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Hill: Jays were swinging for the fences with draft picks

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Will Hill
8/18/2009 3:52:39 PM
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The deadline to sign 2009 MLB draft picks was midnight last night.

By 12:01 am, Toronto fans were already raging on message boards, letting four-letter words fly, the only ones of which we can legally reprint here being "Jays," "Jake" and "ball."

Early this morning, Baseball America piled on. The magazine (no great fan of the Jays to begin with) declared Toronto to be one of the five biggest losers on signing deadline day. This after the club failed to reach contract agreements with three of its top four picks overall - James Paxton, Jake Eliopoulos and Jake Barrett.

But, when reached by phone early this afternoon in Orlando, none of it seemed to faze the Jays Scouting Director Jon Lalonde.

"We went into this year's draft with eyes wide open, knowing that we were taking players that had options and leverage," said the native of Midland, Ontario. "But we knew we had some leverage too, knowing that if we couldn't sign those players, we'd get those picks back in 2010. So we decided to swing for the fences."

This was all part of a distinctly different drafting strategy for the Jays. In the past, the club skewed towards players that, as Lalonde says, "We absolutely, positively knew we could sign." This meant the frugal Blue Jays weren't necessarily taking the proverbial best player available, but rather the best player that would agree to terms on a reasonable contract.

That wasn't the case this year, as the Jays took several players -- most notably Paxton and Jake Marisnick -- that other clubs avoided precisely because of "signability" issues. The Jays did get Marisnick to sign, but had to pay the outfielder a $1 million (US) bonus to do so. For those of you keeping score at home, that's three times the recommended amount from Major League Baseball's slotting process.

"If you told me before the draft ever took place, that we'd come away with a pitcher like [first round selection Chad] Jenkins and back him up with a five-tool outfielder like Marisnick, I'd have been happy with that," said Lalonde. "Listen, the ideal circumstances would have been to get all of them signed. But we couldn't get it done, for entirely different reasons in each case."

Lalonde refused to elaborate on those reasons -- "It's not fair for me to talk about that -- you'd have to contact each player individually to see if they wanted to discuss it", he said.

But, he was quick to point out this was about more than mere dollars. He said, "I want to be perfectly clear there was no one overriding theme to these three negotiations and certainly no acrimony. We weren't reined in on the amount of money. We just couldn't reach an agreement that worked for the club and the player."

So Paxton, Eliopoulos and Barrett will all go back into the draft pool for next year and the Blue Jays will get compensatory picks in the 2010 draft for each. If one or both of Marco Scutaro or Rod Barajas walk as free agents, the Jays could have as many as nine selections to make in the first three rounds of that draft. It could break down like this:

1st round - Blue Jays selection
1st round - Compensation for the loss of Marco Scutaro through Type A Free Agency
Supplemental round - Compensatory pick for James Paxton
Supplemental round - Compensation for the loss of Marco Scutaro through Type A Free Agency
Supplemental round - Compensation for the loss of Rod Barajas through Type B Free Agency

2nd round - Blue Jays selection
2nd round - Compensatory pick for Jake Eliopoulos

3rd round - Blue Jays selection
3rd round - Compensatory pick for Jake Barrett

In matters of player development, one year is an especially long time to wait for a team that needs an infusion of young talent. But if the Jays can make the most of these added picks in 2010, the wait might be worthwhile … assuming they get their picks to sign.

James Paxton (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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