Quality vs. Quantity: The Blue Jays’ Draft Strategy

Ever since the new collective bargaining agreement was announced in November 2011, people speculated as to how the newly-formulated signing bonus budgets for the MLB Draft would affect draft strategy.

Signability became extremely important. Teams could not afford to fail to sign a pick because it caused them to forfeit their pick and the bonus money allotted for that pick, ultimately lessening their overall spending pool. That focus on signability resulted in an influx of college seniors getting drafted in earlier rounds than their talent would have otherwise dictated.

Drafting college seniors in the top ten rounds allowed organizations to sign those players — who lack negotiating leverage due to their inability to return to college — well under the prescribed slot value and bank money to utilize elsewhere.

Most teams drafted a college senior or two in the first ten rounds, but the Toronto Blue Jays took the strategy to a whole different level. In rounds four through ten, Toronto drafted seven-consecutive college seniors, and not one of those players has signed for more than $5,000 — including outfielder Alex Azor out of the United States Naval Academy, who signed for a mere $1,000 in the tenth round. Azor saved the Blue Jays $124,000 against their overall signing bonus allotment.

The massive savings accumulated in rounds four through ten was then disbursed to the quintet of high school players drafted between the supplemental and third rounds. Of those five prep players, only right-hander Tyler Gonzales signed below slot value. The other four players necessitated above-slot bonuses, especially left-hander Matt Smoral, who was a first-round talent who fell to the supplemental round due to signability concerns. Smoral reportedly signed for $2 million — or $1 million over slot value.

Toronto engaged in a fascinating strategy, in which they essentially punted rounds four through ten in order to acquire more top-end talent in the earlier rounds. In short, they opted for quality rather than quantity in the draft.

That strategy stood in stark contrast to the one practiced by the Milwaukee Brewers, for example. They did not draft a single collegiate senior in the first ten rounds. While the Blue Jays signed their tenth-round pick for $1,000, the Brewers signed left-hander Anthony Banda in the tenth round for $125,000, which was exactly slot value.

The Blue Jays took a huge chance with their draft strategy because it limits their opportunities to reap tangible benefits from their draft picks. At the same time, their draft picks have more upside and a better chance of developing into impact talent at the big league level — at least, according to scouts at this point in their respective professional careers — and in the difficult AL East, the Toronto Blue Jays desperately need to develop impact talent from their farm system to compete. They simply do not have the payroll to load up elite free agents like some of their division rivals.

In some ways, the Brewers and Blue Jays both walked into a casino with $100 to spend. The Brewers pulled up a chair at the nickel slots, maximizing their plays and odds of winning modest payouts. The Blue Jays, on the other hand, spent their money on the dollar slots. Their number of plays is more limited, but their potential payout is much, much higher. It will be interesting to see which strategy proves more effective down the road.

With Alex Anthopoulos at the helm, the Blue Jays have become one of the more creative teams in Major League Baseball. Their strategy in the 2012 Draft is just another example of that creativity at work.

(Individual signing bonuses can be found via Baseball America’s impressive Draft Database.)




Print This Post



J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).


49 Responses to “Quality vs. Quantity: The Blue Jays’ Draft Strategy”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Jff says:

    As a Jays fan, i for one am very excited about the approach the management team has been taking. It hasnt yet translated into Wins on the field, but you can feel it coming..

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Radivel says:

    Does anyone who reads FanGraphs regularly not know that the Jays did this already?
    I thought this posting would say more than it did, but it really left me thinking there should have been more.

    Also, not only that, the Jays had seven picks in the first three rounds, and six were HSers. Marcus Stroman was the only college kid.
    Ripped off from BBB (and probably so badly formatted it’s hard to read, but could have been in the article itself..)

    Round Name Position School Status Bonus Slot
    1 (17) D.J Davis OF Stone County HS MS Signed 1750000 2000000 -250000
    1 (22) Marcus Stroman RHP Duke NC 1800000 0
    1 (50) Matt Smoral LHP Solon HS Signed 2000000 1000000 1000000
    1 (58) Mitch Nay 3B Hamilton HS AZ Signed 1000000 884100 115900
    1 (60) Tyler Gonzales RHP James Madison HS CA Signed 750000 857200 -107200
    2 Chase DeJong RHP Woodrow Wilson HS CA 620300 0
    3 Anthony Alford CF Petal HS MS Signed 694484 424400 270084
    4 Tucker Donahue RHP Stetson U FL Signed 5000 308700 -303700
    5 Brad Delatte LHP Nicholls St U LA Signed 5000 231100 -226100
    6 Eric Phillips 3B Georgia Southern GA Signed 5000 173200 -168200
    7 Ian Parmley OF Liberty U VA Signed 5000 145000 -140000
    8 Harrison Frawley C Coastal Carolina U SC Signed 5000 135400 -130400
    9 Jordan Leyland 1B Azusa Pacific U CA Signed 5000 126400 -121400
    10 Alex Azor CF USNA MD Signed 1000 125000

