It was a theory of mine when the offseason began, thus far borne out, that the Red Sox were clearly not going to sign — indeed, had little intention of signing, unless at a bargain — at least one of Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre. The question was only whether it would only be one, and if so, which one.
That latter question appears to have been answered, though the former is still very much in the air.
There is a series of circumstances that made this plan apparent:
- The 2011 draft is supposed to be deep, some say the best since 2005, which wasn't too shabby for the Red Sox, as you might recall (Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie all came from that draft, as did Justin Upton, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki and Matt Garza).
- The 2011 draft is also the last under the current collective bargaining agreement, which allows teams to spend whatever they want on a draft pick, regardless of what MLB thinks the fair price for that slot is. Many expect that to change, which, if so, would eliminate the principal way in which teams like Boston and New York overcome their usual disadvantage of picking late in the first round.
- The Red Sox have a history, seen as recently as last year, of valuing draft picks very highly — particularly the compensatory picks received by allowing a free agent to depart. There are also questions about how this system will survive the CBA negotiations. They also have a history of using the picks gained as compensation as a sort of insurance against the loss of picks when they sign free agents.
Indeed, the compensatory picks are key to the Sox' offseason plans nearly every year. As John Tomase pointed out in the Herald Sunday, several of the Sox' core players are in uniform as compensation for losing free agents earlier in Epstein's tenure:
- 2003: Matt Murton and Abe Alvarez for Cliff Floyd
- 2005: Ellsbury and Lowrie for Orlando Cabrera
- 2005: Craig Hansen and Michael Bowden for Derek Lowe
- 2005: Buchholz and Jonathan Egan for Pedro Martinez
- 2006: Daniel Bard and Kris Johnson for Johnny Damon
- 2006: Caleb Clay and Aaron Bates for Bill Mueller
- 2007: Nick Hagadone for Alex Gonzalez
- 2007: Ryan Dent for Keith Foulke
- 2008: Bryan Price for Eric Gagne
- 2010: Kolbrin Vitek and Bruce Brentz for Billy Wagner
- 2010: Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman for Jason Bay
There are, of course, a few washouts in there, as well as the obvious success stories and the most recent group, which includes the much-hyped Ranaudo, already the Sox' No. 7 prospect before throwing a pitch in professional ball. There are also guys like Murton, Hansen, Hagadone and Price, who were involved in trades that brought back key players like Cabrera, Jason Bay and Victor Martinez.
All that to say: the Sox know how to get the most out of the compensatory pick/draft payment system, and that system is unlikely to exist in its current form after this offseason/June draft. Clearly, this would be the time for one last hurrah — a hurrah that only can be fully had if the Sox have a first-round pick or two. Allowing either Martinez or Beltre to walk ensures the compensatory pick and mitigates the loss of the Sox' own first-round pick should they sign either Crawford or Werth, or one of the higher-priced Type A relievers (and clearly one of these must happen absent a blockbuster trade).
This is exactly what happened in 2009-10, when the Sox signed John Lackey (and Marco Scutaro and Beltre), forfeiting their first-round pick to the Angels, a luxury they could afford because the Braves had signed Wagner and the Mets had inked Bay.
With the Tigers' 19th pick in the June draft turned over to the Sox, Boston has what it wants: a middle-first-round draft pick, as well as at least two supplementary picks (when Felipe Lopez signs elsewhere), in a very deep draft, in what will likely be the last time they can so flex their financial muscle.