With the College World Series wrapped up, the Padres finally signed Grant Little, their most uniquely acquired draft pick.
In fact, he made his minor league debut on Sunday for the Tri-City Dust Devils and I got to watch it. That’s not what this post is about though. I’ll get to that topic later.
One of the things about the MLB Draft that makes it much less compelling than other sports is the inability to trade draft picks. There is one small exception to this, and it’s the entire reason that Grant Little is now a member of the Padres organization.
Competitive Balance Round Draft picks can be traded. And this year, one was traded. Specifically, San Diego traded Janigson Villalobos to Minnesota for Phil Hughes and a Competitive Balance Round B Draft pick. And the draft pick formerly known as Minnesota’s is the one the Padres used to select Grant Little #74 overall.
In another universe where it wasn’t possible to trade any MLB draft picks, Grant Little wouldn’t be with the Padres. In fact, in another universe, Grant Little might be a sentient tree-beast who breathes finely shredded confetti, paints monochrome moonscapes with watercolors, and has never considered playing professional baseball.
Thankfully for the Padres and for Grant Little, we are in this universe. Because of the few trade-eligible draft picks, we haven’t had the ability to directly compare the value of current professional baseball players with the value of new draftees, but in this case, we can.
So let’s dig in a little bit in that trade to see what we can learn about the value that the Padres placed on Grant Little when drafting him at #74.
We can start, logically, with some simple player value algebra.
Where v = Villalobos, h = Hughes, and l = Little:
v = h + l
In total, Phil Hughes and Grant Little represent three characters more than Janigson Villalobos, but if you look deeper, you’ll note that Minnesota did pick up an entire extra vowel from the Padres, plus they netted a whopping two extra syllables.
Now, it’s easy to look at the raw character count and say the Padres came out ahead in the deal, but you can read essays elsewhere where modern sabermetricians debunk our fixation on character count, encouraging us to look beyond the letters and instead focus on the makeup of those letters. It’s of course harder to assess the value of vowels and syllables than it is to count total characters, and there is a significant broadcaster factor at play in syllablic assessment.
Nonetheless, it’s clear that in this case, Grant Little will need to produce in order to make up what the Padres lost out in Janigson Villalobos.
Outside of the value of the consonants, vowels, and syllables of their names, we also can evaluate their perceived value as baseball players. That is, after all, one very important factor when evaluating this trade.
Janigson Villalobos is not a particularly well-known commodity. In short, he looks like an average minor league catcher. Odds are not very good he’ll make the major leagues as anything other than a backup catcher low on the depth chart.
Phil Hughes has been around a long time is a fairly known quantity. Several years ago, Phil Hughes was a decent pitcher. In 2014, he was worth 5.9 WAR. Today, he is not a very good pitcher and currently he is one on the DL with a right rhomboid strain (In layman’s terms, this means his shoulder has an ouchy equilateral parallelogram). Of course, he had no questionable quadrilaterals when he was traded to the Padres, so we can’t consider any injurious geometry as a factor in this equation, which makes the math really simple:
l = v – h
Also added to the Phil Hughes factor is the fact that this trade happened after Minnesota DFA’d him, essentially saying he was worth so little to them, they decided they would rather risk having to pay him for 2018 — 2019. They’d have preferred not to pay him, and that’s where the Padres came in.
So based on what we know about Villalobos and Hughes, how much can we speculate about how the Padres valued the draft spot they traded for? (And therefore, presumably, how they valued Grant Little, too?)
I mean, they seem to value Little a lot. But we can’t necessarily speculate much.
One of the things that’s fascinating to me is that while there is a certain level of consensus on how teams value players and draft picks, each team has their own valuation based on their needs and goals, which are largely determined by their current system’s window of contention. Free agents are valuable! Deadline trade targets are valuable! Draft picks are valuable! But all are not equally valuable to every team because of the cosmic alignment of baseball players in space and time.
The Padres find themselves presently in a mode where they seem to be stocking the farm shelves with as much talent as they can get. Farms do not even *have* shelves, and yet the Padres continue to stock.
Would the Yankees have wanted to make this trade work for a competitive round pick? No. They already rode the Phil Hughes express and got off of it years ago. Parking Phil Hughes would eat up a roster position that could be taken up by another in their long list of world-beating prospects.
In contrast, the Padres basically looked at their team and the NL West standings and said, “Well, if you give us a draft pick, you can put Phil Hughes and his awful contract here because we give up on 2018. Oh sure, what the heck. Here’s a catcher, too.”
At least I assume that’s how it goes.
But to me, it’s all about the syllables, baby.