Verlander, Weaver and the 2004 draft
August, 2, 2011
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
US PresswireThe Padres had a shot at both Jered Weaver and Justin Verlander in the 2004 draft.Jered Weaver and Justin Verlander are battling for the AL Cy Young Award and a trip to the postseason.
The San Diego Padres are 47-63, in last place in the NL West.
How would things be if the 2004 draft had gone differently?
The Padres had the first pick. Weaver, after a dominating junior season at Long Beach State in which he went 15-1 with a 1.63 ERA and a 213/21 strikeout/walk ratio, was the consensus top player available, along with Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew. Baseball America wrote of Weaver: "An intense competitor with an excellent feel for his craft, he can throw strikes with Prior-like precision -- in, out, up, down." Weaver and Drew were Scott Boras clients and Weaver was reportedly asking for Mark Prior money -- a bonus demand of $10.5 million. Many expected him to fall out of the first round altogether.
Verlander had better pure stuff than Weaver, but command issues led to a mediocre 21-18 record at Old Dominion. "He has a tall, upright delivery with a lighting-quick arm, and a fastball that tops out at 99 mph with hard run and sink," wrote Baseball America. "He complements it with a curveball that has good late depth and sharp bite, and a deceptive changeup that has fastball arm speed and late fade and sink. Verlander's biggest obstacle is his lack of command as he struggles to repeat his delivery." He also had big bonus demands, but there was no denying the ability.
Who would the Padres select?
They went with a local high school shortstop named Matt Bush, a consensus top-10 talent, but not a guy anyone projected to go No. 1. At 5-foot-10, he wasn't a big guy, but had a strong arm, a good glove and the Padres liked his bat.
Bush signed for $3.15 million.
The Tigers selected Verlander No. 2 and signed him to a five-year, $4.5 million contract in October that included a $3.12 signing bonus. He made his pro debut in 2005, the Tigers cleaned up his delivery and he reached the majors that September. In 2006, he won 17 games, led the Tigers to the World Series and was named AL Rookie of the Year.
The Angels selected Weaver with the 12th pick. Weaver didn't sign until just before the 2005 draft and received a bonus of $4 million. While there were initial concerns about a drop in velocity in his first minor league season compared to his Long Beach State days, Weaver advanced quickly and reached the majors in 2006. His velocity was back and he went 11-2 with a 2.56 ERA as a rookie.
Drew went with the 15th pick to the Diamondbacks. He also held out and didn't sign until just before 2005 draft, but received a five-year, $5.5 million contract. He reached the majors in 2006.
So the Padres, who had just moved into their new ballpark in 2004, drafted Bush to save a little money and avoid the headache of dealing with Scott Boras. Bush ended up getting suspended before he played his first professional game after being involved in a fight outside an Arizona nightclub. He hit .192 in 29 games and made 17 errors. He never did hit, was switched to pitcher and blew out his arm. He's currently in Double-A with Tampa Bay, where he has a 5.67 ERA, but does have 63 strikeouts in 39.2 innings.
The point here isn't to bash Matt Bush, but to point out that teams should never pass up a premium talent in the draft to save a little money. The 2005 Padres paid $3.25 million to Darrell May to post a 5.61 ERA in 59 innings.
In the end, the Padres paid more for Bush and 59 terrible innings from May than they would have for Verlander or Weaver.
Seven years later, they're still paying the price.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.