The wonderful baseball writer Bill James told the best procurement, development and deployment story I’ve ever heard in one of his Baseball Abstracts. It’s a great story and teaching tool for fans of any sport, and a valuable lesson for sports franchises. Procurement of talent is one thing, but getting productive years before saying goodbye is vital to an organization. How are the Oilers doing in this regard?
The James story surrounded a catcher named Darrell Porter. He was drafted by Milwaukee, who paid a high price (No. 4 overall) and spent several years developing him at the major league level. Now Porter had an interesting skill set. He was a catcher with some power, an ability to get on base via the walk and hit for poor-to-decent average. As a defensive player, Porter was a good handler of pitchers and that was considered a strength.
Now during these years Milwaukee was drafting and developing a lot of fine players and were impatient to improve overall. In 1976 the Brewers dealt Porter to Kansas City for less than one hundred cents on the dollar. At that point, the young catcher was less than the sum of his parts, but it became obvious as time went on that the Royals had gotten the better of the Brewers. Porter spent four productive seasons with George Brett before the St. Louis Cardinals signed him for a boatload of money in 1980.
The Brewers had drafted him with the golden draft chip, and the Royals enjoyed the heart of his career for less than full value. Even St. Louis won a championship with Porter, and in this way the lesson is learned: Don’t give up on your players too soon.
HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO THE OILERS?
In recent years, the Oilers have been sending away players very early, and those players are beginning to put some definition into their career trajectory. Let’s run a few examples of Oilers draft picks sent away young:
- Andrew Cogliano from the 2005 draft found a home in Anaheim and is enjoying a fine career. The Oilers received the draft pick that became Marco Roy.
- Sam Gagner from the 2007 draft struggled last season after an awful injury and the organization turned the page on him. Teddy Purcell was the return.
- Riley Nash, also from the 2007 draft, was sent away before he was signed. Nash is emerging as a useful center with size in Carolina, something Edmonton could use. The Oilers received the draft pick that turned into Martin Marincin in that exchange.
Three players sent away early in their careers, and there’s every chance Edmonton will live to regret a couple of those deals as time rolls along. When discussing Jeff Petry’s demise in our city, perhaps the problem isn’t the player. Perhaps it’s something else.
AFTER PETRY, WHO’S NEXT?
Based on management’s verbal, youngsters Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom are a big part of the future. If we project those players onto the roster, how many of the other five defensive spots have already been spoken for?
- Justin Schultz, signed for this season with a long-term deal to come
- Mark Fayne, signed for this season plus three more at $3.625 million
- Andrew Ference, signed for this season plus two more at $3.25 million
- Nikita Nikitin, this and next season at $4.5 million
The Oilers are basically set. The four names here added to Nurse and Klefbom makes six, and it’s possible the Oilers not only send away Petry but eventually a youngster like Martin Marincin. Part of this is the rebuild, Edmonton has drafted a lot of young talent from 2010 forward and these kids are emerging.
There’s a real danger here for Edmonton. Reading the tea leaves, it looks to me as though the organization feels the keepers are Schultz and Klefbom, and the outsiders are Jeff Petry and Martin Marincin.
That isn’t obvious to everyone today, and this management group doesn’t have the kind of resume that lends itself to a confident endorsement.
Interesting days ahead for Craig MacTavish.