Theo Epstein’s stated goal when he took over as General Manager of the Red Sox was to turn the Sox into a “player development machine”. He envisioned a pipeline of minor league talent that would replenish the major league roster whenever needed. So how successful was he in implementing this vision?
The quick answer is that while the Sox developed several homegrown players under Theo, they weren’t able to consistently stock the major league team with talent. This led to some disastrous free agent signings (I’m looking at you John Lackey), and major league rosters with a lack of depth.
The Red Sox under Theo had the greatest success in developing players drafted out of college. These players have formed the core of the teams for the last five to ten years. Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury have been the biggest successes for position players, and Jonathan Papelbon, Clay Buchholz,Daniel Bard and Justin Masterson were all college pitchers drafted by the Sox.
Even taking a look at the top Sox prospects currently in the minors (courtesy of Soxprospects.com), three of the top five are college players, all drafted by Theo.
While the Sox had success with college players under Epstein, they unfortunately had much less success in three other key areas of player development.
The first is developing high school players. The best high school pitcher the Sox have turned out is Jon Lester, who was picked before Theo took over as GM. The biggest success for a high school position player is Will Middlebrooks. Several players have been derailed by injury (Ryan Kalish, Ryan Westmoreland), but the fact remains that this has been area where the Sox have failed to make an impact.
What’s concerning is that they have had many high school players given high bonuses who have failed to develop. Jason Place is the biggest example, the Sox first round pick from 2006, given a 1.3$ million signing bonus. Place was unable to make adjustments and develop, and was released by the Sox in 2011 having only reached Double A. Lars Anderson ($825,000 bonus), David Mailman (550,000 bonus), Derrik Gibson ($600,000 bonus), and Pete Hissey (1$ million bonus) are all examples of high school players taken by the Sox under Epstein who have failed to reach their potential in the Sox system.
The second area where the Sox have been weak is developing starting pitching. The Sox developed only two starting pitchers over ten years of Theo Epstein as General Manager (Lester and Buchholz). One explanation for this is that many of their high draft picks have been converted to relievers (Papelbon, Bard, and Masterson). This has helped the major league team, but relievers in general have far less value than starting pitchers.
Another explanation is that they have traded many of their pitchers in an attempt to impact the major league roster. By my count the Sox under Epstein traded seven different pitching prospects (Craig Hansen, Michael Bowden, Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone, Casey Kelly, Bryan Price and Stephen Fife) all of whom were drafted in the 3rd round or higher. This certainly has impacted the pitching depth in the Sox system, a problem that has only recently been addressed.
The final area where Theo failed to bring and develop major league talent was in the international market. Daisuke Matsuzaka deserves his own section here, as the $105 million plus they spent on him netted the Sox only netted the Sox a cumulative 8.3 wins above replacement in six seasons. That’s right, Dice-K cost the Red Sox around $13 million for every win above replacement he provided. Theo and the Sox ownership took a huge gamble on Dice-K, and it was a spectacular failure.
Even if we were to overlook the massive money pit that was Dice-K, the Sox have still done poorly in the international market. They spent around $20 million (that’s a rough estimate that is on the low side) in signing bonuses with Epstein as GM, and have managed little in return. Felix Doubront, Jose Iglesias and Junichi Tazawa are the only international signings so far who have developed in the minors and have a chance to help the Red Sox.
This isn’t meant as an attack piece on Theo Epstein. The Red Sox won two World Series titles under his tenure, and he did far more good things than bad in his time with the club. The irony of player development is the time it takes prospects to reach the major leagues. Theo’s drafts in 2011 and 2012 may be two of his strongest. If Xander Bogaerts is as good as Sox fans hope, his value will dwarf the $20 million spent on international signing bonuses.
The point is that for all the high expectations Theo brought for the Sox farm system, the end product at the major league level hasn’t matched the hype. Here’s hoping that the renewed emphasis placed on the minor league system under Ben Cherington will produce better results.