For­feit­ing draft picks for free agents is not the way to go

Baltimore Sun - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Jon Me­oli jme­oli@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/JonMe­oli

As the Orioles con­tinue to take stock of play­ers on the free-agent mar­ket, there should only be one fac­tor that proves more pro­hib­i­tive than the raw dol­lars some top free agents will com­mand: the loss of a draft pick when they sign.

The 10 play­ers given a qual­i­fy­ing of­fer, re­quir­ing a team that signs them to lose a draft pick in ad­di­tion to the money they’ll be paid, should be off lim­its to an Orioles team fac­ing an un­cer­tain fu­ture.

Sim­ply put, the Orioles can’t af­ford to sac­ri­fice an­other first-round pick to im­prove the present club.

To do that — to sign a Dex­ter Fowler or an Ian Des­mond to man right field for the next sev­eral years — would im­mea­sur­ably help the 2017 Orioles. They’re short on speed, short on good out­field de­fend­ers and short on ta­ble-set­ters in the lineup (though only Fowler would qual­ify as that).

At the moment, Fowler and Des­mond are the two pri­mary can­di­dates to fill that need. But even if los­ing a draft pick drives down the long-term price to meet the Orioles’ bud­get, the loss of a pick, which at this point would be the 23rd over­all, should be a de­ter­rent.

The Orioles have the salary con­straints they do be­cause of the largely in­tact ma­jor league core on their ros­ter, with vet­er­ans such as cen­ter fielder Adam Jones and short­stop J.J. Hardy in the se­cond half of long-term deals and ar­bi­tra­tion-el­i­gi­ble stars such as third base­man Manny Machado, closer Zach Brit­ton and se­cond base­man Jonathan Schoop all earn­ing hefty pay bumps for the com­ing year.

But two sea­sons from now, the Orioles could watch most of their ro­ta­tion leave via free agency. Chris Till­man, Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Mi­ley and Yo­vani Gal­lardo are all in their walk years. Hardy’s deal has an op­tion for 2018 at $14 mil­lion, but could end next year. Jones is a free agent af­ter the 2018 sea­son, as are Brit­ton and Machado.

There’s no use strad­dling the two worlds — con­tend­ing and re­build­ing. But to push an­other draft pick away to make one or two more runs at a World Se­ries ring re­gard­less of its fu­ture im­pact would be a dan­ger­ous move.

As it stands, the sign­ings of Nelson Cruz and Jimenez in 2014 meant the Orioles didn’t pick un­til the third round that year. Coin­ci­den­tally, there was a dearth of high-end tal­ent on both Sin­gle-A af­fil­i­ates this year, where that draft class pop­u­lates the ros­ters.

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