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Indulging in Some Revisionist Mariner Draft History

There was a time, long ago, a time I would still eat a Pop Tart, when baseball rotated both home field advantage in the World Series and picks in the amateur draft between the two leagues. The World Series made sense, though an argument for the team with the better regular season record getting it also makes sense. The winner of the All Star Game determining home field advantage can make sense if you torture it enough and are somehow ignorant of all the better options available. Alternating in the draft can also make some sense if you think a disparity between the leagues might give one an unfair advantage, but I feel that most of us agree that going strictly by last year's winning percentage regardless of league is the better method.

Hfa_mediumHome field in the World Series didn't go on to have much tangible impact on the game. Few Series went to seven games and home field in baseball has been shown to be just not that big of a deal compared to other major sports. Forcing the draft order to wobble between leagues did have noticeable repercussions however. We've spoken a couple times recently about the suck mastery of the 2003 Tigers. They were 20 wins worse than the next worst team, who were the Rays. San Diego was third and yet picked first in the 2004 draft. The Padres Portland'd the pick and Detroit still snagged Justin Verlander, but my how it could have been.

Famously, on two occasions, 1987 and 1993, the Mariners ended up with the first overall pick despite not deserving it based on winning percentage the year prior. Those happened to be two very good years to have that first pick and the Mariners capitalized with Ken Griffey Jr and Alex Rodriguez. The Pirates were the rightful owners in 1987 and left with Mark Merchant*, who never played in the Majors, as a crummy consolation prize. In 1993, the system relegated the Dodgers to second and selected Darren Dreifort.

*Uninterestedly, Merchant ended up in the Mariners' system less than two years after being drafted, part of a five-player trade that "featured" Rey Quinones.

Of course, it's not as simple as to say that the Mariners would have missed out on both or either had they picked second in those drafts. The Pirates or Dodgers could have passed over Griffey and Rodriguez, perhaps for the same players they ultimately did draft. It's hard to say with clear certainty. Owner George Argyros wanted to draft Mike Harkey in 1987 and Lou Piniella wanted the Mariners to take Darren Dreifort in 1993 so while other teams are probably not as incompetent as the Mariners, the possibility exists.

Some Pirate fans still bring up the Griffey draft, but the shifting around of draft picks from the pure order was frequent and in other years it worked against the Mariners. As noted in the write up on Bill Swift, the Mariners drafted him second after the Mets took Shawn Abner. Unnoted was that the Mariners had the worst 1983 record and were bumped from the first overall slot. Granted, it didn't come back to haunt them, but it could have. One time in history it's certainly feasible that such shuffling did.

Draft M's pick Selected Deserved Team They drafted
1978 6th Tito Nanni 4th OAK Mike Morgan
1980 6th Darnell Coles 5th SDP Jeff Pyburn
1984 2nd Bill Swift 1st NYM Shawn Abner
1985 7th Mike Campbell 6th PIT Barry Bonds
1986 8th Pat Lennon 7th PHI Brad Brink
1987 1st Ken Griffey Jr. 2nd PIT Mark Merchant
1988 14th Tino Martinez 11th PHI Pat Combs
1989 3rd Roger Salkeld 4th PHI Jeff Jackson
1990 6th Marc Newfield 5th PIT Kurt Miller
1993 1st Alex Rodriguez 2nd LAD Darren Dreifort
1995 3rd Jose Cruz 4th CHC Kerry Wood
1996 22nd Gil Meche 23rd LAD Damian Rolls
1998 22nd Matt Thornton 24th NYY Andy Brown
1999 11th Ryan Christianson 12th PHI Brett Myers
2002 28th John Mayberry 30th STL Ben Fritz

Four other times (2000, 2001, 2003 and 2004*) the Mariners would have had shifted first round picks as well, but their picks were surrendered as part of free agent compensation. The players signed that caused those forfeited picks were, in order: John Olerud, Jeff Nelson, Greg Colbrunn and Eddie Guardado. I won't complain about the Olerud signing.

*Thanks, Pat and Bill

What ifs in the draft are best left with first overall picks since at least there you can unequivocally state that the picking team could have picked anyone. It can get crazy the further down you go and I prefer to stay out of such matters. Nevertheless, one specific case has me interested and it pertains to those laments from Pittsburgh about Griffey.

By record, the Mariners should have drafted sixth in 1985 instead of seventh. The teams that picked one through five would not have changed had that draft been ordered by straight winning percentage. Therefore, I think it entirely within grounded reason to state that had such an order been in place, the Mariners would have been drafting with Barry Bonds still on the board, in the draft spot where he was taken, by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Fans in retroactive looks at the draft often cry over who their teams passed over (hey there, Michael Garciaparra over David Wright) but this is quite a bit different from those I feel. This wasn't late in the draft. Barry Bonds was a well-known prospect. He went very high in the draft. He went one spot ahead of Seattle' pick. He went in the spot Seattle could have had.

That's a titillating thought for me. Barry Bonds as a Mariner in the late '80s and early '90s; instead of some of us clamoring for Bonds in the late '00s as a DH, him in his young prime. Even nuttier is that while Bonds did play (in center field) in 1986 and was worth about three wins, the various Mariners playing center amounted to roughly replacement level. Three extra wins in the 1986 season still leaves the Mariners with the worst record in the AL and second worst overall. It's a stretch to say that the Mariners could have ended up with both Griffey and Bonds, but the wistfulness is equally plausible as Pittsburgh's.

I don't know, only a few people could, what the Pirates would have done with the first pick. The Mariners almost didn't go with Junior and Willie Banks and Mark Merchant were both highly thought of at the time. It's coincidental but perfect that arguably the two greatest players of the '90s were so close to being on the same team, either Pittsburgh or Seattle. What a short, but wild ride that would have been.