During the 1995-96 MLB Amateur Drafts, the Mariners selected an outfielder in the late rounds, who rebuffed the team each time preferring to remain in school. The player eventually signed with the Rockies, played 14 seasons in the majors, and recorded a career .295 AVG with 614 stolen bases. His name was Juan Pierre.
I know what some of you are thinking. The Mariners have an inauspicious draft history; the team missing on Pierre doesn’t surprise you. Yes, the draft hasn’t been an organizational strength for much of its existence. But criticism isn’t warranted in this particular situation.
It’s not as if Seattle wasted an early round pick on Pierre, who likely believed playing college ball would improve his draft stock. Besides, many great players, even Hall of Famers, have rejected clubs to remain in school. Naturally, this reality energizes the daydreams of baseball fans everywhere.
What if those players didn’t reject their favorite team?
It’s a fun question worth exploring. Let’s discuss a great player each team failed to sign after drafting them.
Angels – Buster Posey
Posey was a fiftieth round pick of the Angels, but chose to attend Florida State. The Giants later selected him with the fifth overall pick in 2008. In 11 seasons, the former Seminole has been an MVP and Rookie of the Year, a batting champion, winner of four Silver Sluggers Awards, and a Gold Glover.
Had Posey become an Angel, he’d be teammates with Mike Trout – drafted a year later. Perhaps combining these two great players results in the Halos making more than one postseason appearance during the Trout era.
|Bo Jackson||Tim Wallach||Aaron Boone|
|Dave Kingman||Kyle Hendricks||Chris Davis|
|Greg Vaughn||Matt Harvey||Rich Hill|
Astros – Jason Varitek
Before leading the Red Sox to championships, Varitek was a late pick of Houston. Minnesota later selected him in the first round, but he remained at Georgia Tech another year before signing with Seattle. The Mariners subsequently shipped the Michigan native to Beantown where he’d become team captain, an All-Star, a Silver Slugger, and a Gold Glove catcher.
When Varitek became a regular, the Astros were competitive and reached the World Series in 2005. Perhaps his presence helps Houston win a title, although the team did have Gold Glove backstop Brad Ausmus.
|Mike Flanagan||Scott Erickson||Michael Bourn|
|Scott Fletcher||Eric Byrnes|
Athletics – Aaron Judge
Judge chose Fresno State over being Oakland’s thirty-first round pick in 2010. Wise move for the Californian, who’d later be a Yankees first rounder. In the Bronx, he’s been Rookie of the Year and a two-time All-Star. Since 2017, the 28-year-old has averaged 35 home runs and .279/.401/.572.
|Jim Sundberg||Robby Thompson||Floyd Bannister|
|Jonathan Papelbon||Mike Leake||Brad Ziegler|
|Mike Zunino||Justin Smoak||Bob Horner|
Blue Jays – Kris Bryant
The same year Oakland drafted Judge, Toronto also selected Bryant late. The Cubs subsequently chose him with the second overall pick in the 2013 draft. The Las Vegas, Nevada native has since earned Rookie of the Year and MVP honors.
An All-Star third baseman, Bryant has double-digit starts in the outfield and first base. His versatility would’ve proven beneficial had he signed with Toronto. When the San Diego alum debuted in 2015, Josh Donaldson was AL MVP while patrolling the hot corner. Currently, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the team’s third baseman.
|Ted Lilly||Scott Erickson||Jim Abbott|
|Aaron Nola||James Paxton|
Braves – Randy Johnson
Atlanta made Johnson a fourth round pick, but he preferred being a USC Trojan. Montreal subsequently signed the 6-foot-10 left-hander who’d pitch 22 years, win five Cy Young Awards, and log 4,875 strikeouts – second only to Nolan Ryan (5,714).
When Johnson rose to prominence, the Braves’ rotation boasted future Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine. Although the team reached the NLCS eight times in the Nineties, it won just one World Series. Perhaps the Big Unit rewrites that history.
|Anthony Rendon||Steve Finley||Tim Salmon|
|Jay Buhner||Brandon Belt||John Means|
Brewers – Jason Giambi
Apparently, Long Beach State was more appealing than Milwaukee to Giambi. With Oakland, he was 2000 AL MVP and runner-up a year later. The five-time All-Star also led the league in OBP three times and slugged 440 home runs in 20 seasons.