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Radivel says:

      Decided it’d just be better to post the link:
      http://www.bluebirdbanter.com/2012/6/21/3109524/2012-draft-table-reprised

      Hindsight is effective.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Thanks for linking :-)

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Radivel says:

        I’ve probably linked to BBB from here more than any other single poster. I don’t know why you guys don’t submit some of those really well written analytical posts that take place over there; it’s generally very good and sometimes fantastic work.

        I’m only not a posting member because I think the style sucks. :P

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • bada bing says:

      I do read FanGraphs regularly, and did not realize that the Jays did this. I’m not sure that every FG reader pays close attention to the Blue Jays drafting strategy. This was a useful post by the OP.

      +47 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Damaso's Burnt Shirt says:

      Why so serious?

      It’s not like Toronto is the center of the baseball universe. This article is a nice summary of some well thought out drafting by AA.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Snowblind says:

      I also didn’t know this about the Jays, and especially appreciated the analogy at the end to neatly sum it up.

      I’m also surprised more teams don’t do this, especially the teams that are doing pretty well right now at the majors and high minors, teams that might rather nurse along some future trade chits / players-to-build-on, rather than a system with no true successors to those who are the cornerstones of their franchise at the moment.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Steve says:

      As a matter of fact, I did not know this information. I used to be a true baseball fanatic but certain life decisions have taken most of my time that I used to dedicate to baseball. I now view fangraphs every day to read articles just like this.

      Just because you know a lot of the headlines that go on does not mean that everyone does.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • byron says:

      I could have guessed that AA did something noteworthy in this vein, but I had no idea he’d drafted that many seniors.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Damaso's Burnt Shirt says:

    I don’t think AA would attempt this on this scale if he didn’t have all those extra picks (Beede compensation pick, supplementals for Rauch(!!!?!!), Frank Francisco and Jose Molina(!????)) but he did his best to acquire them and then take advantage of it and maximize the amount of elite talent.

    Plus there is some extra cash if he wants to throw some money at a hard to sign late round pick although not as much he could under the previous CBA.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Brian says:

      What’s so surprising about those compensation picks? AA did that on purpose. Think about it. He traded Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco.

      Why? Because he knew that Francisco was one year closer to free agency than Napoli. Also AA forecasted that a new CBA would mean new draft pick compensation rules. So it was a safer bet to grab compensation picks with Francisco than it was Napoli.

      Almost nothing from AA surprises me. (not necessarily that I expect AA to make those moves, but when he does make it, I can see why)

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Damaso's Burnt Shirt says:

        A) As a Jays fan I am quite well aware of AA’s judicious FA signings and dealings especially in regards to FA compensation picks.
        B) Because Jon Rauch (especially after last season) and Jose Molina aren’t names one normally associates with free agent compensation. The fact that both qualified and landed a decent 1st round supplemental shows the types of calculated gambles AA takes.

        Maybe you haven’t noticed that there are no “?” around Frankie Frank.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Ccoop says:

    I like the casino analogy a good deal although I’d only mention that it uses as a premise that the best players were taken sequentially over the past decade when we know that signability was a greater concern under the old system. In other words, it might be increasingly difficult to find talent past pick 15 as it was in recent years… Which might curb the success of this strategy.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • TerryMc says:

      The could go both ways. For example, if teams have a player rated on their board as the 20th-25th best available and it becomes known that he wants top 10 money then he’ll drop if teams do not want to bust the slot. This can happen anywhere in the draft…although once you get past the first couple rounds (say the top 80-100 rated players) the impact would be less significant.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. greenfrog says:

    To come away with Davis, Stroman, Smoral, Nay, Gonzales, DeJong and Alford is pretty exciting (of course, Alford may be embarking on a football career). It would have been nice to add 12th-rounder Ryan Kellogg (who recently opted to go to college), though. Most drafts seem to produce only 1-3 average or above ML players. The Jays seem to have used their extra picks very effectively to give them one of the better drafts in the first year of the new CBA. As always, it will take several years to see how it all pans out.

