Draft picks are going to bust far more often than not in this game — even highly-touted first rounders. The further away you get from the top of the first round, though, the more the bust potential increases. Few first rounders have busted as hard as Andrew Brackman, not just in terms of his failure to contribute to the team that drafted him, but also in terms of how much he cost.
The 30th overall pick in 2007, the Yankees rewarded Brackman with a four-year contract — of which at least $4.55 million of that was guaranteed. His $3.35 million signing bonus was spread out over five years, thanks to MLB’s provision for two-sport athletes (the 6-foot-10 right-hander also played basketball at NC State, but he wasn’t much of an NBA prospect). Various escalators could have pushed the total value of the deal to $13 million, which would have been the richest in draft history (Stephen Strasburg‘s deal has since surpassed Brackman’s).
The money wasn’t entirely undeserved. Baseball America (subscription required) ranked him as the seventh-best prospect in the draft about two weeks before the actual event — two spots ahead of Jason Heyward and seven spots ahead of Madison Bumgarner. The reason he slid all the way down to No. 30 was his elbow. The Yankees knew Brackman needed Tommy John surgery when they drafted him, but they still paid him handsomely and hoped patience during his rehab would reward the team in the future. It never did.
Brackman had a disastrous 2009 (4.66 FIP in 106.2 Low-A innings) after missing 2008 following his elbow surgery, but he showed encouraging signs in 2010 (3.24 FIP in 140.2 innings split between High-A and Double-A). The Yankees called him up to the big leagues that September, but he didn’t pitch. And then the wheels completely came off this season (54 walks, 41 strikeouts and a 5.86 FIP in 59.1 Triple-A innings), but he eventually settled into a relief role and showed some improvement (4.48 FIP in 36.2 IP). That earned him another September call-up, which resulted in four baserunners (three walks and one hit) and zero whiffs in 2.1 IP.
The Yankees cut the cord yesterday. The team declined a club option that would have paid Brackman $1 million in MLB and $500,000 in the minors next season, Keith Law reported. A clause in the contract stipulated that the team must release him if it declined the option, which is exactly what New York did. According to Pete Caldera, of The Bergen Record, the Yankees paid Brackman nearly $11 million during his four-plus years in the organization, and all what did the team get? Thirteen big-league batters faced and seven outs.
To put Brackman’s contract into perspective: he has made more money than David Price, who went first in the same draft and has pulled in approximately $9 million during his career (while producing 10.4 more WAR).
Of course, money is no object for the Yankees. After all, this is the same team that spent $12 million on three unusable left-handed pitchers in 2011 (Kei Igawa, Damaso Marte and Pedro Feliciano), so $11 million spread over four years for a first-round pick is little more than a rounding error. You’re not going to hit the jackpot without buying a lottery ticket, and Brackman was the Yankees’ lottery ticket four years ago. Someone might still give him a chance, given his relative youth (he’ll be 26 in December), and first round pedigree. But given his career earnings and lack of production, there has been no more expensive draft bust in baseball history.
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