No matter how you feel about Joe Jordan’s record as the Orioles’ scouting director from 2005 through 2011, there is one area that hurt the Orioles during his time with the club that was out of the control of the scouting department.
The Orioles had fewer picks than their American League East rivals in the top three rounds during those seven drafts - in some cases many fewer picks - as other teams took advantage of the draft rules to obtain more picks. They got many compensation picks for losing Type A and B free agents and manipulated the system to get more selections.
The Type A and B designations are derived from a statistical formula created by the Elias Sports Bureau. Teams that lose a Type A free agent receive the first-round pick of the club that signed that player - provided the former team offered him salary arbitration - and a new draft pick that’s inserted into the sandwich round between the first and second rounds. (One exception is if the team that signs the player has its initial selection among the first 15 picks, which are protected; in that case, it loses its second-round pick.)
Teams that sign Type B free agents don’t lose a pick, but the club that lost the player is granted a compensatory selection in the sandwich round.
The system was set up to actually help small-market clubs like Tampa Bay that lost some of its homegrown talent to the big-spending clubs. That makes sense. But the big market clubs figured out a way to make it work for them.
Take the case of lefty reliever Billy Wagner. Boston acquired him from the Mets on Aug. 25, 2009 for two players to be named later, who eventually were Chris Carter and Eddie Lora. Wagner pitched in 15 games and just 13 2/3 innings for Boston in 2009 and then signed with Atlanta as a Type A free agent in December 2009.
For losing Wagner - a pitcher they had for all of 13 2/3 innings - Boston picked up the Braves’ first-round pick in the 2010 draft, which was No. 20 overall and they got a compensation pick, No. 39 overall.
So Boston got the use of Wagner down the stretch in the 2009 season, and after losing him, got two of the top 40 picks in the next draft.
I went back and added up the number of picks in the first three rounds that AL East clubs had during Jordan’s tenure with Baltimore from 2005 through last June’s draft. Here are the numbers:
36 - Boston and Toronto
34 - Tampa Bay
21 - New York
20 - Baltimore
While the Orioles have had the fifth pick or higher in round one of the last five drafts, Boston and Toronto have had almost two picks in the top three rounds to every one for the Orioles during that time.
The draft is a numbers game and the more high picks you have, the more top talent you are likely to add. Here are the numbers of picks in the first three rounds by the AL East in the 2010 and 2011 drafts alone:
19 - Tampa Bay
17 - Toronto
11 - Boston
6 - New York
5 - Baltimore
So, at a time when the Orioles were not signing big dollar international talent or adding any big-dollar free agents, they were putting a heavy load on their own drafts to produce talent and they had many fewer top picks than their division rivals.
No wonder they struggled to improve in the standings. If the Orioles hit on four of their five picks then, for an amazing 80 percent success rate, Tampa could top them by hitting on five of 19 picks, or just 26 percent. The better teams also have had a bigger margin for error.
The good news for the Orioles is the strong possibility that the system is about to change. In the new collective bargaining agreement that could be announced any day, changes are expect in how these compensation picks are distributed. Maybe the day of some clubs taking advantage of the system is over.