11.10.2005

Interesting concept for a team living on the cheap

There was an interesting article on USA Today about cheap try-outs being run by the Padres. They hold invitation-only tryout camps twice a year in Arizona. They invite independent leaguers and free agents whom their scouts have recommended. Anybody they sign, they give them $1 and if they make one of their farm clubs out of spring training, they get $1,500.

One such find, semi-profiled in the article, is Craig Breslow, 25 year old LH reliever. Signed out of one of there try-out camps in September 2004, he made AA in spring training and then good fortune intervened again: the Padres called him up because they needed a LH reliever for a day and the AAA team would not be able to supply one quick enough. He did well, then bounced up and down once more for two weeks, before getting the September call-up. Over 16.1 IP, he had a 2.20 ERA.

This is no panacea obviously. Their most recent camp had 68 invitees with 6 getting their $1. I would assume that Craig is their poster child for this whole effort. They also profiled RHP Evan Meek. Both were former minor leaguers and apparently both just needed a second chance, Craig just the opportunity, Evan some patient instruction (though I suspect that the shock of getting released helped remove his mental block that was screwing up his mechanics before). That's two in what I suppose was their first year of doing this, in 2004 (no mention of how long this program was in place; both signed in August 2004 and there was a note that it is done twice a year).

I'm surprised the Giants don't do this. They obviously are cruising the independent leagues. That is how they picked up and signed Chad Zerbe, Brian Mazone and Ben Weber, for examples. Sabean has always been picking up the stray cats and finding gems, from Embree to F-Rod, from Zerbe to Eyre, from Weber to Walker, even Accardo was a free agent. I guess they figure that they have a better chance following the players in the independent leagues than to beat the bushes for that stray player who just needs a chance, but really, how much does it cost to do this?

The Padres obviously followed all these players, so they were pre-qualified by a scout anyway. It just takes a few hours for the tryout; just do it at SBC after the season ends, the field is free then. Even at $100 bonus per player signed, it should not cost that much.

One reason I can see the Giants not doing this is because they seem to have a different mindset about how they evaluate players. They seem to pull the rabbit out of the hat a lot in their drafts, picking players before expected or seemingly out of the blue, like Schierholtz, going to an obscure CC, Chabot College (only reason I knew about it was because I took a summer baseball course there; I thought I would get to play games but it worked out better: the two of us just fed the pitching machine to each other over and over and over again, it was a great experience).

So they know what they want and who they want, it is just a matter of getting the opportunity to sign them. Thus if they are free agents, they go and get him, no tryout formality or token $1 signing bonus (speaking of which, I wonder what type of bonus, if any, players in the later rounds get). They have no need for a tryout, they know whether they like him or not and if he is free, they sign him, no waiting, no tryout.

I can see them doing that because of this maverick mentality that they seem to have with their scouting. But with their penny-pinching ways - where they drop draft picks, partly to save money, partly because they probably think that they can draft later and still get the same mix of players - they need to pursue alternative avenues to save money by finding prospects on the cheap.

One was establishing a presence in the Carribean to find players. After the scandal with the last director, their presence seemed to disappear and there were not many, if any, good prospects signed from there. But they must have started up again recently, they found some good players like Sharlon Shoop, Shairon Martis, and Waldis Joaquin, who were on the Arizona Rookie League roster this season and did well there.

Another should be to set up these tryouts. If they know who they want and why, maybe go outside their comfort zone and round up all the names of players in each scout's region who were recently let go by another team but whom they either never got a feel for or liked before but regressed somehow or were on the cusp but the Giants had decided to pass on them. Or just compile the list and see if any of them ever exhibited enough for the Giants to look at - not sign, but to look at. Bring them in, do it for each scout once or twice a year, check them out up close, spend some time with them, to get to know them. The Padres found 6 players doing this last time.

Of course, probably most of them don't make it. But I don't think player evaluation is a science yet, players do fall through the cracks. There are players like Cecil Fielder who somehow get overlooked and passed over. Or like any of the players the Giants "found" that I noted above. Why not open up another avenue, it is of minimal cost for a $100-200M operations, the scouts get to meet additional players in their scouting territory up close who they may not have gotten a chance to before, they get to network, maybe get turned on to another player who might be more to their liking. It is not quite the needle in the haystack but for an organization that appears to think differently about how they scout (they don't use the MLB's scouting service if I recall correctly), this seems like a no-brainer thing to do in order to go the extra mile to find players that other teams have overlooked.

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