Tampa Bay Rays Looking At Unprecedented Draft Haul

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 11: Evan Longoria #3 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates his three run homerun for a 6-0 lead over the Los Angeles Angels during the seventh inning at Angels Stadiium on May 11, 2010 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Great article from SI.com's Joe Lemire about the Tampa Bay Rays' unprecedented haul of picks in next month's Rule 4 amateur draft:

Thanks to MLB's quirky draft rules -- in which teams that lose valued free agents are granted additional picks -- the Rays have 12 of the first 89 selections in the draft that begins June 6, including 10 of the first 60 in what could be one of the two or three best pools of amateur talent in the past decade.

"We can't take 'em all," Harrison said. "We've got a lot of picks, but we don't have as many as we're being linked to."

Speculation has run rampant in scouting circles over what the Rays plan to do with their unprecedented haul, which it owes to losing Rafael Soriano, Carl Crawford, Grant Balfour, Brad Hawpe, Joaquin Benoit, Randy Choate and Chad Qualls to free agency.

I think it's worth reviewing those names for a moment ...

* Rafael Soriano is earning $10 million, and currently has a 6.57 ERA.

* Carl Crawford's earning $14 million, and batting .168 for the Red Sox.

* Grant Balfour's earning $3.75 million and pitching well in middle relief for the A's.

* Brad Hawpe's earning $3 million and batting .169 for the Padres.

* Joaquin Benoit's earning $5.5 million and currently has an 8.18 ERA.

* Randy Choate's earning $1 million and has pitched five innings for the Marlins.

* Chad Qualls is earning $2.5 million and has pitched reasonably well for the Padres.

Five of those seven are relief pitchers, and -- I'm sorry, I know I've been pounding this point home lately -- the Rays were supposed to be in big trouble this season because they lost so many relievers to free agency last winter ... and they currently have the fourth-best relief ERA (3.00) in the American League.

Anyway, the Rays are fortunate to have so many high draft picks ... but they're not that high, right? The Rays owe a great deal of their success to drafting well; as Lemire points out, B.J. Upton, David Price, Evan Longoria and Jeff Niemann were all first-round draft picks, and all were high first-round draft picks: Price was a No. 1, Upton 2, Longoria 3, Niemann 4.

What Lemire doesn't mention is that there is a massive difference in expected value between a No. 1 (or 4) overall pick and a No. 24 overall pick. There's definitely a fair amount of value in having a ton of picks and the Rays do have a ton: 24, 31, 32, 38, 41, 42, 52, 56, 59, 60, 75 and 89.

How much money are all those picks worth?

Last winter, Peter Hjort ran some numbers at Beyond the Boxscore and came up with around $19 million.

That's a lot. Would you trade all those picks, though, for the overall No. 1 pick in the draft?

Maybe not. But it would be tempting. I believe the odds are actually against the Rays drafting a future superstar with all those picks, though they do figure to wind up with some productive major leaguers.

Bottom line, the Rays gave up seven players who are collectively earning roughly $40 million this season, and were compensated with draft picks worth roughly $20 million, which means they've collected a tidy $60 million profit on the transaction.

Yes, it's more complicated than that. The Rays have to pay the players who replaced the players they lost, and they'll have to pay the draft picks, too. But when you look at what the Rays gave up and the money they saved, along with all those draft picks, it's hard to avoid conclusion that they're coming out way ahead on this deal.

How far ahead depends on how well they draft next month, and how lucky they get afterward.

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