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We Eat Sports.
Dodgers Draft Zach Lee… To Save Money?
Posted by Dan on June 9, 2010 at 1:07 PM in America's Pastime, Feature

Frank McCourt's back account is all smiles after Monday.

On Monday night the Los Angeles Dodgers selected McKinney High School Quarterback and LSU signee, Zach Lee, 28th overall in the MLB First-Year Player Draft. The speculation since Lee committed to the Tigers has always been that he’d end up going the pro baseball route. After all, 18-year-olds with 94-m.p.h. fastballs and a plus slider and changeup to go with good command are always a hot commodity come draft time. When the Dodgers called Lee’s name on Monday, LSU fans sighed in exasperation; they finally resigned to the fact that Lee would never actually be the quarterback for their football team. However, it appears that may not be the case.

Just a few months ago, Los Angeles Dodgers’ Owner Frank McCourt underwent a messy divorce (and fired his own estranged wife), and a once wealthy franchise is now backpedaling into their best Billy Beane impersonation. Their once robust payroll ($118 million just two years ago) is now sub-$100 million and slipping. A recent court ruling informed Mr. McCourt that he’d have to pay his former hunny $637 thousand and some change… a month, in settlements. The former Mrs. McCourt was seeking around $1 million initially, which she said was necessary to pay off their hefty mortgage payments and stay afloat. Obviously, such expenditures put the Dodgers in financial never-neverland, and scrambling to piece together whatever bargains they can find while still fielding a reputable team.

So what does this have to do with Zach Lee? Heading into the draft, Lee was considered one of the least “signable” prospects. He’s routinely stated that he wants to go to LSU and play both football and baseball (this, of course, is typically used as a bargaining chip by high school athletes). Reports surfaced that Lee wants $5 million to sign, a healthy amount to be sure. For this reason many expected him to fall out of the first round, having nothing to do with his actual ability. So suddenly, on Monday night, arguably the draft’s most unsignable player is selected by a team in one of the most tenuous financial situations? Makes sense, right?

Immediately, speculation fired out the cannon about the Dodgers attempting to avoid having to spend money by drafting an unsignable prospect. After all, why would a franchise who denied salary arbitration to two players to avoid securing more draft picks, make a decision to draft a guy who will be overpaid for his draft slot? It makes very little sense.

But there’s other dynamics in play here as well. LSU baseball manager Paul Mainieri is the godson to “Special Adviser to the Chairman”, and Dodger legend, Tommy Lasorda. Sure this falls into the conspiracy theory realm, but is it really out of the question that the two worked together to coordinate a mutually beneficial situation? The Dodgers draft Lee, who is unsignable, and save some coin. Since there’s zero possibility of Lee signing with the Dodgers, Mainieri gets a new arm for his staff, and a damn good one at that and there’s no risk of some wealthy franchise drafting and paying him. May not be true, but doesn’t seem entirely unrealistic.

That same evening, LSU head football coach Les Miles declared that “Zach Lee wants to come to LSU.” His assertions seemed qualified when Lee enrolled and arrived on campus for summer school just a day after being drafted. Of course, it behooves Lee to show up to LSU, start school and football practice in case he doesn’t sign, but that doesn’t completely eliminate the possibility that he will sign. But at this juncture, it seems Lee will be at LSU next season.

The question is, did Miles and Mainieri know this all along? As previously mentioned, it’s a long-standing practice for high school athletes to profess their lack of ability to be signed, in hopes of driving up their offers. Who’s to say that Zach Lee isn’t doing the same? Well, no one. But there are some interesting factors in play. I discussed the Lasorda/Mainieri angle above, but what about LSU’s relatively thin depth chart at QB? Why wouldn’t Miles pursue another QB in the 2010 signing class if there was a reasonable chance his only signal caller would end up going the pro baseball route? Naysayers will argue that Miles is just the type to neglect to plan. But could Miles have played his cards correctly this hand and hit on the river? It sure seems so.

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