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Is Good Drafting Enough? World Series Edition, 2

This is the follow-up to (and conclusion of) yesterday’s post using the World Series teams to make a point about the “sufficiency” of the draft. But first things first: congratulations to the San Francisco Giants. I’ll freely admit that at the beginning of the season I didn’t see them as a playoff contender, but they made it in and won the whole thing with a mixture of young players they developed and some veteran castoffs that played better for them than most of us would have imagined. That brings me back to the theme of this two-part discussion: the Giants illustrate that while good drafting is essential for most teams to compete, it is hard to come up with examples of teams that managed to do so solely with players they originally acquired. (I used these two teams as examples because they were in the World Series — the 2010 Rockies would have been perhaps a more interesting case; they have a high proportion of drafted players, but imagine them without Carlos Gonzalez, Jason Hammel, Jorge da la Rosa, and Huston Street.) Having covered the Giants yesterday, I’ll briefly discuss the Rangers before offering some concluding thoughts. The World Series is over, but the point of these posts isn’t about the World Series, but rather using two teams (whose 2010 fate every other team envies) to illustrate a point about team building.

The Rangers are a very young team, so initially, one might think they might make a better argument for the relative sufficiency of the draft. However, this is far from being the case. Indeed, out of all the position players that started for the Rangers in the World Series, only Ian Kinsler and Mitch Moreland were originally drafted and signed by the Rangers. Even seeming Ranger-for-life Michael Young came over in a trade long ago from the Blue Jays.

The improvement of the Rangers’ pitching has been rightly oft-noted, but the final 2010 rotation relied heavily on “outside help.” Cliff Lee came over because the team was willing to trade top first base prospect Justin Smoak (and others) to the Mariners for him. Colby Lewis was actually originally drafted in the first round by the Rangers back in 1999, but as is well-known by now, bounced around both the majors a bit and Japan before the Rangers picked him back up. That’s a display of good scouting of an older player in a different league rather than good drafting. Neftali Feliz is a good young closer (who might still be able to start, according to some), but like shortstop Elvis Andrus, he came to the Rangers in the massive 2007 trade that sent Mark Teixeira to Atlanta.

I realize these two posts have been a bit disjointed, so I’ll summarize in conclusion. This was not primarily about comparing Brian Sabean and Jon Daniels with Dayton Moore or any other general manager or front office, although my introductory remarks from yesterday might have made it seem that way. I used Moore as a starting point because (a) despite all my criticism for his moves on a major league level, I wanted to acknowledge that he’s done a great job of building Kansas City’s farm system into the best in baseball, and I wanted to do so before he starts signing free agents and my goodwill (likely) gets buried; and (b) because the Royals’ front office is an example of a grop who seems to get amateur scouting, but generally struggles (to put it mildly) with making smart major league trades and signings. We all agree that drafting and developing talent is essential for any team (even the Yankees’ two most valuable position players in 2010 — Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner — are from their farm system). Some have pointed to the Rangers as a “homegrown” team, and to the Giants as a team whose drafts have overcome questionable signings. There is some truth to that, but as I hope I’ve pointed out, this isn’t really the case. Both teams had essential contributions from players (who were more than just role and bench players) acquired through free agency or trades without whom they probably wouldn’t even have made the playoffs. This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive study, but rather a reminder that while good drafting is certainly necessary for almost every franchise to compete, it isn’t sufficient to build a contender on its own.