Published On: Mon, Mar 12th, 2018

The 10 best compensation picks of the last decade

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When the Kansas City Royals re-signed third baseman Mike Moustakas to a one-year, $6.5-million contract last week, they accepted the fact they weren’t going to get a compensation draft pick in his place. Had Moustakas signed elsewhere, the Royals would have received a supplemental draft pick because he rejected a one-year, $17.4-million qualifying offer in November.

With Jake Arrieta signing a three-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday, that leaves right-handed starter Alex Cobb and reliever Greg Holland as the only remaining recipients of qualifying offers still on the market. For much of the offseason, it seemed the prospect of losing draft picks was holding up player movement.

The rules have been tweaked on occasion (Sports Illustrated’s Jon Tayler outlined the changes to the CBA very well last fall), but the compensation system for teams losing players to free agency has been in place for decades.

In this list identifying the 10 best compensation picks of the last decade, we’re focusing specifically on players selected with compensatory picks that were awarded for losing a player to the open market. That criteria leads to a notable omission: Noah Syndergaard. The Toronto Blue Jays selected Syndergaard with the 38th pick of the 2010 draft because James Paxton – incidentally, their compensatory pick for losing A.J. Burnett to the Yankees in 2009 – didn’t sign with them.

Here are the best compensation picks in baseball from 2008-2017 (in chronological order).

Lance Lynn to the St. Louis Cardinals (2008)

Free agent lost: Troy Percival

In an interesting twist of fate, Lynn was awarded to the Cardinals after a 38-year-old Percival, attempting a late-career comeback from injury, parlayed a solid season in St. Louis into a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. Over the weekend, Lynn signed a one-year, $12-million contract with the Minnesota Twins, netting the Cardinals another compensatory draft pick (No. 95 overall) in June’s amateur draft.

He provided a pretty huge boon to the Red Birds. While Percival pitched only 40 total innings for them, Lynn went 72-47 with a 3.38 ERA and 919 strikeouts over 977 2/3 innings with the club.

Jake Odorizzi to the Milwaukee Brewers (2008)

Free agent lost: Francisco Cordero

Cordero was wise to test free agency. The Cincinnati Reds rewarded his All-Star 2007 season with the Brewers by signing him to a four-year, $46-million contract, the largest given to a reliever at that point.

Odorizzi never made it above Single-A in the Brewers organization, but he still proved valuable. The right-handed starter was part of the trade that brought Zack Greinke into the fold from the Kansas City Royals. In a roundabout way, losing Cordero eventually helped make acquiring Greinke a reality.

Mike Trout to the Los Angeles Angels (2009)

Free agent lost: Mark Teixeira

Look, Teixeira was a very good player – occasionally one of the best hitters in the game – and his 54 games with the Angels were outstanding (.358/.449/.632 with 13 home runs and 43 RBIs). Still, turning that into Trout may be the single best net gain of the modern era.

Trout debuted only two years later at the age of 19, and had his true breakout in 2012 when he ran away with the American League’s Rookie of the Year award by hitting .326/.399/.564 with 30 home runs and 49 stolen bases. In seven seasons, he’s won two MVPs while finishing in the top five in voting in six consecutive seasons.

Trout isn’t slated to become a free agent until after 2020, so there’s a chance the Angels can add a World Series title to the list of their accomplishments in the wake of losing Teixeira.

A.J. Pollock to the Arizona Diamondbacks (2009)

Free agent lost: Orlando Hudson

Hudson had three stellar campaigns in the desert, batting .294/.365/.448. It was the best offensive stretch of a respectable, if unremarkable, career. Pollock‘s MLB tenure has been blighted by injury, but he has outshined Hudson with the Diamondbacks. In fact, Pollock’s single best season to date (2015) saw him hit .315/.367/.498 with 20 home runs, 111 runs scored, and 39 stolen bases while playing Gold Glove defense, accumulating 6.5 WAR. In Hudson’s three seasons, he was worth 5.8 WAR.

Nicholas Castellanos to the Detroit Tigers (2010)

Free agent lost: Brandon Lyon

Castellanos has taken a while to find his footing, and his spotty defense has betrayed him at times, but he’s developed into a reliable bat, and he hit the ball harder than almost everyone in 2017. In 2012, he was MLB Pipeline’s 10th-most hyped prospect, and remained atop the Tigers‘ system before landing a full-time gig with the team in 2014.

