When the Tigers pulled off the Cabrera/Willis trade, Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller were the two key pieces. They had something in common – they slipped to the Tigers due to signability issues. The same thing happened in 2007 with Rick Porcello and the Tigers hungrily snapped him up, and like with the aforementioned players, were willing to go above slot to sign him. When the Tigers made the trade it was assumed that they would be able to replenish quickly due to Mike Ilitich’s willingness to spend for premium talent in the draft – but it appears that there will be less talent slips.
Peter Gammons notes that the small market teams have realized that the draft is the best chance to be on a level (or at least level-ish) playing field with the big spending teams. They can’t get the same free agents, but they can get the same quality of entry player. Gammons lists the top 10 teams in terms of signing bonuses to top 10 picks:
Royals, Rays, Red Sox, Giants, Pirates, Brewers, Rangers, Twins, Orioles and Astros
Many of these teams are the ones that were passing on the Maybins, and Millers, and Porcellos in past years.
This was a concern I had when the deal was initially made. That the league would see the Tigers were able to make the trade by spending big on the draft, and big on the draft is much more affordable than big on the free agent market.
As for the Tigers, they ranked in the bottom 7 in draft bonuses (or is it bonii?) in 2008. At the time I wondered if it was a matter of them saving money for international signings, which haven’t been formally announced by the team to the best of my knowledge but TigsTown notes that there had been 7 as of August 1st. I have no idea how much they spent, or how it compares to past years. It’s possible that the organization felt this wasn’t the draft to invest in, and that the players didn’t warrant the slot busting bonuses. Or because so much depth had been traded away, they wanted to avoid the risky picks for a year to get a quick infusion. Or the worst case scenario, the spending at the big league level may have taken a chunk out of David Chadd’s budget.
Regardless, and I don’t say this to diminish the work that Chadd and his staff do, the Tigers probably can’t rely on other teams passing on talent at the same rate they did in 2005 through 2007. Then again, the Tigers performance this year is dictating that they’ll have a chance at a pretty good player as they move down the standings and up the draft order.