I heard some grumbling last night about the Pirates being screwed by baseball’s new system for taking Mark Appel. Under the new CBA, each team is allotted a pool of money based on where they draft, and how many choices they have, that they can split between their picks in any way they choose.*

So by taking what could be the best starting pitching prospect in the draft (a pitcher a lot of teams suspected would go #1 overall), folks were concerned that the Pirates were shooting themselves in the foot later in the draft. If Appel demanded a high bonus, lest he return to school, the Pirates would be forced to allocate less to other picks, and would therefore have to pick worse players in rounds 2-10. It’s not really an unreasonable fear, I guess.  But it’s not really something people should be concerned about.

*This is an oversimplification. There are also rules governing picks past the 10th round.

For one thing, Appel is almost certainly going to sign.  He’s a college junior, and returning to Stanford would make the young righty wait through for another season of high pitch counts and injury risk (see what happened to Gioloto in this draft, for an idea of how an injury can cause you to plummet), only to come out in 2013 with less projectability and less leverage at the bargaining table.

So while he might not like that he fell to #8 and will pitch for Pittsburgh (and his post draft comments sure indicate he wasn’t thrilled), he’s going to sign.  And while the Pirates could conceivably balk at his high price and take a compensation pick next year (at #8) for losing out on Appel, the player they’d get would almost certainly be worse, and they would have an entire season in the midst of their rebuild where they didn’t add an impact prospect to the organization.  So it’s not really in their interest to punt on Appel either.

For another thing, while signing Appel may put a dent in the Pittsburgh budget in later rounds, all it really takes is one hit to make any draft.  CJ Nitkowski joked last night that yesterday was the:

But that’s not actually true.  Sure, a 1st round bust is a high profile failure that’s embarrassing.  But nobody got fired over drafting him, because CJ Nitkowski wasn’t the only player the Reds drafted in 1994. The Reds used their 3rd round pick to select Aaron Boone, who played parts of seven seasons for the Reds and was worth more than 10 WAR for the club.  To provide some context, only 13 players drafted and signed in 1994 had a WAR of over 10 in their careers:

Rank Name Round Team Career WAR
1 Nomar Garciaparra 1st Red Sox 42.0
2 Javier Vazquez 5th Expos 40.2
3 Placido Polanco 19th Cardinals 39.0*
4 Paul Konerko 1st Dodgers 26.0*
5 Corey Koskie 26th Twins 22.6
6 Jason Varitek 1st Mariners 21.3
7 Keith Foulke 9th Giants 19.8
8 Ronnie Belliard 8th Brewers 18.3
9 AJ Pierzynski 3rd Twins 17.0
10 Carl Pavano 13th Red Sox 14.8*
11 Jay Payton 1st Mets 13.4
12 Aaron Boone 3rd Reds 11.6
13 Julio Lugo 43rd Astros 11.2

*Still Active, career rWAR as of 6/5/2012

You’ll notice, only the Twins and Red Sox appear on that list twice (and neither because of hitting on two high picks) and 17 of the 28 clubs in the Majors in 1994 don’t appear on the list at all.  So if the Pirates are convinced about Appel’s potential and that the probability of him reaching that potential is high, it makes absolutely perfect sense to make that pick.  Who cares what the Pirates get in the rest of the draft?  It’s an upside play, and a smart upside play to get one of the handful of actually good Major Leaguers who come out of any draft.

What’s more, we should acknowledge that, even if a pick doesn’t work out, that doesn’t mean that the pick had no value.  For instance, Nitkowski never pitched for the Reds.  It wasn’t because he wasn’t any good.  It’s because he was the central part of a package the Reds used in 1995 to acquire David Wells.  Wells not only helped to push the Reds to the division title that year, but won Game 3 of the Division Series for them too.  Players are essentially commodities who give interviews, and smart organizations can figure out how best to leverage those commodities.

Look, a lot has changed under this new CBA.  That’s part of the reason, undoubtedly, why Appel fell to the Pirates.  But one thing that hasn’t changed is that teams only need to be right once.  And if a relatively sure thing falls in your lap, brother, you have to take that.  The Pirates didn’t get screwed last night.  They got better.