Lyon was fine during his lone season in the Motor City, serving as a high-volume middle reliever with a career-high 78 2/3 innings, but his departure to Houston rewarded the Tigers with a potential offensive cornerstone for the next several years. Detroit’s now in the midst of a rebuild, however, which could lead to Castellanos’ departure in the near future.

Aaron Sanchez to the Toronto Blue Jays (2010)

Free agent lost: Marco Scutaro

If Sanchez‘s first full season as a MLB starter in 2016 is any indication, he’s more than worthy of Scutaro’s price tag. The infielder had his two best seasons north of the border. He played 289 games for the Blue Jays in 2008-09, and hit .275/.362/.384 with 19 home runs and 58 doubles. His top-notch defense helped secure 7.2 WAR in a short period of time. Scutaro was a perfectly fine player, but hardly a superstar.

Sanchez could be that superstar, though blisters derailed his 2017 campaign. While he doesn’t overpower hitters like many of his contemporaries, he typically doesn’t allow a ton of fly balls or home runs – he was fifth in induced ground-ball percentage in 2016.

Jackie Bradley Jr. to the Boston Red Sox (2011)

Free agent lost: Adrian Beltre

In a vacuum, few would choose Bradley over Beltre. The Red Sox landed Beltre on a reasonable one-year, $9-million contract for the 2010 season that included a $5-million player option. Beltre, a surefire Hall of Famer when he hangs up his cleats, was coming off a disappointing final season with the Seattle Mariners where he hit only .265 with eight home runs over 111 games.

Beltre’s outstanding sole season in Beantown – .321/.365/.553 with 28 home runs and 49 doubles – rehabilitated his value, proving the 31-year-old had more in the tank. He declined the option and inked a five-year, $80-million deal in Texas, where he remains.

Bradley, meanwhile, has developed into a streaky-hitting defensive expert in the Red Sox outfield. Beltre has flourished with the Rangers, but Bradley is still making a name for himself and may have his best years ahead of him.

Michael Fulmer to the New York Mets (2011)

Free agent lost: Pedro Feliciano

This wound up working very well for the Mets, even though they never actually saw Fulmer reach the majors. The Mets dangled him on the trade market in 2015 and landed Yoenis Cespedes, who became a major difference-maker in a playoff run that came up just short when they lost to the buzzsaw Kansas City Royals in the World Series. While it wasn’t quite as impressive as J.D. Martinez’s abbreviated stay with the Diamondbacks in 2017, Cespedes was a force in his first foray in Queens. He hit .287/.337/.604 with 17 home runs in only 57 games.

The Tigers were embarking on what they hoped would be a quick pivot instead of a full-on rebuild, and Fulmer helped make it look like the plan was working. In 2016, he went 11-7 with a 3.06 ERA and 1.12 WHIP while handily winning Rookie of the Year honors. He made the All-Star team the following year.

As for Feliciano, he signed a two-year contract with the Yankees and was placed on the disabled list with a shoulder injury before the 2011 season. He never took the mound for the Yankees, and returned to the Mets in 2013.

Lance McCullers to the Houston Astros (2012)

Free agent lost: Clint Barmes

The Astros landed McCullers, a fireball-hurling starter with front-of-rotation potential, while letting career utility infielder Barmes walk to Pittsburgh. It hardly seems fair in hindsight. McCullers, though often injured, has been impressive when healthy. Over 58 career-regular season starts, he’s 19-16 with a 3.60 ERA and 1.32 WHIP with a 10.2 K/9. He also helped anchor the Astros’ rotation on its way to winning the first World Series in franchise history. He and fellow starter Charlie Morton combined to shut out the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS, punching the team’s ticket to the biggest show of them all.

Barmes appeared in 300 games with the Pirates, with middling results. He hit .224/.271/.314, and was primarily valued for his glove work instead of his bat.

Aaron Judge to the New York Yankees (2013)

Free agent lost: Nick Swisher

Swisher’s time with the Yankees was productive – he managed a .850 OPS with 105 home runs over four seasons in pinstripes – but Judge is already halfway there in terms of home runs after 2017, when he blasted 52 long balls. As solid as Swisher was with the Yankees, Judge’s rookie campaign will go down as the stuff of legend. It’s put him in the company of Yankees greats, regardless of whether or not he can sustain that success. No disrespect to Swisher, but he can’t make the same claim.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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