The Brewers were irrelevant during Giambi’s Oakland stint, plus the team had Richie Sexson at first base. Then again, no Giambi on the A’s possibly alters the outcome of the 2000 AL West division race when Oakland edged out Seattle by a half game.
|Nomar Garciaparra||Hunter Pence||Greg Vaughn|
|Kevin McReynolds||Alex Fernandez||Jake Arrieta|
Cardinals – Max Scherzer
The three-time Cy Young Award winner is my choice over Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, who was a great player. But Scherzer is more dominant. Since 2013, his 46.7 bWAR is best among pitchers outpacing Clayton Kershaw (40.3), Chris Sale (36.2), and Justin Verlander (35.7). The 35-year-old’s 29-percent strikeout rate is highest all-time among pitchers with 2,000-plus innings pitched.
The Cardinals are perennial contenders reaching three NLCS and a World Series during Scherzer’s best years. Perhaps he propels his hometown team to a twelfth championship.
|Paul Molitor||Bill Madlock||Gary Gaetti|
|Greg Vaughn||Bucky Dent||Ian Kennedy|
Cubs – Mark Langston
Langston opted for San Jose State over the Cubs and later became the second round pick of the fledgling Mariners. In 16 seasons, the southpaw was 1984 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up to teammate Alvin Davis, a four-time All-Star, and a Gold Glove defender seven times.
During Langston’s rookie year, the Cubs fell to the Padres in the NLCS. Adding him to a rotation already boasting Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley and 1984 NL Cy Young Award winner Rick Sutcliffe potentially helps the North Siders reach the Fall Classic.
|Darrell Evans||Bob Welch||Ray Lankford|
|Tim Lincecum||Sonny Gray||Ken Forsch|
Diamondbacks – Ian Kinsler
The Diamondbacks were fond of Kinsler, who they drafted twice before the Rangers signed him. For a decade, the Arizona native was one of the best second basemen in the majors with Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, and Chase Utley. His 55.2 career bWAR ranks nineteenth all-time among second basemen; his 257 home runs eighth best.
If Kinsler had signed with Arizona, he may have become one of the best Diamondbacks ever. The former Missouri Tiger’s bWAR, home run, doubles, and stolen bases with Texas would rank top-3 in the D-Backs’ record book.
|Seth Smith||Danny Hultzen|
Dodgers – Tom Seaver
During his first decade in MLB, Seaver was Rookie of the Year, a three-time Cy Young winner, and led the Mets to a World Series title. When elected to the Hall of Fame, Tom Terrific received the highest vote tally ever recorded.
Had Seaver become a Dodger, he replaces the retiring Sandy Koufax. That said; the team already had Hall of Famers Don Drysdale and Don Sutton, plus Claude Osteen and Bill Singer. Not landing the USC product would’ve crushed the Mets – he’s the best player in franchise history.
|Chase Utley||Paul Goldschmidt||David Price|
|Bob Stanley||Mookie Wilson||Kevin Gausman|
|Jordy Mercer||Phil Nevin||Stephen Piscotty|
Giants – Barry Bonds
Although he eventually reached San Francisco, the son of Bobby Bonds chose Arizona State over Dad’s former team in 1982. Pittsburgh later selected him sixth overall. When Barry’s illustrious career ended in 2007, the seven-time MVP held the all-time records for home runs and walks.
If you apply Bonds career stats to the Giants’ record books, he’s the franchise leader in stolen bases and overtakes Willie Mays for top spot in doubles, home runs, and bWAR. The Pirates reached three consecutive NLCS with Bonds. This doesn’t happen without him.
|J.D. Drew||Davey Lopes||Bud Black|
|Alvin Davis||Doug Fister||Steve Busby|
Indians – Tim Lincecum
The Bellevue, Washington native chose his hometown college over the Tribe. Lincecum would go on to win consecutive NL Cy Young Awards with San Francisco in 2008-09. He’d also help the Giants win three World Series trophies in five years.
