He Could Have Been the Second Best Pitcher Named ‘Whitson’ in Padres History

Given further time to reflect on the Karsten Whitson situation, I’d like to expand on my initial thoughts. First off, it still stinks that Whitson isn’t a member of the Padres today. I’m sure all of us, with the possible exception of the player and his agent, would agree on that.

According to Corey Brock’s account at Padres.com, the team and player “reached an agreement” on draft day. As the signing deadline approached, despite said agreement, Whitson’s camp balked and so the Padres reportedly sweetened the pot to $2.1 million (up from the original offer, which had been at slot, i.e., $1.953 million). No dice.

Here’s the (literally) money quote from GM Jed Hoyer:

He wanted to get paid like the No. 4 or 5 pick in the country and wouldn’t lower it. I’m shocked. We had a deal with this kid. Somewhere along the line, someone told him he was worth more.

Executive Vice President Paul DePodesta offers a similar assessment:

We had every reason to believe that he would be signing within a few days of the draft (and I mean every reason). Then other people got involved and slowed the process down… When the deadline approached, despite feeling somewhat taken advantage of, we did what every team does in order to get a deal done: we improved our offer to the last dollar.

I wasn’t there at the negotiating table, and neither were you. We have no way of knowing what actually transpired in the time leading up to what Baseball America‘s John Manuel calls “a blow, plain and simple.”

That said, the Padres went well above slot for their third, sixth (John Barbato), and eighth round picks, so I don’t think this was about being cheap (in a post-deadline chat, Baseball America‘s Jim Callis said of Whitson that “San Diego was willing to go over slot to sign him”). From where I sit, it looks like two parties reached an agreement but only one of them chose to honor it.

Padres owner Jeff Moorad, himself a former player agent, calls the situation “a badly orchestrated agent’s game,” continuing with even harsher words:

The kid was bawling his eyes out on the other end. Whitson got caught up in a dangerous game of chicken played by his agent. You get the feeling, with him bawling, he got taken, too. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do things, and it was not handled well on the player’s side. We feel were misled by the agent, and it’s something we won’t forget. Lesson learned.

So, that’s the Padres’ side of the story. Is it possible that they are lying? Anything is possible, although I hardly see how that would benefit them now or in the future (word tends to get around about these things).

On the other side, Whitson’s father claims that the decision was “100 percent Karsten’s.” As you might expect, their camp’s narrative differs a bit from that of the Padres. Quoth the son:

I wasn’t trying to blow the Padres out of the water by any means. But it just didn’t work out. I’m very happy with the decision.

And the father:

He was basically able to hold his ground. The two sides just couldn’t get together to get it done. The reality was that, whatever Karsten’s number was, it didn’t matter. Their number was just over ($2 million), and that was not enough to take him away from fulfilling his dream to go to UF and try to help lead them to a national title… His first dream was not to play professional baseball, it was to play college baseball.

Dream big, kid. And hope your arm holds up for three years and/or the draft doesn’t go to a hard slotting system.

The Padres, meanwhile, go about their business (you have noticed they are trying to win this year, no?) without a young pitcher they expected to be developing right about now. They keep driving toward the post-season and after that, gear up for the 11th pick in the 2011 draft they received as compensation for not signing Whitson.

The fans? They aren’t happy, and understandably so. I’ve heard a lot of talk about the disappointments of Padres first-round picks, which is a fair complaint (over the past decade, only Khalil Greene has done anything). I’ve also heard folks lump Whitson in with the rest of them, which isn’t so fair.

We like to form patterns to make sense of the world, but it doesn’t always work that way. Each individual case is different, and I don’t see a connection between Whitson and, say, Jake Gautreau, Matt Bush, or Nick Schmidt. I mean, there is a connection — people feel let down whenever expectations are not met — but beyond that, those past failures have no bearing on the current situation. If anything, I see similarities between this and the Hideki Irabu fiasco (yes, I want to come play for the Padres; wait, no I don’t).

Anywho, I’d better wrap this up before I veer off onto some weird philsophical tangent. To summarize: It stinks that the Padres and Whitson couldn’t get the deal done. That is now behind us, and it’s time to return our focus to this season. Last I checked, the Padres own the best record in the National League and lead their division by 5 games with 44 remaining. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, that removes a lot of the sting.

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8 Responses »

  1. I have to agree. We don’t know what happened in the closed door negotiations, and while as a long time Padre fan I can’t help but be disappointed with the familiar ring to yet another draft pick giving the Padres the runaround, the team has much bigger fish to fry.

    I’ll take a pennant over a “possible” future player any day of the week!

  2. I look forward to the accounts that come up in the following weeks and months. As you said, word tends to get around. From Moorad’s comments, I get the feeling that in three years time, Whitson isn’t going to be a first rounder again, if he still has the same agent.

    I can’t blame Whitson for the miss; even veterans place too much faith in their agents, like Johnny Damon. At his age, he should have thought about the best place to accumulate Hall of Fame numbers (Yankee Stadium), but let his agent throw that option away. I hope Whitson comes to realize it’s his future, his career, not his agent’s.

  3. I *love* the Padres being over the .600 in win % … and having a magic number down to 39 on Aug 18th …

    And I’m OK with them setting an upper-bound on what a draft pick is worth and then sticking to it … I trust this FO …

  4. While I see the organization’s side, and understand their feelings of wanting to maintain their credibility and not be taken advantage of, it’s still kind of hard to swallow that they let ~$500K prevent them from signing an elite talent. It seems to me that small market, low payroll teams can’t let talent walk away like that.

  5. Here’s what I think what happened. The Padres decided that they wanted to take a high school pitcher with the 9th pick. They made their wish list and then made the initial contract offer (supposedly $1.95m or so, slightly under slot). Whitson was the first one that said that he’d take the bonus. So the Padres drafted him. I’m guessing that Whitson didn’t have an “advisor” (agent) before he was picked but hired one as soon as he was picked. That agent probably told him that the bonus wasn’t high enough (of HS pitchers rated similarly to Whitson over the past few years, only 1 of 23 have signed for under slot, Ethan Martin by the Dodgers in 2008). Obviously the Padres had a certain number (about $2.2m or so) that they weren’t going to pass so even though they weren’t that far apart, I’ve seen about $600k, they decided to pass. That seems the most logical explanation, at least to me.

  6. The Padres were willing to pay above slot so this kid could sign with the best team in the league, in America’s Finest City, with the best pitcher’s park and maybe the best pitching coach, and he still held out for more money? Plus he was crying about it? As far as I’m concerned, he’s now in Eli Manning territory. I’ll shed no tears if he blows out his elbow. At least he’ll have that U of Florida degree to fall back on; that’s worth at least $2 million, right?

  7. The other dumb thing about this kid’s decision is that most college baseball players don’t get a “full ride” scholarship. Because they don’t have enough scholarships for everyone, they mostly give out partial scholarships. So besides turning down $2 million, he now gets the privilege of paying to play at UF.

  8. Geoff,

    Thanks for the great analysis. This should be an interesting one to file and look back on in five years. Perhaps the compensation pick will work to our advantage. No ill will towards Whitson though. I had trouble deciding what bong to use when I was 18.