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Is Criticizing Houston's Draft Signing Practices Legitimate?

It's been four years since the apocalypse happened for Houston Astros minor league followers. That was the year that Houston gave away its top two draft picks to sign Carlos Lee and Woody Williams, then failed to sign their third and fourth round picks, Derek Dietrich and Brett Eibner. They also lost out on a later round pick, Chad Bettis and all three went on to become second rounders in 2010.

That was a pretty bad draft and a low-point in the team's recent history. Public outcry was immediate and deep. Criticism ripped through the Houston media, as Richard Justice and Co. repeatedly hammered on the lack of spending in the draft. The biggest point of contention is how Houston could have drafted Drew Stubbs, but didn't sign him when they could have because they didn't want to go above the commissioner's slotting system.

So, Drayton made a big show of going above and beyond to sign players in the 2008 draft. He gave big money to Jordan Lyles in the suppelemental first round and Ross Seaton in the third round. Lefty Brad Dydalewicz also benefited from the extra money, but is somewhat forgotten because of his spotty record in the minors. 

Since then? There has been talk of signing guys over slot. Certainly, guys like DDJ and Austin Wates signed for over above their slot recommendations while big offers were made to Adam Plutko and JaCoby Jones. You can't fault Houston for making those offers or signing those players, including getting George Springer and Jack Armstrong signed for well above slot this season. 

However, the problem I have is not that the Astros refuse to sign players for over slot money. The problem I have is that there's a perception that Houston is spending more in the draft, when that's simply not the case.

Houston is signing some players each season to slightly over slot deals. This year, they made a big deal with Springer and Armstrong, but for the most part, that hasn't been the norm. What I think is happening is that Houston has a draft budget (as most teams do) and they are simply reallocating the money to big signings when needed. They're not afraid or unable to go over slot, they just choose to spend sparingly. 

That's why they couple a few risky picks with guys like Jonas Dufek and Nick Tropeano, who will sign quickly for slot prices. That gives them the flexibility to spend more on Springer, routing money from those rounds to the top. Something similar happened in 2010, when Houston had three first round picks and went "safe" with all three, instead of trying to get guys who have more talent and bigger upsides, but may prove bigger signing risks. 

The solution to the draft is not to spend, spend, spend. Even for teams who do that, like the Tigers and Yankees, the results are not guaranteed, as neither team has a top-flight farm system. No, the idea is to spend when needed without letting that affect the rest of the draft. If you want to take Spinger in the first round, fine. But, don't feel required to draft Chris Lee to make up for it. Go after Daniel Norris or another hard sign if he's the best player on the board. That's what Tampa Bay does, reallocating the money from the major league budget to the draft when necessary, according to The Extra 2%

That's my beef. Houston is though to be fixing things in the draft and they're not. Not really. I'm not asking them to spend. I'm just asking them to use their resources more creatively.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.