Lincecum’s presence likely doesn’t change the fact the Indians regressed after losing the 2007 ALCS. On the other hand, the Giants were on the rise. Perhaps the team doesn’t reach the top without the former Washington Husky or at least not as easily.
|Brian Jordan||Joe Niekro||Doug Drabek|
|Max Muncy||Steve Stone||Terry Steinbach|
Mariners – Barry Zito
Seattle took their shot at Zito late in the 1996 draft; the A’s landed him with the ninth overall pick three years later. During his eight-year stint in Oakland, the Nevadan won a Cy Young Award and was one of baseball’s best left-handed pitchers with Randy Johnson and Johan Santana.
Having Zito at peak form would benefit the Mariners, while simultaneously weakening Oakland. His first full season was the same year Seattle fell to the Yankees in the 2001 ALCS. Perhaps the southpaw’s presence gets the Mariners over to the hump and to its first World Series.
|Tony Phillips||Robby Thompson||Lance Lynn|
|Jason Hammel||Tom Henke||Rich Harden|
Marlins – Cliff Lee
The Marlins selected Lee the same year they won the 1997 World Series. The Expos subsequently signed the former Razorback, but then dealt him to Cleveland where he’d win a Cy Young Award. The lefty played 13 seasons and was a four-time All-Star.
Lee’s first full season was 2004; the year after Florida won their second Fall Classic. The club then finished in third place in consecutive years. It’s plausible the Arkansas native’s presence helps, assuming the trade-happy team doesn’t deal him.
|Charlie Blackmon||Blake Treinen||Ken Giles|
|Kendall Graveman||Nick Hundley||Tony Watson|
Mets – Roger Clemens
Clemens spurned the Mets in 1981 signing with Boston two years later. Only Cy Young (165.7) and Walter Johnson (159.7) have a higher career bWAR than the Texas product (138.7). His 4,672 career strikeouts rank third all-time behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875).
Imagine Clemens teaming with Dwight Gooden in the Mets’ rotation during the mid-Eighties. In such a scenario, the Red Sox likely miss the 1986 World Series and avoid losing to New York in an excruciating manner. Moreover, Sawx fans never get to unfairly vilify Bill Buckner.
|Rafael Palmeiro||John Olerud||Ron Cey|
|Matt Williams||Mitch Haniger||Burt Hooton|
|Bud Black||Mickey Rivers||John Tudor|
Expos / Nationals – Mark McGwire
Selected by Montreal in 1981, McGwire later was the tenth overall pick by Oakland. During the Nineties, the powerful first baseman paced the majors with 405 home runs and a .615 SLG. He’d finish with 583 career home runs.
When McGwire debuted, the Expos had Andrés Galarraga playing first base. Displacing Galarraga would’ve been a tall order. Conversely, McGwire not joining the A’s likely affects the team’s chances of appearing in the 1988-90 World Series. Moreover, the Bash Brothers don’t exist without the USC product partnering with Jose Canseco.
|Russell Martin||Mike Boddicker||Phil Garner|
|Charles Johnson||Marcus Stroman||Chris Sabo|
Orioles – Dave Winfield
Baltimore drafted Winfield, as did other professional sports teams – the Atlanta Hawks (NBA), Utah Stars (ABA), and Minnesota Vikings (NFL). In the end, he became a Padre in 1973. When his 22-year Hall of Fame career concluded, the St. Paul, Minnesota native had collected 3,110 hits and 465 home runs.
During the Seventies, the Orioles were one of the better clubs in the AL, but struggled overtaking the Red Sox and Yankees in the AL East standings. Having the former Minnesota Gopher on their roster would’ve helped.
|Cliff Lee||Michael Young||Rick Honeycutt|
|Walt Weiss||Cecil Fielder||Jaime García|
Padres – Todd Helton
The All-Star first baseman was a Rookie of the Year, batting champion and three-time Gold Glover during his 17-year career with Colorado. When Helton retired, he led the franchise in bWAR, home runs, doubles, hits, and walks.
During Helton’s rookie campaign, the Padres lost the 1998 World Series. However, Wally Joyner was producing at first base for the Friars. In subsequent years, San Diego fell into mediocrity until returning to relevance with division titles in 2005-06. Having the former Tennessee Vol possibly helps the Padres advance further in the postseason.
|Troy Glaus||Doug DeCinces||Jason Kipnis|
|Harold Reynolds||Bump Wills|
Phillies – Darrell Evans
Four teams drafted Evans before he signed with the A’s, but I’m placing with the team selecting him in January 1966. The Californian is one of just nine players with over 400 home runs and 1,600 walks. Seven are Hall of Famers; the other is Barry Bonds.
