Ho, hum: Maybe that was your reaction when you saw the Atlanta Braves had paid $3.9 million for Brian Matusz, who’s injured, and then designated him for assignment. Or maybe you went the “huh?” route, wondering why they’d pay even a nickel for somebody they didn’t want. Here’s why: Because — apologies for repeating myself — almost nothing about the Braves is about the major-league club. It’s about what lies beneath.
For $3.9 million and two not-promising prospects, the Braves bought the 76th pick in the June draft. (That gives them five of the top 80.) And that’s not all they bought. From the always excellent Dave Cameron on FanGraphs:
By purchasing a mid-70s draft selection, the team acquires about $830,000 in bonus pool allocation. That’s money that can be used to draft and sign a third-round talent, or a team could decide to punt the pick and reallocate most of that money to sign an overslot player with another pick … Since the Braves already own the 3rd, 40th and 44th pick in the upcoming draft, they’re in prime position to land a first-round talent who slides based on price, and picking up the $830K in this deal could give them an opportunity to select a much better talent with their second or third pick.
There’s also this, from Matthew Trueblood of Baseball Prospectus:
It made all the sense in the world for them to throw a few million dollars at the opportunity to add to their stockpile of picks this June. As we’ve established by now, the current rule set governing the draft not only makes it important to draft as high as possible, but rewards the accumulation of multiple picks. Each additional slot, within the top 100, provides an exponential increase in spending power and negotiating leverage, not to mention access to another talented amateur.
I know. This slotting stuff can have an EGO (eyes glaze over) effect on many if not most among us, but it’s a big deal in baseball circles. And it can get complicated for them, too. (Here’s Ben Reiter’s story from SI.com on how the Astros failed to sign the No. 1 overall pick in 2014 by trying to finesse the slot money.) What us non-insiders need to know is that the draft is treated more seriously than it has ever been and picks have become precious. And the Braves have gotten creative in acquiring not just prospects but also picks.
This is exactly how a rebuilding team should be spending its money during non-winning seasons. The Braves have taken a lot of heat for not putting a quality product on the field this year, but the organization is better off long-term if they spend $3 million to buy a better quality prospect in the upcoming draft than if they had spent $3 million to have a slightly better placeholder in their rotation this year. The return on investment is simply higher by spending on the draft, and this trade helps the Braves take some of their current payroll space and turn it into value that could produce when the team is ready to win, or at least provide some currency to acquire future pieces that could help the team down the road.
The masses don’t follow the MLB draft the way they do the NFL and NBA versions, for the simple reason that we don’t expect to see baseball draftees playing in the majors anytime soon. Chipper Jones was the first player taken in 1990, when the Braves were terrible. By the time he reached the majors, it was September 1993 and they’d made the World Series twice and were nearing a third consecutive division title.
Not every draft pick will be a plum. That’s a given in any sport, baseball most of all. What Braves fans should take from this deft little deal is that, contrary to what some have suggested, this organization knows what it’s doing. And it keeps doing it.
We end with this from BP’s Trueblood, who has expressed doubts regarding the Braves’ chosen course: “Loathsome though multiple aspects of the Braves’ rebuild are, the rebuild itself is looking more and more like a foolproof endeavor.”
Super fun reading: