A look back at our 2012 expansion

Part I of a five-part series looking back at the 2012 expansion draft.

“And with the 217th pick in the 2012 Draft, the English Pigdogs select…. Nathan Eovaldi.”

History does not record whether anyone proclaimed, “Good pick!” or cursed and muttered, “I was just looking at him.” More likely, most of the league had stopped paying attention since they were done drafting. After Eovaldi, only five picks remained.

Nathan Eovaldi

Nathan Eovaldi

Yet Eovaldi is notable as one of just 19 players among the four expansion teams who was selected or acquired prior to the 2012 season and remains with his original club as our 2014 season winds down. That’s 19 out of 145 players — just 13%. Eovaldi was the latest player chosen to hold that honor.

That’s right. In less than three full seasons, 87% of the players who were originally drafted or acquired by the four expansion teams prior to Opening Day 2012 already have been cut or traded.

In this five-part series, we look back at the league’s expansion plans at the time and examine the status of each of the four clubs that came into being that year — the Iowa Cyclones, Michigan Moneyballers, Satellite Beach Brawlers and English Pigdogs, now known as the Destin Beach Bums.

If the goal of the structure of the expansion draft was to allow the clubs to build for the future, the player turnover seems to indicate either a flaw in the plan or an impatience on the part of the new franchise GMs. But does that even matter?

If you recall, the league decided in 2011 to expand from 12 to 15 teams, and then midway through the 2011 season, learned that Detroit Demo Dogs manager Ken Kuzdak was bowing out of the league after 32 years.

That led to the Demo Dog Dispersal Draft, which allowed each of the four franchises to scarf up three of the Demo Dogs.  Only three of the 12 players selected in that phase — Iowa’s Ryan Howard, and Satellite Beach’s Justin Upton and Wilson Ramos — remain with their clubs.

That was followed by a nine-round expansion draft in which the expansion teams plucked players from the 12 legacy franchises. Only 4 of the 36 players chosen in that phase — English/Destin’s John Jay, Iowa’s Jayson Werth, and Michigan’s Ben Zobrist and Ricky Nolasco — remain with their clubs less than three full seasons later.

Then came a waiver draft of unprotected players. Not a single one of the 15 players claimed by expansion teams remains with their club now.

Some clubs then began wheeling and dealing, acquiring draft picks or players, before we finally had our March draft, in which expansion teams were given first-round draft positions of 1, 3, 5 and 7, then middle-of-the-round positions 6-7-8-9 for every round, plus supplemental picks after rounds 1, 2 and 3.

When it was all said and done, between 34 and 40 players spent time on an expansion team roster before the club threw out its Opening Day pitch in 2012. That totals up to 145. Fifty-one of those 145 (35%) have been traded away, and 75 of the 145 (52%) have been outright released. You can see the complete breakdown here.

“I was surprised (by those numbers) at first,” said Commissioner Dave Renbarger, “but upon further reflection they seem to be in line with year-over-year retention figures from the established franchises. The majority of our guys really love to trade and some of us lack the patience for long-term stability. Most of us tend to give up on guys after a crummy or injury-filled year, unless they are superstars.”

All four expansion clubs posted 60-win seasons in each of their first two years, but this year, two of those four are front-runners for playoff positions with 80+ wins in sight, and a third is poised to clear 70 wins or more, with 40 games to play. “I think the expansion process served our league quite well, as evidenced by the fact that three of the four expansion clubs are in the playoff hunt this year,” said Dave. “That says it all.”

So perhaps the intended format of allowing teams to build for the future hasn’t panned out, but at least we are seeing teams competing for playoff berths in their third season of existence. “When we expanded, I was afraid of two things,” Dave said, “One, that the new teams would be crushed in Year One and lose interest; and two, that it would take them years and year to contend. Neither fear has been realized.”  

Next, we look at each individual franchise, analyze their turnover and assess their development status.

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