really stick at third base. He moved instead to left field, where he would have been fighting for time with the younger and more pedigreed Moises Alou.

Did I mention that Alou’s dad managed the Expos? Yeah, that might have been a tough sell.

First base? Conine probably could have taken time away from Greg Colbrunn in ’93, but with youngster Cliff Floyd on the way, that gig wouldn’t have lasted long. Conine could have helped the ’95 team, but those Expos finished in fifth place (they also had every single player in their lineup hit between 10 and 14 home runs, which is some kind of freaky), so it’s not like anyone would have noticed.

In retrospect, even though Conine provided better career value than DeShields, he wouldn’t have brought Martinez to Montreal. So the overall impact here is negative, although nobody could have known at the time that DeShields would fetch such a player in trade (or that DeShields wouldn’t have a brilliant career).

13. Milwaukee Brewers

Actual pick: Bill Spiers, Clemson University (Clemson, S.C.), 10.7 WAR
Revised pick: Scott Erickson, RHP, San Jose CC (San Jose, Calif.), 21.9 WAR (Actual: 34th round, Houston Astros; did not sign)

Spiers was a useful big-league ballplayer in a Luis Alicea (himself a first-round pick the previous year) kind of way. Think Miguel Cairo with better on-base skills.

Spiers enjoyed a nice ’91 campaign (.283/.337/.401, 106 OPS+) and a ridiculous ’97 season (.320/.438/.481, 145 OPS+), but otherwise did little to distinguish himself. He typically played about 120 games a year, all over the field, and hit just enough to stick around for 1,252 games.

Erickson was drafted four years in a row: 1986 (36th round, New York Mets), 1987 (Astros), 1988 (44th round, Toronto Blue Jays), and 1989 (4th round, Minnesota Twins). Once he finally signed, he was brilliant over his first three seasons (41-24, 3.20 ERA, 130 ERA+ from 1990 to 1992) and compared well to Appier. Then Erickson turned into an innings eater with occasional bouts of effectiveness.

The Brewers were terrible for most of the ’90s. However, in 1992, they finished 92-70, good enough for second place in the AL East. Stick Erickson in, say, Ricky Bones‘ spot in the rotation and things look a little brighter:

Player      IP ERA+ WAR
Erickson 212.0 119  3.7
Bones    163.1  85  0.1

Be that as it may, the bigger impact would have been on the Twins, who leaned heavily on Erickson in the ’91 postseason. Although he got cuffed around in Game 3 of that year’s World Series, he bounced back in Game 6, pitching well enough to keep the Twins in the game until they could break through against the Atlanta bullpen and force a deciding Game 7, which Minnesota would famously win on the strength of Morris’ 10-inning shutout. Without Erickson, the Twins might have had to rely on someone like Mark Guthrie or David West.

14. St. Louis Cardinals

Actual pick: Cris Carpenter, RHP, U. of Georgia (Athens, Ga.), 2.1 WAR
Revised pick: Bret Boone, SS, El Dorado HS (Placentia, Calif.), 21.4 WAR (Actual: 28th round, Minnesota Twins; did not sign)

Like his college teammate and fellow first-round pick Derek Lilliquist, Carpenter didn’t have much of a big-league career. His best year came in 1992, when he helped bridge the gap between the Cardinals starters and closer Lee Smith. St. Louis had a deep bullpen, though, and Carpenter was no better than the third best option for Joe Torre that year.

Boone, son of Bob, grandson of Ray, brother of Aaron, had an unusual career. He spent 15 years in the big leagues. Most of those fall into the category of “not bad, but nothing special.” However, from age 32 to age 34, he surrounded an All-Star caliber season with two MVP caliber seasons. From 2001 to 2003, Boone hit .301/.359/.526 (135 OPS+).

That ’01 campaign would have meant a lot to the Cardinals. Well, maybe. Intending no disrespect to Fernando Vina, who enjoyed a fine season in St. Louis, there is no comparison between him and Boone that year:

       PA   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+ WAR
Vina  690 .303 .357 .418 100  2.4
Boone 690 .331 .372 .578 153  9.3

The Cardinals finished in a tie with Houston for first place atop the NL Central. The Astros were awarded the title due to their winning the head-to-head series.

The good news is that Boone would have pushed St. Louis into sole possession of first place. The bad news is, the Cardinals would have had to play Atlanta rather than Arizona. The Braves swept the Astros that year, and it’s doubtful the Cardinals would have fared much better—especially when you consider how poorly Boone played for Seattle in the real-world ALDS (2-for-21, 11 K).

Boone would have helped the Cardinals again in 2002, when they reached the NLCS. It is difficult to imagine, however, that his presence alone would have been enough to derail a San Francisco squad that rolled through the series in five games. Still, Boone could have made things interesting.

15. Baltimore Orioles

Actual pick: Brad DuVall, RHP, Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, Va.), N/A
Revised pick: DeShields

The Orioles had three picks in the first round. The first two never reached the big leagues. We gave them Ray Lankford at No. 7. Now we give them DeShields. Those two turned out to be a tad more useful than DuVall and Chris Myers.

