Looking Back at the 1992 Expansion Draft (Part 2)

Posted: May 12, 2017 in Uncategorized
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This is the second of a three-part series looking back at the 1992 MLB Expansion Draft. Click here to read part one.

It’s one of those sayings managers have when they address their players every spring: “Play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the back. And play for the other organizations out there. You never know who’s going to be watching you.”

While players might hear that speech but not really listen to it, that axiom tangibly meant something 25 seasons ago.

Two organizations – the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins – were out there in force. Their scouts were doing their player evaluations at the major league and minor league levels. They were doing their homework. They were doing their prep work. They were looking for any reason to have interest in a player – or not have interest at all.

This is the 25th anniversary of the one full year that the Rockies and Marlins spent scouting and preparing for the November 17, 1992, Major League Baseball expansion draft – when the two organizations would be selecting players from the existing 26 major league clubs. A total of 72 players would be chosen – since 50 more major league jobs were becoming available for the 1993 season.

Hundreds of players were auditioning for major league jobs. The truth is … most did not realize it. And when their names were called on expansion draft day, they were stunned.

– – –

On paper, the Marlins and the Rockies had just under 14 months to get ready for the expansion draft – from the time their general managers were hired to the day they arrived in New York City for the initial building of their first big league rosters.

“I found the whole process to be exhilarating … that all the work we had accomplished was ready to move forward,” said Dave Dombrowski, the first general manager in Florida Marlins history. “Our goal was … you want to start an expansion team. You want to get players on board. But ultimately, you’re trying to build a world championship. We knew it would be a while down the road.

“But we were now in the position where finally you were going to have a chance to start adding some players – and all that work that had taken place would come to fruition. So I found it a very exciting time.”

While the Marlins went into the expansion draft knowing they had some money to spend, Colorado Rockies general manager Bob Gebhard and his organization were operating under a tight budget.

“We went into New York with our small group of people who we felt were going to help us make the right selections,” Gebhard said. “But the unknowns were who was going to be available – and could we afford them?

“We felt that we were going to draw some people in Denver. But one of the things the owners brought to my attention is they really thought we needed to win some ball games right away. We were competing in a football city, we were the new team in town, and we really needed to be competitive. We certainly didn’t want to lose 100 games that first year. So we were trying to pick carefully so that, No. 1, we had a team that was affordable, and No. 2, that we had a team that could compete in the 1993 season. We were trying to do both. It was difficult knowing that we didn’t have a lot of money to spend.”

– – –

How would the two teams be put together?

The rules were pretty simple – and pretty complex. All players in the 26 existing organizations were eligible to be drafted, except those with no prior major league experience who had less than three years of service if signed at age 19 or older – or less than four years of service if signed at age 18 or younger.

Cutting to the chase, any “under contract” player who had big league service time was in play if he wasn’t protected. From the minor league side, in layman’s terms, it all depended on when you were drafted – but the drafts of 1990, 1991 and 1992 were off limits. If you were a college kid selected in the 1989 draft with no big league time – you were eligible if an organization didn’t protect you. As an example, Trevor Hoffman, Cincinnati’s 11th-round pick that year, was not on the Reds’ protected list – leaving him available to be selected. If you were a high school kid chosen in the 1988 draft without major league experience (for instance, Yankees minor leaguer Carl Everett), or an undrafted young international player signed that year (the Cubs’ Pedro Castellano), you too were eligible if left unprotected.

What constituted a protected player? Major league teams were able to protect 15 players prior to the draft. Players with 10/5 rights (10 years of major league service, the last five with the same team) and players with no-trade clauses in their contracts had to be protected unless they waived those rights.

The procedure for the three-round expansion draft:

  • Before the draft, a coin flip determined which team selected first in the first round and second in rounds two and three – or second in the first round and first in rounds two and three. The Rockies won the coin flip and opted to choose first.
  • In the first round, the Rockies and the Marlins alternated turns, with each of the existing 26 teams losing one player. In theory, both teams were alternately selecting who they considered to be the 16th-best player on every other team’s roster. At the conclusion of the round, both Colorado and Florida would have selected 13 players each.
  • Prior to the second round, the existing National League teams were able to pull back an additional three players, while American League teams were able to protect four more. The second round proceeded in the same manner as the first, with each existing major league organization losing a second player. At this point, both expansion teams would have selected 26 players each.
  • Prior to the third round, the N.L. teams once again were able to protect three more players, while the A.L. teams were able to protect four. During the third round, 20 total players were selected – with each N.L. team losing one player and eight A.L. clubs losing a player. At the conclusion of the round, both the Marlins and the Rockies would have made 36 selections.

Not only were the Rockies and Marlins drafting players, they literally were playing a dice game. If you wanted a player from a specific team, and the other expansion club drafted a player from that club, then you likely lost out on an opportunity. You had to roll the dice when making your selections.

– – –

The Rockies’ trip to New York became eventful before the big event.

After his arrival in the Big Apple, Gebhard was able to engineer a franchise-shaking move before the team had any players on its roster.

“Jim Bronner, the agent for Andres Galarraga, called me and said, ‘I’ve got a first baseman for you.’ And he told me it was Andres,” Gebhard said. Galarraga, a veteran of seven seasons in Montreal and one in St. Louis, had an All-Star appearance, one Silver Slugger Award and two Gold Gloves on his resume. “I told him, ‘You know, I have a very limited budget. I’ve been told I have $8 million to spend on a 40-man roster, so I have to be careful who I make commitments to – because this would be a salary hit.’ So we negotiated a contract for $500,000.

“The day before the draft, we signed Andres Galarraga.”

The 32-year-old Galarraga would go on to hit a National League-best .370 in 1993 and become an early builder of the Rockies’ “Blake Street Bombers” identity that Don Baylor wanted to establish. Galarraga spent five years in a Rockies uniform – finishing in the N.L. Top 10 in Most Valuable Player voting four times.

A second aggressive right-handed offensive presence that Gebhard coveted was Dante Bichette – who had fallen out of favor in Milwaukee.

Gebhard also had an affinity for Milwaukee’s Darren Holmes, a right-handed reliever who had experienced some success in 1992 (2.55 ERA and 6 saves in 41 games) – but was not protected by the Brewers.

The question for Gebhard was … could he get both players? The Rockies believed that if they took one, the other would either be protected after the first round – or selected by the Marlins early in the second round.

“We decided we needed pitchers who could pitch in Denver, so we were going to take Darren Holmes early in the draft,” Gebhard said. “But we had also zeroed in on Dante Bichette. It was a little bit of a mystery how we could get him.”

As fate would have it, “the morning of the draft, I went downstairs for coffee and ran into (Milwaukee GM) Sal Bando,” Gebhard said. “We had some discussions, and then I asked him, ‘What are you looking for?’ He said he needed a left-handed DH, and I asked him if he had any interest in (Texas’ Kevin) Reimer. He said, ‘Absolutely.’ So I asked him, ‘What if we draft him, and after the first round, you pull Dante Bichette back so we didn’t lose him to Florida? We can announce the trade after the draft.’ And he said, ‘That’s a deal.’ That’s how we got Dante Bichette.

“All of a sudden we had the big first baseman in Galarraga and now we had Bichette. We had the makings of a middle of the lineup with two power hitters. The rest of it just sort of fell into place.”

Bichette went on to play seven years for the Rockies, going to the All-Star Game four times. Holmes showed he could keep in the ball in the park, surrendering only 34 homers in 263 games during his five years in a Colorado uniform.

Read more

from MLB Trade Rumors http://ift.tt/2r1Ls8L
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