Did the Padres take us for another spin on Cheap Boulevard?
Was this a scream-inducing reprise of 2004 or 2001 or 2008, or some other year in which the Padres treated the draft's first round like a 99 Cents Only Store?
Put another way, did the Padres value dollars over scouting sense today when they passed on Mark Appel, the Stanford pitcher who fell to, and by, them at No. 7, less than 24 hours after several draft experts pegged him to go first to the Astros?
No, no and no, said Josh Byrnes when I pressed him on the subject.
The general manager knows why you'd be skeptical, even if he's only nine months into this job.
One of the Padres' low-revenue brethren, the Pirates, selected Appel at No. 8. Appel is advised by Scott Boras, knee-busting agent and ghost of haunted Padres drafts. It was Boras who counseled Stephen Drew and Jered Weaver in 2004, when the Padres went against their scouts, fled from Boras and chose Matt Bush first overall.
Were there a list of owners who despise Boras, Padres owner John Moores certainly would be near the top of it. Moores told me on the record several years ago that Padres research showed that Boras players usually aren't worth the above-standard draft deals they got. As if to prove Moores's point, the Padres drafted Donavan Tate, a Boras player, with the third pick in 2009 and gave him $6.25 million. Moores is trying to sell the Padres this summer. Just a guess, but further enriching Boras probably isn't on the Texas tycoon's moving checklist.
Byrnes, who gets along well with Boras, said he talked to the agent today but not so much about Appel. He said the Padres scouted Appel through recent days. He didn't say where Appel ranked on San Diego's draft board, but I'm confident in writing that he was fourth, only one spot of the player the Padres selected seventh, Southern California high school pitcher Max Fried of Encino. For more about Fried, read my story in Baseball America.
Byrnes said he chatted with Fried and the lefty's father when the pitcher visited Petco Park for a predraft workout. "They really, really wanted to be Padres, which was good to know," he said.
If the Padres were confident they could sign Fried for less than Appel would've cost them, perhaps far less, the savings could help them land another high school pitcher that Byrnes said they regard as a top-round talent, Walker Weickel. Such give-and-take isn't new to the draft but seems more critical this year. Baseball's new labor agreement prescribes bonuses for every pick in the first 10 rounds and levies stiffer penalties than under the previous pact. Rule-breakers will face steep taxes or the loss of picks. Scouts say this system won't be gamed nearly as easily as the last one.
It'll be interesting to see how much the Pirates pay Appel if they do sign him. And if they don't sign him, the No. 8 pick's assigned value, $2.9 million, would be removed from Pittsburgh's 11-pick draft pool, which is $6.6 million. The Padres seem confident that they'll sign both Fried and Weickel and two others taken today before the 56th pick. In all, the Padres have $9.9 million for their 14 picks within the top 10 rounds.
"It's a whole draft." Byrnes said. "You probably will see when our signings come in how we used our money."
Byrnes acknowledged that Weickel didn't have a strong spring but called him a legitimate first-round talent. MacDonald described the 6-foot-6 righty from Orlando, taken 55th, as a right-handed Fried. Of Appel, he said: "I thought he was a pretty good player. I think he's going to be a good major league player. And I have no idea why he fell."
Byrnes said the Padres scouted Appel "very thoroughly" with assistance from assistant GM A.J. Hinch, a former Stanford catcher.
Just because several reputable draftniks had Appel going first doesn't mean that teams high in the draft also did as well.
"Maybe our own evaluators didn't match some of the experts," Byrnes said. "I think if you read between the lines on how (the mock drafters) ultimately ranked the players, their draft order was different from their own rankings. I think they were trying to think along with the teams."
A scout not affiliated with the Padres whose club had a top-10 pick told me the Padres shouldn't be thought cheap or negligent for passing on Appel. "Fried has a chance to be the best pitcher from this draft in three, four years," he said. "He's not Cole Hamels, but he has a chance to anchor a staff."
Here, in order, are the players who occupied first, second and third on the Padres' draft board: Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton, taken second by the Twins; Puerto Rico prep academy shortstop Carlos Correa, selected first by the Astros; and LSU pitcher Kevin Gausman, chosen fourth by the Orioles.