    Incidentally, I’m hoping that the resurgent Encarnacion keeps raking, earning him a qualifying offer and netting the Jays a couple of extra picks in the 2013 draft.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Brian says:

      I really hope EE is good enough to garner a qualifying offer; otherwise keeping him with the Blue Jays would be useless.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • greenfrog says:

        I think EE will be given a qualifying offer, barring a second-half collapse. His numbers are excellent. He has turned himself into a dangerous hitter and is showing consistently good plate discipline.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • everdiso says:

        EE is one of the best hitters in baseball at the moment, and has been doing it since June of 2011. This breakout season at 29yrs mirrors Bautista’s 29 year old season as well….except that EE had a significantly better prior track record. Given his history, the Jays once again have the chance to lock up a guy for significantly under market value, just like they did with Bautista.

        Why on earth would they let EE go for a couple of picks?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • greenfrog says:

        Bautista was only arb-eligible when he signed his 5/$65M deal, so he had less leverage than EE will this off-season, when he’ll become a sought-after free agent. I’m sure the Jays would love to keep EE, but I don’t think they’ll commit the dollars and years necessary to outbid all of his suitors. Losing him will undoubtedly hurt, as he could be one of the more valuable sluggers in the league over the next 4-5 years. But the extra draft picks would be valuable compensation, allowing AA more room to creatively pursue high-end talent next year’s draft.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • everdiso says:

        It’s doubtful that EE will cost anymore than that Bautista deal, and since they were willing to pony up that money, not sure why they wouldn’t for EE.

        People seem to be under the erroneous impression that the Jays make a habit of letting their impending FAs go, but they really don’t. Most often, they re-sign them. There was Halladay who demanded a trade, but before that you pretty much have to go back to Delgado for the last time the Jays lost a guy simply because they didn’t want to pony up the cash.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Brian the fist says:

        I disagree. The jays have a big hole first base and I think you can sign ee for a reasonable price given the outlier season.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. I’m not that impressed quite frankly. The reason being is that I thought the Mariner’s took a similar strategy but did it better than Toronto did. The didn’t really overdraft at all, signed guys over slot, but were just smarter about it. They just ensured that they signed their first rounder at $1 million under slot and signed all but one guy from the first ten rounds without reaching. If AA deserves kudos, then Jack Zduriencik should receive a standing applause.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • greenfrog says:

      It was a lot easier for teams like Houston (Correa) and Seattle (Zunino) to come up with extra bonus money because of where they selected in the draft (ie, because of the large slot amounts allocated for those early picks). The Jays, on the other hand, chose #17 and 22 overall, making it harder to generate a $1M+ surplus from their first pick while still getting a great player. The Jays had to be more creative than those teams.

      I tend to agree with Keith Law (who said the Jays executed their draft strategy perfectly) and Jim Callis (who called it a “stellar” draft).

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Eric says:

        Hmm… So I agree that things were easier for the Ms and Astros, and I think this could be an exciting new unintended development from the CBA. If higher pick (bad) teams have an advantage at getting better players in all the subsequent rounds, then the value of a high pick may have increased, hopeful giving bad teams a better chance in the future.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • greenfrog says:

        It could also force some players with big bonus demands down the board a bit, as teams at the top try to distribute their allotted amounts to maximize their gains (for example, as Houston did by selecting Correa (#1 overalll) and McCullers (#41) instead of Appel and a lesser player at 41).

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Average_Casey says:

        I didn’t think about that with Toronto. Good point, though I still think they should have not overdrafted though it does make sense.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Tom says:

      A lot of teams did this in round 6-10 or 7-10, hardly seems like something unique. Cashman did this with NY, but since he’s not a SABR preferred GM it is not worth mention.

      But I think some teams did this to take chances on rds 11-20; this is a much better strategy in my view as the first 100K doesn’t count for the draft pool, and if you fail to sign the guy there is no slot money to lose. If you take a guy in round 2 thinking you can go over slot and can’t sign him use lose that slot money (granted there are usually pre-draft deals, but if you get a guy dropping, you might not necessarily have one in place)

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • bkawefjk says:

        Did you even read the article?

        “Most teams drafted a college senior or two in the first ten rounds, but the Toronto Blue Jays took the strategy to a whole different level”

        Its not unique, but they took it a more extreme level than anyone else

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Tom says:

        Ummm…. Did you even read my comment?

        “A college senior or two….” – what I’m saying (if you took the time to read my comment) is some teams did 4 or 5; not the 1 or 2 the article purports ….

        I guess doing this for 1 or 2 more guys is taking it to the extreme…. AA is a genius, why didn’t other teams think of this?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. everdiso says:

    All this site ever does is talk Jays, Jays, Jays!

    -5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Althus says:

    I think the Jays strategy is over hyped because it was a product of the fact that they had so many comp picks as compared to other teams. The comp to Seattle’s draft is unreasonable but to say that this strategy is going to be a model for other teams in disingenuous. I think next years draft will show just how teams will begin to start to game the system but taking college seniors for the last 6 rounds is something I just can’t believe will happen again next year once more and more HS guys start going the college route and making the college programs that much more richer.

    Hopefully the Jays can use their last 330 grand to sign one of their hard to sign guys in the round 11-15 but if not it was a good draft, especially if they go to Alford next year and throw more money at him in order to get him to commit to baseball full time.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Althus says:

    Also I think FG represents very well all teams when those teams do something worth talking about, its just that Canada only has one team so your always going to get more people wanting to talk about the Jays when something Jays related comes up, as opposed to a team which is moreso followed by just one major city and baseball fans in general. Its just hard to argue with the fact that a whole country follows one team/two is you count the Mariners for all of us on the westcoast

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Oasis says:

    This might be just a one year strategy since there won’t be more than a handful of 1st round compensation picks going forward.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. PiratesHurdles says:

    Other teams did this too (albeit not as extreme), its not like the Jays were alone in punting rounds 6-10. The Bucs have saved over 600k with the same approach to go after Appel.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Greg says:

    It’s an interesting game of poker, but the article really only tells half the story. The other half is what we don’t know – which is whether the guys who signed before round 4 would have signed anyway if there wasn’t extra money sloshing around. What will become apparent is that some guys will hold out till July 15 (Mark Appel), wait to see how much money is available (plus the 5% extra which won’t trigger a loss of draft pick), and ask for all of that money. But there truly is no way to know whether a guy who “slides” to round 3, and then requires an over slot amount of money, would have signed anyway if the money just wasn’t there.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Alex says:

    I guess this strategy is creative, but doesn’t it strike anyone else that this is likely a very bad strategy?

    Baseball teams are notoriously bad at drafting. Many first rounders are flops and many later become good major leaguers. Unless the Jays are simply much better at scouting than other teams have been historically, wouldn’t a high quantity of pretty good prospects give a better return on investment than a much smaller number of highly regarded prospects?

    The Jays punt their chance at getting Jonathan Papelbon or Michael Bourn or Josh Johnson types (all slot fourth rounders) and go cheap in rounds 4-10 for the opportunity to invest more in a few name-brand prospects… who might turn out to be the next Brett Lawrie or might turn out to be the next Kevin Ahrens.

    It seems doubtful that Smoral is SO much better than other options at that pick that he is worth forfeiting multiple picks in rounds 4-10.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. David says:

    Context matters. The Blue Jays were able to be REALLY aggressive in looking for top-end talent because they already have a very good, very deep system with a lot of guys who are likely to be solid contributors at the big league level. The Brewers, on the other hand, barely have enough interesting players in their system to field a squad against the beer league champs that play down the street from me.
    Continuing the casino analogy you used, Doug Melvin is the old guy who drove down to some riverboat in Council Bluffs, IA to see if he can come away with money for a dinner out next month. AA flew into Vegas for a week’s stay at the Bellagio to throw cash down at the roulette wheel because he can, and because a lucky streak will take him into a different strata.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • jmarsh says:

      This may also be a function of where each team is. Both strategies have their merits.

      Milwaukee plays in a relatively poor division in the weaker league where just getting consistent performances may get you into playoff contention.

      Toronto plays in a division with the 2 biggest spenders in MLB, one of the brightest front offices and an up and coming team. Star power means more to them than consistency because their bar for making the playoffs is higher than the Brewers.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Impossibles says:

    The slot machine analogy isn’t totally accurate because history shows us that the average value of a drafted player decreases rapidly the later the pick is.

    I better analogy would be spending $100 at nickel slots vs $10 minimum blackjack table (as blackjack has better odds than slots, but the potential to lose that $100 quickly is greater too.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. jirish says:

    I love the Jays draft strategy!

    I love even more there acquisition strategy. Give me your underachievers that have frustrated you. Give them to me for almost nothing too!

    I know one or two of these may have happened before the got there, but how about Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion , Yunel Escobar, Carlos Villenueva, Brandon Morrow, Colby Rasmus. The Jays got each one of them for players they didn’t need or cash. Talk about savvy.

    Oh, and AA-the Cardinals are REALLY upset with Shelby Miller’s ugly first half. Call them. NOW!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. jirish says:

    Excuse me for the grammatical error. I love THEIR acquisition strategy……..

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. Oasis says:

    I am really starting to hate Jays fans.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *