Sometimes you have to make more with less.
That was the case for White Sox scouting director Doug Laumann and his scouts before baseball's latest Collective Bargaining Agreement set signing limits for the First-Year Player Draft. The Sox believe they can climb off the mat quickly after a 99-loss 2013 season because of the work that those guys did.
With the club declining to get into expensive negotiations to sign the most highly pursued high school and college players, the White Sox spent less than any team in the Majors in the 2008-11 Drafts, the last before spending was tied directly to slots.
Along with a void in international signings and then-general manager Ken Williams swinging for the fences in deals for big-ticket veterans, this created a lack of depth in the White Sox farm system, which was ranked at or near the bottom in the Majors. But here's a stunning fact that speaks to the great work by Laumann and scouts Joe Siers, Mike Shirley, Nick Hostetler, John Kazanas and George Kachigian, among others.
In those last four non-capped Drafts, when the Sox spent less than anyone, they grabbed Chris Sale, Gordon Beckham, Daniel Hudson, Addison Reed, Brent Morel, Marcus Semien and Erik Johnson, who have produced a combined career WAR of 29.5.
That's better than the Washington Nationals, even though they landed Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper with the first overall picks in 2009 and '10. It's better than the Angels, who have already gotten a 20.8 career WAR from Mike Trout, who somehow slid to the 25th overall pick in '09. It's also better than the Pirates, who had top 10 picks all four years, including the first overall in '11 and the second in '08 and '10.
Only one team has, to date, done better in those Drafts than the team that spent the least. That's the Giants, thanks largely to 2012 National League Most Valuable Player Award winner Buster Posey, who has delivered a 17.5 career WAR. By joining Posey in the lineup, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford have pushed San Francisco's combined WAR to 30.7, just better than the White Sox.
With SoxFest approaching this weekend, second-year general manager Rick Hahn says he's "authentically pleased'' about the makeover of his team. It began last July with a purge of veterans that allowed the White Sox to add right fielder Avisail Garcia and has continued with the addition of first baseman Jose Abreu, center fielder Adam Eaton and third baseman Matt Davidson.
The newcomers average less than 24 years in age, putting them in the right age bracket for a team that has drastically changed directions.
Because they won fewer games than everyone except the Astros and Marlins last year, the White Sox not only get the third overall pick in the 2014 Draft but will have a slot allotment of about $15 million for Laumann and international director Marco Paddy to spend next summer. That's roughly the same amount that the organization spent from 2008 through '11, when its scouts came away with steals like Sale, Hudson and Reed.
"It's a fantastic opportunity for the organization," Hahn said. "It was an awful season to sit through to get to that position, but come next June and in next July's international signing period, we are going to have huge benefits for the organization. We do feel in '12 and '13, when we maxed out amateur spending -- close to $10 million in '12 and $7-8 million last year -- we have been able to add to our system. We're starting to build from within.''
As thin as the White Sox farm system has been in recent years, Hahn knows it could have been stripped bare had Laumann and his many longtime scouts not worked so hard to find talent once all the obvious college guys were off the board. This will be only the second year since 1990 that the Sox have had a top-10 pick in the Draft.
The White Sox got Beckham with the eighth overall pick in 2008; Sale slid to 13th in '10. Hahn says the scouting department has done a great job. He's excited thinking about what $15 million in amateur spending over one year can mean for the future of his organization.
"The department [has been] working marvelously and probably would have been even better if we had fully funded it, which is what we started doing in '12 under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement," Hahn said. "As we go into 2014, because of how we performed last year, we're going to have a huge amount of money to spend in those areas. … By fully funding our amateur and scouting operations, we are getting closer to the point where we're going to be self sustaining and won't have to [make] trades."
That's every organization's dream. The White Sox still have a long way to go to get there, but they would be a lot farther away if they hadn't spent their limited budget so well in the last four years before Draft spending was capped.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.