During Evans’ most productive years (1972-75), the Phillies were ascending in the standings. However, the two-time All Star would’ve had to move across the diamond to first base to accommodate Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt.
|J.D. Drew||Chuck Knoblauch||Vince Coleman|
|Kyle Freeland||Cavan Biggio||Kyle Gibson|
Pirates – Greg Vaughn
Like Evans, four clubs drafted Vaughn but didn’t ink him. The Pirates failed to do so in 1985. A year later, he was a Brewer. The Miami alum clobbered 355 home runs in 15 seasons. The four-time All-Star also finished fourth in NL MVP voting in 1998-99.
|Jim Barr||John Kruk||Walker Buehler|
|Paul DeJong||Lonnie Chisenhall||Trea Turner|
|Lance Johnson||Stephen Drew||Chris Bosio|
Senators / Rangers – Jermaine Dye
There’s no clear-cut choice to discuss with this franchise. Raúl Ibañez and Mickey Rivers were possibilities, but I chose Dye. A forty-third round selection by Texas in 1992, he instead attended Cosumnes River College and signed with Atlanta a year later. The two-time All-Star also played in Kansas City Oakland, and finally Chicago where he was 2005 World Series MVP.
Missing on Dye had no consequence on the Rangers. The club was a cellar dweller when he flourished in the majors.
|Barry Zito||Raúl Ibañez||Mickey Rivers|
|Jermaine Dye||Jody Reed||Jerry Remy|
|Chris Speier||Brad Miller||Dakota Hudson|
Rays – Jacoby Ellsbury
Tampa Bay tried snagging the Oregon native, but he chose a local college before the Red Sox made him a first rounder. Ellsbury played 11 seasons and was an All-Star, Gold Glover and Silver Slugger, plus runner-up to 2011 AL MVP Justin Verlander. He also helped Boston win the 2007 and 2010 World Series.
During the Oregon State alum’s first full season, the Rays reached the 2008 World Series. However, the club had a 23-year-old Melvin Upton Jr. patrolling center field at the time and didn’t need Ellsbury.
|Mike Minor||Jason Hammel||Wade Miley|
|Heath Bell||Michael Lorenzen||Andrew Miller|
Red Sox – Mark Teixeira
Teixeira was a ninth round pick of Boston, then the fifth overall pick by Texas in 2001. The switch-hitter spent six seasons with three teams before joining Boston’s heated rival – the Yankees. The five-time Gold Glove first baseman was runner-up to 2009 AL MVP to Joe Mauer and finished his 14-year career with 409 home runs.
During Teixeira’s debut year, the Red Sox lost the 2003 ALCS to the Yankees with Kevin Millar at first base. Perhaps the Georgia Tech product’s bat and strong defense helps Boston vanquish New York and reach the Fall Classic.
|Alex Bregman||Jack McDowell||Tino Martinez|
|Yasmani Grandal||Charlie Blackmon||Hunter Renfroe|
|Pat Burrell||Yan Gomes||Brandon Belt|
Reds – Nick Markakis
Cincinnati selected Markakis late in consecutive years before he became an Oriole. Currently with Atlanta, the Young Harris College alum has averaged 13 home runs, 36 doubles, and hit .288/.358/.424 since debuting in 2006. He’s also won three Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger.
If Markakis signed with the Reds, he may have become the team’s regular right fielder when they were fielding competitive rosters in 2010-13. Still, Jay Bruce was in the picture at the time. Perhaps management moves one of the All-Stars to left field.
|Jake Arrieta||Andrew Benintendi||Chris Chambliss|
|Matthew Boyd||Rich Hill||Randy Myers|
Rockies – Chris Sale
A late selection by Colorado, Sale would later be a White Sox first round pick. Although the 31-year-old hasn’t won a Cy Young Award, he was a top-five vote getter during 2013-18. Moreover, he was top-three in bWAR, ERA, FIP, WHIP, strikeouts, and complete games.
