In the winter before the 1993 season, the San Diego Padres plucked pitcher Kerry Taylor from the Minnesota Twins in the Rule 5 draft, and because San Diego had started a draconian sell-off of almost all of its best players, the 22-year-old Taylor -- who had never pitched above Class A -- made the Padres' Opening Day roster. Taylor was quiet, diligent and compliant, and like a lot of rookie relievers, he embraced the assignment of carrying the necessary equipment to the bullpen every night, trudging across the outfield with a bag stuffed with baseballs.
The sell-off continued into the season; center fielder Darrin Jackson was dealt to Toronto, All-Star third baseman Gary Sheffield was shipped to the Marlins, and in July, pitchers Bruce Hurst and Greg Harris were dealt to Colorado and Fred McGriff was traded to Atlanta. The Padres had slashed their payroll, turning over their roster.
Late that season, Taylor sat in the bullpen one night and thought about all the new players who had joined the Padres, and in his mind he reviewed the roster position by position. After the game, he called me aside and mentioned, with amazement, that even as a rookie Rule 5 draftee, he had accumulated more service time with the Padres than all but a half-dozen or so teammates.
Predictably, the Padres were absolutely terrible. They had kept a couple of veterans, right fielder Tony Gwynn and former No. 1 pick Andy Benes, essentially as peace offerings for their infuriated fans, and yes, they had a lot of talent on the roster. Trevor Hoffman, acquired by GM Randy Smith in the Sheffield trade, was taking his first baby steps in what would become a Hall of Fame-caliber career. Catcher Brad Ausmus was added by the Padres in the Hurst/Harris trade, and he'd go on to play 18 years in the majors.
But because owner Tom Werner had decided to cut costs to the bone in preparation for a sale of the Padres, those young and inexperienced players were thrown into the deep end of Major League Baseball's pool all at the same time, and the Padres finished 61-101. Generally speaking: You get what you pay for.
Which brings us to the current trend in baseball of teams choosing to slash payroll dramatically rather than spending money they have to be at least a bit more competitive.
After the Brewers' trade of Khris Davis on Friday, Tom Haudricourt noted on Twitter that since July, Milwaukee has traded its starting left fielder, center fielder, third baseman, shortstop, first baseman, starting pitcher Mike Fiers and closer Francisco Rodriguez. Even with catcher Jonathan Lucroy still part of the team -- and many within the industry expect Lucroy will inevitably be moved before the Aug. 1 trade deadline -- the Brewers' payroll obligations will continue to plummet dramatically.
2010: $95 million
2011: $93 million
2012: $99 million
2013: $92 million
2014: $110 million
2015: $98 million
2016: $60-65 million
With inexperienced players filling much of the Brewers' roster, Milwaukee is all but certain to be terrible this season, probably non-competitive in a division that includes three juggernauts in the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs. The greatest challenge for those three teams could be maximizing their win totals in the combined 38 games against the Brewers and Reds.
The worse the Brewers are this season, of course, the better positioned they will be for the 2017 draft, both in terms of draft slot and spending money. This is what some owners have referred to as the Houston model, after the issue of tanking came up in their meetings last month.