When the topic of “Andrew Friedman’s worst move” comes up, most fans go straight to Pat Burrell. But in the end, that free agent signing may pale in comparison to the decision to draft Tim Beckham over Buster Posey at the top of the 2008 draft.
Posey made his big league debut last September, playing 7 games for the Giants. This year, he rejoined the Giants at the end of May and hasn’t looked back. In 73 games, Posey is hitting .342 with 9 home runs and a .386 OBP. He would be leading the NL in hitting by a wide margin if he qualified (Joey Votto currently leads with a .323 avg. Posey is about 90 plate appearances short of qualifying).
Meanwhile, Beckham is still in single-A, hitting .255. He has improved his ability to get on base, raising his OBP to .346. But he still hasn’t shown that he can be a big league shortstop, committing 24 errors this year after 43 a year ago.
Even the Rays sound like they have already given up hope that Beckham will ever be a great player. Back in June, Mitch Lukevics (Rays Director of Minor League Operations) described Beckham as having “all the physical skills to be a Major League player” but that Beckham is going to have to “stay after it.”
So where did the Rays go wrong? Drafting at the top of the MLB draft is much more complicated than just taking best player available. While the Rays always say they will take the best player available, regardless of position, they have never admitted exactly how much signability plays in their decision-making process.
Just two days before the 2008 draft, we heard that the Rays had narrowed their choice down to Beckham and Posey. According to Baseball America, Friedman preferred Posey, while the scouting department preferred Beckham.
Late on June 4, the night before the draft, it was reported that the Rays would indeed take Beckham with the top pick. And in the end, it wasn’t about talent. It may have been about money.
Baseball Prospectus reported that the Rays balked at Posey after his camp indicated they were going to seek a $12 million signing bonus. That would have more than doubled the previous record for a draft pick. The irony of picking Beckham over Posey is that in the end, the Rays gave Beckham a $6.15 million signing bonus, while Posey ended up signing for just $6.2 million.
Meanwhile, the Rays have a shortstop, Reid Brignac, that figures to be a solid big league contributor for the next 5 years. And at catcher, the Rays best hope is John Jaso, who does get on base at good clip, but is not a threat with the bat and might be a liability behind the plate.
Posey did have a head start, coming out of college, while Beckham was a high school draftee. But with the Rays once again contending in the always tough AL East, it is easy to imagine that Posey would be a significant contributor to the Rays title hopes, while Beckham may not even be the flavor of the month down in the Bus Leagues.
Was drafting Beckham Friedman’s biggest mistake? No, but letting the scouting department talk him out of drafting Posey may have been.