As a fan, free agent compensation draft picks can feel like an extra slap in the face from Major League Baseball.
"You're losing one of your key players. But here, take a guy who can't help you for three or four years, and probably won't help you at all." The just-concluded draft included Mike Wacha to the Cardinals for losing Albert Pujols, Clint Coulter to the Brewers for losing Prince Fielder, and Brian Johnson to the Red Sox for losing Jonathan Papelbon. Cold comfort, at least for now.
But the free agent compensation draft pick can be more than just a consolation prize taken home from a game show you didn't win. At its best, those picks can turn into important contributors. The Mets drafted David Wright, for instance, as a compensation pick for losing Mike Hampton via free agency, a loss they'd gladly experience again.
Usually, it works the other way around. In December 1983, Darrell Evans signed with the Detroit Tigers, after eight productive seasons with the San Francisco Giants. His contribution to San Francisco had been immense — consistent power and defense at third base. He was worth 19.8 wins above replacement (WAR) during his time with the Giants.
When he signed with Detroit, San Francisco got the 24th pick in the 1984 draft, (under a much different compensation system) and selected Terry Mulholland. While Mulholland only pitched in fits and starts from the time he debuted in 1986, he got packaged with third baseman Charlie Hayes and pitcher Dennis Cook in a deal that netted the Giants Steve Bedrosian, their closer in the pennant-winning season of 1989. Mulholland, alas, was worth -0.6 WAR to the Giants over three seasons, so the Evans-Mullholland duo checks in at just 19.2 WAR, total.
For my money, the baseball universe is best when a player contributes for a team, then leaves a compensation pick that also turns into a key contributor. It feels like the departing free agent has planted a tree. Let's take a look at the finest twofers baseball teams have received from this rule.