In hindsight, it’s hard to term the Rays’ selection of Tim Beckham with the first overall pick in the 2008 MLB Draft a success. Beckham turns just 22 on January 27th, but his .265/.331/.365 career line in the minor leagues is pedestrian, and of the 5-tools evaluators thought Beckham had entering the draft, only one of them has been consistently there: his arm. Tim Beckham still has a future is the big leagues, but the chances he becomes a superstar are getting smaller and smaller.
But was Beckham the right choice at the time? Baseball America remarks in its Draft Almanac that “After considering Florida State catcher Buster Posey (the 2008 college player of the year) and Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez, as well as San Diege lefthander Brian Matusz and Florida prep first baseman Eric Hosmer, the Rays were more than satisfied taking the top-rated high school talent on the board, shortstop Tim Beckham.” How would things have worked out if the Rays had selected one of the other players they considered? There are so many possible scenarios, but let’s try of them, that the Rays select Buster Posey first overall in the 2008 draft, and see how that would affect the current baseball landscape.
2008 MLB Draft:
1. Tampa Bay Rays- Buster Posey
2. Pitttsburgh Pirates- Tim Beckham
3. Kansas City Royals- Eric Hosmer
4. Baltimore Orioles- Pedro Alvarez (unsigned)
5. San Francisco Giants- Brian Matusz
Giants- Brian Matusz gets slowly brought along through the minors and in 2011, wins National League Rookie of the Year, going 13-7 with a 2.71 ERA. The Giants never sign Ryan Vogelsong and he spends 2011 at Triple-A once again, his potential unrealized. The Giants never trade Bengie Molina and he trudges along as their catcher in 2010 and 2011 before retiring and leaving the Giants with uncertainty at the catcher position. In 2010, the Giants failed to make the playoffs, losing out to the San Diego Padres. The Padres lose to the Braves in the NLDS, who in turn lose to the Phillies in the NLCS, and in the World Series, the Philllies… (see Rays ramifications below)
Rangers- The Texas Rangers stick with Matt Treanor at catcher for the 2010 season and …. In 2011, the Rangers decide to give Jarrod Saltalamacchia one more chance to be their catcher, and in 2011, he provides some stability for them, hitting 16 home runs with a .737 OPS just enough to help them overcome the Angels’ dynamic offense led by a resurgent Mike Napoli, who was never traded to the Toronto Blue Jays because they knew the Rangers decided to give Saltalamacchia another chance. The Rangers decide to re-sign Vladimir Guerrero, who stays healthy for them but shows a clear decline in 2011. In the 2011 playoffs ….
Orioles- The Baltimore Orioles are in deep trouble back in 2008. Their negotiations with Pedro Alvarez and Scott Boras went haywire, and they decided to give up on Alvarez rather than sign him for nearly 6.5 million dollars. But instead, the Orioles receive a compensation pick at 6th overall in the 2009 draft, giving them both the 5th and 6th overall picks in that draft, and they draft Matt Hobgood along with Mike Minor, who has a nice season in 2011 for the Orioles as a starting pitcher.
Pirates- When Beckham struggles right out of the gate as a minor leaguer, analysts everywhere rip the Pirates for selecting him so highly. The Pirates keep Andy LaRoache to be their third baseman, and after struggling in 2010, LaRoache breaks out in 2011, showing off the talent that had made him a top prospect in the Dodgers organization and the Pirates extend him following the season. In that 2011 season, LaRoache helps lead the Pirates to 75 wins.
Rays- The Rays promote Posey in May of 2010, soon after announcing that they had signed him a 5-year extension. Posey has an outstanding rookie season for the Rays, being a key component of a team that wins a franchise-best 98 games. The Rays overcome the Texas Rangers in 5 games in the ALDS before defeating the Yankees in 6 games in the ALCS to go to the World Series, where they faced a rematch versus the Philadelphia Phillies. This time, with things were a lot different.
The two teams’ pitchers dominate in the 7-game series and other than Game 4, a 5-2 Phillies win, the two teams combine to score no more than 5 runs in any game. David Price out-duels Roy Halladay to win a classic Game 1 by a score of 2-1 as Evan Longoria hits a walk-off home run against Halladay after the Phillies had scored off of Rafael Soriano in the top of the 9th. In Game 2, James Shields finally figures something out after a tough season (the Rays lost both of his starts in the ALCS), but it’s not enough as he loses to Roy Oswalt and the Phillies 3-2. In Game 3, Matt Garza out-duels Cole Hamels 1-0 as Buster Posey hits a key home run to give the Rays a 2-1 lead in the series, before a bad Wade Davis start ties the series at 2 games apiece. Halladay beats Price in the rematch of the classic Game 1 by a score of 3-2 to give the Phillies a 3-2 lead heading back to Tropicana Field. But Shields has the game of his life in World Series Game 6, ending his season of unremitting frustration by no-hitting the Phillies as the Rays win the game 2-0. And in Game 7, Matt Garza and Cole Hamels go neck and neck as the game goes into extra innings tied 1-1. But in the 13th inning against Phillies reliever Ryan Madson, Buster Posey hits a leadoff triple, and the Phillies decide to intentionally walk Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist to bring up Carl Crawford in his final at-bat as a Ray. And Crawford delivers a clean single to right field, scoring Posey as the Rays became champions of baseball!
In 2011, the Rays decide to trade Wade Davis to the Chicago Cubs to open up a starting spot for Jeremy Hellickson and hold on to playoff hero Matt Garza. Posey, who had been voted 2010 AL Rookie of the Year, gets hurt in a collision at home plate in May, messing up the Rays offense and pitching staff, but John Jaso and Kelly Shoppach are serviceable filling in for him and the Rays use an incredible September along with a Red Sox collapse to return to the postseason as the AL Wild Card. The Red Sox lacked any stability at catcher the entire season and in September, the only player hitting for them was Carl Crawford, who after his Game 7 heroics had a career year. Against the Rangers, nice performances by Matt Moore and Matt Garza offset sub-par outings by David Price and James Shields as the series goes 5 games. But in Game 5, Hellickson gets the start and struggles, and an admirable relief effort by Moore isn’t enough as the Rangers win the game and the series. Without Napoli in the lineup, the Rangers fall to the Tigers in the ALCS, but the Tigers lose to the Cardinals in 5 games in a laugher of a World Series.
The Rays don’t term their 2011 season truly successful after their World Series-winning season in 2010, but in 2011, they demolished their team attendance, TV, and radio records, and that November, a bill passes in the Tampa legislature to approve a bill to build a new baseball stadium in downtown Tampa, where the Rays will move for the 2015 season.
Following the 2011 season, the Rays decide to hold on to Kelly Shoppach and John Jaso to do some of the catching duties as they move Posey to first base for a good portion of his games. The Rays don’t love their offensive situation, but with Posey coming back healthy along with their great rotation of James Shields, David Price, Matt Garza, Jeremy Hellickson, and Matt Moore, the Rays are confident heading in the 2012 season at their chances of winning the second World Series title in franchise history.
Looking back, maybe Tim Beckham was the wrong choice at first overall in 2008. Maybe if the Rays draft Posey they have a World Series championship and they are in a better position as a team right now. But that also prevents the Rays from trading Matt Garza (after his hypothetical Game 7 masterpiece of a start), and getting the prospects they acquired in that trade who now shape the future of the team. Every decision has ramifications, and it just so works out that this choice didn’t work as well as another one could. But that doesn’t mean it was the wrong choice. At the time, Beckham was the player with the superstar upside that the Rays wanted to make their franchise successful for years to come. Buster Posey is an outstanding baseball player at a current position of need for the Rays, but he’s no superstar. The Rays don’t play for the short-term: they play for the long term. While they would love to have a World Series trophy right now, what they care about is sustained success. Only time will tell whether the choice the Rays actually made will lead to that.