Kershaw a Tiger? How the 2006 Draft almost went

Looking back at scenarios that could have changed the faces and futures of franchises

May 10th, 2016

It's almost impossible to imagine Clayton Kershaw wearing anything but Dodger blue. He arrived in Los Angeles less than two years after signing as the seventh overall pick in the 2006 Draft, and he has dominated just as much in his era as Sandy Koufax did in his.

But if the Dodgers had been able to sign 2005 supplemental first-rounder Luke Hochevar or if the Royals hadn't fired general manager Allard Baird a week before they exercised the No. 1 choice in 2006, Kershaw almost certainly would have become a Tiger. It's one of many intriguing what-if scenarios from that Draft.

Hochevar rated as the second-best college starter available (behind Mike Pelfrey) in a historically loaded 2005 Draft, but signability concerns dropped him to Los Angeles at No. 40. Negotiations went nowhere until a bizarre series of events during Labor Day weekend, when he switched agents from Scott Boras to Matt Sosnick and quickly agreed to terms for $2.98 million before going back to Boras, reneging and accusing the club of trying to pressure him into a bad deal even though his bonus would have been the fifth highest that year.

• 2016 MLB Draft: June 9-11 on MLB Network,

2006 MLB Draft first round

Hochevar wound up pitching in the independent American Association the next spring and landed a four-year, $5.25 million big league contract after Kansas City drafted him No. 1 overall. But if Baird had remained in charge, the Royals likely would have selected the consensus top prospect in the 2006 Draft.

That was Andrew Miller, who was floating an eight-figure asking price amid speculation that the Yankees or Red Sox would gladly meet it if he slid to the bottom half of the first round. (Remember, this was before the days of strict Draft bonus pools and harsh penalties for exceeding them.) Baird preferred Miller, but incoming GM Dayton Moore did not, though Moore was not directly involved in Kansas City's Draft, because he had been an integral part of the process with the Braves, his former team.

The Tigers, meanwhile, were locked in on Kershaw, whose fastball and curveball had improved dramatically that spring. They were set to grab him at No. 6 until the Royals surprised the industry by popping Hochevar, setting off a chain reaction that made Miller available. The Dodgers took Kershaw with the next pick, and their alternative would have been Bryan Morris, whom they were able to land with a second first-rounder at No. 26.

Los Angeles has won five National League West titles in Kershaw's nine seasons, and three of those came in close races in which it might not have prevailed without him. He would have had a profound impact in Detroit, which lost a one-game tiebreaker for the American League Central in 2009 and made four straight trips to the postseason in 2011-14 without winning it all. Adding Kershaw to a rotation that already included Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer might have resulted in the Tigers' first World Series championship since 1984.

Of course, Miguel Cabrera powered the offense on all of those clubs -- and he came from the Marlins in a December 2007 trade in exchange for a six-prospect package headlined by Miller. So it's quite possible that Kershaw could have been sent to Miami before ever pitching for Detroit.

Longoria to the Rockies

After scoring with Troy Tulowitzki as the seventh overall selection in 2005, the Rockies targeted another Long Beach State infielder the following year. Evan Longoria was the 2006 Draft's top-rated position player and made sense with the No. 2 choice, and the scouting department wanted him.

But Colorado had taken infielders with its three previous first-rounders -- Ian Stewart and Chris Nelson preceded Tulowitzki -- and higher-ups in the front office decided a pitcher was a higher priority. The Rockies kicked the tires on Miller before opting for Greg Reynolds, who would go 6-11 with a 7.01 ERA in 33 big league appearances.

Longoria might not have affected Colorado's future tremendously, though he could have made a difference in a hotly contested 2009 NL Division Series loss to the Phillies and his presence might have prevented Nolan Arenado from blossoming into one of baseball's best all-around players with the Rockies. More significantly, Longoria's absence would have been felt by the Rays, who pounced on him at No. 3.

The Rays probably wouldn't have advanced to the 2008 World Series without Longoria's six home runs in the first two rounds of the postseason. They might not have made the playoffs in 2010 and definitely wouldn't have in '11 and '13 without his contributions, so Tampa Bay could have been just a one-hit wonder. And if Longoria's 12th-inning homer on the last day of the 2011 season hadn't completed an epic September comeback for the Rays and collapse for the Red Sox, Boston might not have totally rebooted its big league roster -- which paid off with the 2013 World Series title.

Freaking out about Lincecum

While Miller was the 2006 Draft's top prospect, he wasn't its most dominant pitcher. Tim Lincecum led NCAA Division I in strikeouts (199) and strikeout rate (14.3 per nine innings) and set the Pacific-10 Conference record for career whiffs (491). He pitched in the mid-90s all spring and one veteran scout said he'd never seen a college pitcher ever get as many called third strikes with a curveball.

• Mayo's 2006 Draft Q&A

But teams weren't sure what exactly to make of a short right-hander with unorthodox mechanics, so five college arms went ahead of Lincecum: Hochevar, Reynolds, Brad Lincoln to the Pirates at No. 4, Brandon Morrow to the Mariners at No. 5 and Miller. The Giants happily snapped up Lincecum at No. 10, then watched him reach the Majors 11 months later and win NL Cy Young Awards in his first two full seasons. Lincecum played a starring role in a World Series championship in 2010, a supporting role in another in '12 and a bit part in a third in '14.

Had one of the other teams that opted for college pitching taken Lincecum, he might have helped the Rockies achieve more in the 2007 and '09 playoffs, or the Tigers might have done more during their postseason runs (though whether Detroit could have found a different way to acquire Cabrera remains to be seen). He might have done more damage than provided help to the Pirates, who wouldn't have returned to contention any sooner but likely would have improved enough to not merit the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, costing them their shot at Gerrit Cole.

Lincecum almost didn't make it to the 2006 Draft. He was eligible as a 21-year-old sophomore in 2005, though his $1 million price tag caused him to slide all the way to the Indians in the 42nd round. Cleveland offered him $700,000 after he led the Cape Cod League with a 0.69 ERA that summer -- leading to a whole other rabbit hole of what-ifs that could have resulted from his signing.