It’s reasonable to consider how Sale performs at mile-high Coors Field. The Florida Gulf Coast alum’s experience in Denver is a teeny-tiny sample of 3.1 innings in two games – no runs, two singles, one walk, and three strikeouts.
|Todd Frazier||Corey Dickerson||Matt Garza|
|Andrew Cashner||Marco Gonzales||Ross Stripling|
Royals – Will Clark
Six years after Clark passed on the Royals, he was NL MVP runner-up to Giants teammate Kevin Mitchell. “The Thrill” finished his 15-season career with a .303/.384/.497 slash-line, four top-5 MVP finishes, two Silver Sluggers, and a Gold Glove.
Clark’s peak was 1987-92 when Kansas City had winning seasons. It’s plausible the Louisiana native helps the team, but Hall of Famer George Brett was playing first base by then. Perhaps Brett or Clark moves to designated hitter. On the other hand, no Clark potentially keeps the Giants from reaching the NLCS twice and the World Series in 1987-89.
|Frank Viola||Deion Sanders||John Elway|
|Jon Gray||Todd Zeile||Shane Mack|
Tigers – Ozzie Smith
Smith later became a Padre after the Tigers made him a seventh round choice. Perhaps the greatest fielding shortstop ever, the Cal Poly product’s 76.9 bWAR ranks fourth all-time among shortstops. The only person ahead of the Hall of Famer playing since World War II – Cal Ripken Jr. (95.9).
Fellow Hall of Famer Alan Trammell was Detroit’s shortstop when “The Wizard” debuted. Also a Gold Glover, Trammell spent his entire career as a Tiger finishing with 70.7 bWAR. Moreover, he was 1987 AL MVP runner-up to George Bell and 1984 World Series MVP.
|Darrell Evans||Andy Messersmith||D.J. LeMahieu|
|Mark Mulder||R.A. Dickey||Keith Foulke|
Twins – George Springer
Minnesota took a late-round stab at Springer, the eleventh overall pick by Houston in 2011. The 30-year-old has since become a two-time Silver Slugger and World Series MVP. His 19.1 bWAR since 2016 ties him with Aaron Judge for second highest among right fielders behind Mookie Betts. Furthermore, Giancarlo Stanton (127) is the only right fielder with more home runs than the former UConn Husky (124).
Signing Springer doesn’t change the Twins’ recent history. But Houston not having his services may have been franchise altering.
|Mark Grace||Steve Garvey||Jason Varitek|
|Al Hrabosky||J.D. Martinez||Bret Boone|
|Kolten Wong||Tim Belcher||Brian Anderson|
White Sox – Jimmy Key
The left-hander preferred Clemson to being a tenth round pick of Chicago and later joined the professional ranks with the Blue Jays. Key never won a Cy Young Award, but was a two-time runner-up. The Alabaman also helped Toronto win its first World Series and is one of the best pitchers in franchise history with Roy Halladay and Dave Stieb.
Losing Key hurts the Blue Jays, not so much with the White Sox. The year prior to his debut, the South Siders fell to the Orioles in the 1984 ALCS. Afterwards, the team delivered mixed results during the first decade of Key’s career.
|Gary Gaetti||Willie McGee||Mickey Rivers|
|Mike Lowell||Plácido Polanco||Jeff Weaver|
|Marcus Semien||Eric Gagne||J.J. Putz|
Yankees – Fred Lynn
Finally, imagine if the Yankees signed Lynn as a third rounder rather than the Red Sox snagging him as a second rounder. With Boston, he was 1975 Rookie of the Year and MVP. Moreover, the nine-time All-Star was 1982 ALCS MVP, a Gold Glove center fielder, and hit 306 career home runs.
If the USC product won 1975 Rookie of the Year and MVP as a Yankee, the Bombers don’t trade for All-Star Mickey Rivers the following offseason. Boston won the AL East over the Orioles by just 4.5 games in 1975. No Lynn possibly keeps the Sawx from reaching the World Series that year.
|Darrell Evans||Gerrit Cole||Bo Jackson|
|Steve Rogers||Justin Turner||Doug Fister|
|Mark Prior||Ken Phelps||B.J. Surhoff|
Featured Photo: John Iacono / Sports Illustrated