Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Neal Huntington and the Story of Brad Hawpe

Free Draft Pick
I'm an unabashed supporter of Neal Huntington. I believe he should and hope he is the Pirates General Manager for several years to come.  That said, I do not believe that he's without fault.  In fact, he's made plenty of poor moves in his tenure with the Pirates.  He non-tendered Matt Capps who was traded for top prospect Wilson Ramos months later.  The 2009 draft has been a disaster.  His intentions and logic may have been right, but the results have been poor.  Adam LaRoche was traded for Hunter Strickland and Argenis Diaz when his value couldn't be lower.  Huntington's major league free agent signings have been largely been disasters. That said, my biggest gripe with Huntington has been something he's failed to do.

The new CBA changed compensatory picks from free agents.  A team must give the player entering free agency a qualifying offer. A qualifying offer must have an average-annual-value equal to the average value of the top 125 salaries from the previous season. Then, if the player turns down the qualifying offer and signs with another team, the team who lost their player gets an extra pick at the end of the first round. The change has substantially cut down on the amount of free agent compensation picks.  This year, only 7 qualifying offers were turned down and only 3 of those players have signed with other teams so far.  For comparison, in 2011 and 2012 combined, teams received well over 50 compensation pick.  The old system ranked players as either type-A or type-B free agents.  The team simply had to offer a type-A or type-B free agent arbitration.  If the player refused and signed elsewhere, the team then received two picks for a type-A free agent or one pick for type-B free agent. 

In the four year span (not including 2008) in which Huntington was in charge and the old compensation system was still in place, the Pirates received one pick.  That pick was for Ryan Doumit, who was a type-B free agent after the 2011 season.  The Pirates received an extra pick in the 2012 draft and it was used on Barrett Barnes, who's already an exciting prospect.  For small market teams, draft picks are like gold, in the new system and in the old system.  It would stand to reason that the Pirates, as a small market team, would want to collect as many picks as possible.

For example, the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays. In the 3 drafts between 2010 and 2012, the Toronto Blue Jays had 12 extra draft picks thanks to compensation from free agents.  In that same span, the Tampa Bay Rays had 10 extra picks. Now granted, some of those draft picks were a result of the compensation working the way it was intended. The Rays received two draft picks in 2011 for the loss of Carl Crawford to the Red Sox.  Crawford was legitimately one of the best players in the major leagues and because he was a home grown Ray, Tampa Bay deserved the picks they received by all accounts.

On the flip side, both organizations have definitely gamed the system. One of the most obvious examples is the story of Brad Hawpe. Hawpe was originally drafted and signed by the Rockies all the way back in 2000.  By 2004, he had made his way to the majors, where he played right field.  Hawpe had his best years from 2006-2009.  He helped the Rockies make it to the world series in 2007 and was named to the all-star game in 2009.  However, as the 2010 season drew to a conclusion, his Hawpe's star had dimmed considerably.  The Rockies released him on August 18th.

However, because of the rules and method of the compensation system - player's status as either type-A or type-B involves the year previous to free agency along with other years prior to that - Hawpe was still had a shot to be a type-B free agent.  The astute Rays pounced.  While this isn't what the contract read, they signed Hawpe to a minor league contract on August 27th, with the promise to bring him up when rosters expanded, if he would decline arbitration in the offseason. Everything went according to plan and the Padres signed Brad Hawpe.  As a result, the Rays received the 52nd overall pick in the 2011 draft and used it to draft and sign prep lefty Blake Snell.  According to John Sickels, Snell is the Rays 11st best prospect going into 2013, and received a B- grade.

As noted earlier, the Pirates received one compensation pick under Huntington's tenure.  It was for losing Ryan Doumit after the 2011 season to the Twins.  The Pirates actually closed the season with 4 type-B free agents on their roster, but declined to offer arbitration to two, Paul Maholm and Ryan Ludwick. Both moves made sense; it was extremely unlikely either party would decline arbitration and thus an expensive contract would follow instead of a draft pick. They did, however, offer arbitration to Derrek Lee along with the aforementioned Ryan Doumit, but Lee never signed a major league deal and thus the Pirates did not earn a compensatory pick.  However, Lee is still an interesting test case.  The Pirates simply had to trade the Orioles non-prospect Aaron Baker and cash for Derrek Lee.  Trades like that were possible throughout Huntington's tenure - in fact that is exactly how the Blue Jays received several of their compensation picks.  However, Huntington never attempted to make trades like that or sign a guy like Brad Hawpe.  It must also be noted, that in the first few years of the Huntington's regime, the Pirates weren't exactly starved for roster space to add type-B free agents that would return draft picks for minimal cost.  Overall, I like Huntington.  He's made mistakes.  To me, the most aggravating issue has been Huntington's failure to capitalize on the old compensatory system, especially when it was clear he believed that building through the draft was essential to success for the Pirates. Thus is the sad story of Neal Huntington and Brad Hawpe.