DeShields’ first two big-league seasons coincided with two terrible showings by the Orioles. He wouldn’t have made a difference. However, in 1992, DeShields would have given Baltimore a significant upgrade at second base over incumbent Billy Ripken:

           PA   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+ WAR
DeShields 599 .292 .359 .398 116  3.3
Ripken    363 .230 .275 .312  63  0.0

It’s hard to say whether DeShields would have done enough to help push the Orioles past Milwaukee and Toronto, but he sure wouldn’t have hurt. I didn’t touch on the ’92 season when discussing Lankford last week, but if you stick him in left instead of Joe Orsulak and replace Ripken with DeShields, the AL East race potentially gets a bit tighter.

DeShields would have been useless to the Orioles by the late-’90s. In 1996, when Baltimore reached the ALCS, DeShields hit just .224/.288/.298 (60 OPS+) for the Dodgers. The Orioles, meanwhile, had the best second baseman on the planet, Roberto Alomar, who hit .328/.411/.527 (136 OPS+) that year. DeShields improved in ’97, but Alomar was still at the top of his game, so no point in that. The Orioles’ best bet would have been to hope that Lankford and DeShields put them over the top in ’92, then hope they could move their second baseman for a future Cy Young Award winner.

Two other points of marginal interest are worth noting. First, DeShields and Lankford ended up playing together for the Cardinals in 1997 and 1998. DeShields actually enjoyed a brief resurgence in St. Louis. Second, DeShields ended up replacing Alomar at second base for the Orioles from 1999 to 2001. Unfortunately, he wasn’t very good by then… and neither were the O’s.

16. San Francisco Giants

Actual pick: Mike Remlinger, LHP, Dartmouth College (Hanover, N.H.), 8.4 WAR
Revised pick: Mike Timlin, RHP, Southwestern U. (Georgetown, Texas), 18.1 WAR (Actual: 5th round, Toronto Blue Jays)

The Blue Jays have made some nice picks in the fifth round over the years: Dave Stieb (1978), Pat Hentgen (1986), Mike Young (1997), and Timlin. In our reimagined draft, they never get the chance to take Timlin, who is tabbed by the Giants.

Including the six supplemental picks made in 1987, we are now halfway through the first round. It may come as a surprise that a player like Timlin, who enjoyed a fine career but who is light years from the guys at the top of our revised draft in terms of impact on the game, would place so highly. This points up the fact that in any given draft class, there just isn’t an overwhelming amount of talent.

We’ll discuss this further in a future installment, but in ’87 you’re looking at three Hall-of-Famers, 10-12 All Stars and a bunch of useful pieces. This is helpful to remember when tossing the phrase “first-round talent” into your next party conversation.

What might Timlin have meant to the Giants? More than Remlinger, who worked exactly 35 innings for them before being shipped to Seattle for… wait a sec, the Giants got Billy Swift in that deal. Swift led the NL in ERA in ’92 and won 21 games the following year.

Timlin could have helped the Giants in 2002, although that is an awful long time to wait for a return on investment. Still, he would have been better than Felix Rodriguez:

Player      IP ERA+  WAR
Timlin    96.2 133   0.9
Rodriguez 69.0  93  -0.1

This doesn’t include Rodriguez’s meltdowns in Game 2 and Game 6 of the World Series that year.

But again, 15 years is an eternity in baseball development terms and it’s doubtful Timlin would have been with the Giants by ’02. It’s also unknown whether he would have been able to land them a pitcher like Swift in trade. Maybe, as in the case of Montreal and DeShields, there is value beyond what the team actually had. Turning DeShields into Martinez, and Remlinger into Swift is a nice little trick.

* * *

Next time, we’ll examine picks 17 through 24. Can the Tigers do better than Bill Henderson and Steve Pegues with their first two picks? How will the Astros survive without Craig Biggio? Stay tuned…

References & Resources

As promised, here is the revised draft so far:

No. Tm  Actual           Revised        Where taken
1.  Sea Ken Griffey Jr.  Griffey        1st round, Sea
2.  Pit Mark Merchant    Mike Mussina   11th round, Bal (DNS)
3.  Min Willie Banks     Craig Biggio   1st round, Hou
4.  ChN Mike Harkey      Kevin Appier   1st round, KC
5.  ChA Jack McDowell    Steve Finley   13th round, Bal
6.  Atl Derek Lilliquist Reggie Sanders 7th round, Cin
7.  Bal Chris Myers      Ray Lankford   3rd round, StL
8.  LA  Dan Opperman     Albert Belle   2nd round, Cle
9.  KC  Appier           Jeff Cirillo   37th round, ChN (DNS)
10. SD  Kevin Garner     Travis Fryman  1st round, Det
11. Oak Lee Tinsley      McDowell       1st round, ChA
12. Mtl Delino DeShields Jeff Conine    58th round, KC
13. Mil Bill Spiers      Scott Erickson 34th round, Hou (DNS)
14. StL Cris Carpenter   Bret Boone     28th round, Min (DNS)
15. Bal Brad DuVall      DeShields      1st round, Mtl
16. SF  Mike Remlinger   Mike Timlin    5th round, Tor
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