San Diego Padres: What If They Drafted Justin Verlander Instead of Matt Bush?

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San Diego Padres: What If They Drafted Justin Verlander Instead of Matt Bush?
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One-time first overall pick Matt Bush is in the news again, and as expected it is not positive. And his ordeal is a warning sign to teams hoping to cut corners on draft day.

According to the Associated Press (via Yahoo Sports), the San Diego Padres top pick in the 2004 draft pleaded no contest for a drunk driving hit-and-run crash.

The former shortstop turned pitcher hit the 72-year-old Tony Tufano's motorcycle and then fled the scene in North Port Florida. His blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. He is sentenced to four years in prison and will be 31 years old when his sentence ends.

There have been many number one overall picks that have flamed out. Shawn Abner and Brien Taylor come to mind. But the legal problems of Matt Bush could make him the worst number one pick of all time, especially when considering the other players available in the draft.

According to Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated, Bush was not the first or second choice of the Padres organization. They wanted Stephen Drew, a star at Florida State or Jered Weaver, a Cal State Long Beach stand out. And the two have become solid major leaguers.

But both were represented by Scott Boras and the powerful agent wanted sky-high bonuses for his clients. The penny-pinching Padres passed and Drew became a Diamondback and Weaver became an Angel.

According to Matt Eddy of Baseball America, the Padres spent a little more than $3 million on a signing bonus for local product Matt Bush with the number one pick, a player virtually nobody had among the elite available prospects.

The team may have wanted to have avoided spending money on a Boras client and instead threw $3 million away. The very next pick in the draft was also not a Boras client. The Detroit Tigers selected Justin Verlander with the number two pick.

According to Baseball Reference, Verlander's father Richard negotiated the contract. The signing bonus and guaranteed money equaled $5.6 million.

For a little more than $2 million, the Padres could have had Justin Verlander under their control for six major league seasons.

Instead Bush was a disaster from the start. Bill Center of the San Diego Union Tribune wrote about Bush being suspended his very first minor league season after he was charged with a felony and a misdemeanor at a Peoria Arizona nightclub.

His minor league failures, injuries and legal troubles have been well-documented. The final straw for the Padres, according to Brent Schrotenboer of the San Diego Union Tribune, was a fight captured on tape punctuated by him screaming "I'm Matt F---ing Bush" and driving away drunk.

That was in February, 2009. By that point Justin Verlander had won the 2006 Rookie of the Year, won 17 games one season and 18 games the next, had pitched in the World Series and had his first no-hitter under his belt.

The Padres sent Bush to the Blue Jays who cut him after another incident. A year later he tried a comeback in the Tampa Bay system as a pitcher, but his inability to stay out of trouble has not only kept him from the majors but landed him in prison.

The idea of Verlander in the Padres system is an agonizing one. Had he come up through the system as he did with the Detroit Tigers, Verlander would have been a big league starter in 2006.

As all Padres fans know, the team had a solid pitching staff and an unhittable bullpen in 2006. The won the division but lost to a seemingly inferior St. Louis Cardinals team who eventually beat Verlander's Tigers in the World Series.

Would a pitcher of Verlander's talent have been the difference in a postseason matchup? Certainly a Cy Young candidate inserted into the 2007 pitching staff would have meant a postseason berth.

Padres starter Jake Peavy won the Cy Young Award in 2007 and were in first place by themselves in September. They were two Trevor Hoffman meltdowns from clinching a wild-card spot but lost the one game Wild-Card playoff to the eventual National League Champion Colorado Rockies.

In back-to-back seasons, the Padres lost to the team that would represent the National League in the World Series.

Would Verlander in the rotation as a one-two punch with Jake Peavy had been the difference in clinching the elusive title for the Padres? Would San Diego fans have their moment of glory they have been waiting generations for in the mid 2000's the way that Angels fans, Red Sox fans, White Sox fans and Phillies fans had that decade?

Would Verlander have made the difference in the razor-thin 2010 race?

In this day and age of high-priced starters, the most economical way of acquiring an ace is to develop one. They had one with Jake Peavy but alas allowed one to slip away in order to save money on draft day.

It is impossible to know for sure how Verlander would have fared in San Diego. But playing in a pitchers park and division would have been in his favor.

The Padres could have had that for a few million dollars more. Instead, they chose Matt Bush. Justin Verlander won a Cy Young and MVP award and nearly won another Cy Young this year. Matt Bush is in jail.

What could have been indeed.

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