|For $2 million, Daniel Bard could have been a Yankee||02.21.11 at 10:23 am ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Daniel Bard is now arguably the most important member of the Red Sox bullpen. He emerged as one of the most dominant relievers in the game last year, forging a 1.93 ERA and striking out more than a batter an inning over 73 appearances. Manager Terry Francona used him in almost any pivotal situation that arose prior to the ninth inning, and the 25-year-old had no problem with attacking lefties or righties, whether for three outs or more. He is a young and inexpensive weapon with few peers.
All of that makes it intriguing to wonder how close he came to becoming a Yankee.
Bard was already a highly regarded pitcher in high school thanks to his easy mid-90s velocity. No projection was needed to wonder if he had a big league fastball, and he also featured a curve and change. He was named the North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior, and so would have been viewed as an early-round draft pick had he wanted to turn pro.
But Bard, at that time, wasn’t that interested in life in the minor leagues. He had a scholarship offer to the University of North Carolina, where he would be able to enter the starting rotation immediately. And so, when he was eligible for the draft in 2003, teams were in no rush to waste a draft pick on him.
More than 600 players were selected before Bard’s name was finally called. The Yankees selected the young right-hander in the 20th round. Conversations with New York were brief. Bard did not rule out turning pro, but it would take a big dollar figure for him to sign with the Yankees.
“I think I told them I wanted $2 million, and if it happens, great,” recounted Bard. “They never even made an offer. I think they would have. But they knew I was geared towards going to college.”
Even so, Bard thought there was a chance that New York would make a run at him. He pitched for the US Junior National Team, and the Yankees kept tabs on his impressive performance, watching as he worked at 91-95 mph as a starter.
“I pitched as well as I had ever pitched before,” he said. “I figure if they were going to make the offer, they would have made it then, but they just let me go to school.”
A few years later, perhaps, things would have been different. The Yankees started being more aggressive in their efforts to offer big bonuses that vastly exceeded Major League Baseball’s slot recommendations in the 2006 draft (after GM Brian Cashman had been given control over the team’s baseball operations). That, in turn, has helped to elevate the Yankees’ farm system to one of the most prospect rich in the game right now.
But in 2003, the Yankees had not yet reached that point, and so Bard enrolled at UNC.
“I think it happens a lot more often now. Late-round guys sign for more,” noted Bard. “Kind of not as often then.”
Bard was hardly crestfallen. He went to UNC, ended up being the Friday night starter for the team in his freshman year and, after a sophomore season in which his command slipped, he enjoyed a big junior year that positioned him to be taken by the Sox in the first round with the No. 28 overall pick. He received a $1.55 million signing bonus from the Sox, and began a pro career that has taken him to elite heights.
As for the Yankees, the 2003 draft ended up producing a disappointing haul for them. First-round pick Eric Duncan showed early promise as a power hitter but faded; he never reached the majors with the Yankees, and left the organization as a minor league free agent after the 2009 season. Just three players (all right-handed pitchers) from that draft — ninth-rounder Tyler Clippard (who has emerged as one of the great strikeout relievers in the game in complete obscurity for the Nationals), 10th-rounder T.J. Beam (now with the Diamondbacks) and 19th-rounder Jeff Karstens (now with the Pirates, having been moved as part of a deal for Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady) — have reached the majors. Those three combined to make just 41 appearances with the Yankees before heading elsewhere.
As for the Sox, the 2003 draft proved defining in impacting their bullpen for years to come. While Bard didn’t sign, the Sox drafted a raw closer with a big fastball from Mississippi State named Jonathan Papelbon in the fourth round in 2003. And so, the shape of the late innings for the 2009-11 Sox was in many ways dictated by that draft.
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