Here’s a cherry on top of the World Series championship of 2013: Last week, ESPN ranked the Red Sox as number one in their Future Power Rankings, the franchise “best equipped for success over the next half decade”. This ranking looked at five categories for the ranking, with the Red Sox scoring high in quality of the major league club, finances, and quality of the minor league system.
What’s remarkable is that the Red Sox have developed this strong farm system (ranked 5th by Keith Law at ESPN, 4th by Baseball Prospectus, etc.) while drafting towards the back of the first round (with 2013 the exception). This poor draft position means they have never had access to the premium talent, like David Price, Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg. So how have the Sox developed a loaded system with this limitation?
First, they have spent a ton of money on talent, both in the draft and on international signings. Xander Bogaerts, Felix Doubront and Junichi Tazawa were all international signings. Their total signing bonuses cost around $2.5 million, an amount they should dwarf in on field performance. The Red Sox also have Jake Peavy thanks to the trade of Jose Iglesias, another international signing. The money for international signings has continued, as the club spent over $3 million on international prospects in 2013.
The Red Sox have also spent in the amateur draft, especially under the old collective bargaining agreement which didn’t place any cap on bonuses. The Red Sox used this to their advantage, consistently outspending most teams in baseball. The result? Players like Will Middlebrooks, who the Red Sox took in the 5th round and give a big bonus to sign away from Texas A&M.
The second strategy has been to collect extra picks. The Red Sox have taken full advantage of the extra picks tied to free agent compensation, both under the old collective bargaining agreement and under the new one. Under the old agreement, teams were awarded a draft pick when a free agent signed with another club. While this agreement was in place, the Red Sox had extra picks in every draft under Theo Epstein except for 2009.
The recent change to the collective bargaining agreement capped the amount of money clubs could spend in the amateur draft, and instituted severe penalties if clubs went over the cap. Teams with higher picks have more money to spend under this system.
The Red Sox gamed this system by using qualifying offers to once again get extra draft picks. Extra picks means extra money allotted to the team’s draft budget. This year, they will have at least one extra pick for Jacoby Ellsbury, and a second if Stephen Drewsigns with another club before the amateur draft this season.
Is the top end of this year’s draft stronger or weaker than last year’s?
Klaw (1:13 PM)
Top end weaker. Rest of the first round is stronger than it’s been in ages. It’s going to rival 2011 and 2005 as the best drafts during my time in the business.
I would bet a large sum of money that the Red Sox front office are very aware of the depth of this draft, and planned for extra picks. They loaded up on picks in 2005 and ended up with Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz and Jed Lowrie. They loaded up on picks in 2011, and that class (Matt Barnes, Jackie Bradley Jr., Henry Owens, Blake Swihart, Mookie Betts) occupy half of the Red Sox top ten prospects.
The final strategy that has led to a strong farm system is taking draft picks who entered their draft year as top prospects, but who slipped due to injuries. They started this strategy in 2010, taking Bryce Brentz, Anthony Ranaudo and Garin Cecchini. In 2011 it was Jackie Bradley Jr., in 2012 it was Deven Marrero.
All of these players were ranked as top prospects, but injuries hurt their draft position. The Red Sox gambled on these picks both by taking them and by giving large signing bonuses, and for the most part the gambles have paid off. All five of these players are likely to make the major leagues, and Ranaudo, Bradley Jr. and Cecchini look like starting players.
Thanks to these three strategies, the Red Sox now have a talented major league roster and a deep minor league system. The future looks bright as we inch closer to the 2014 season.