The Longterm Health of the Red Sox - Part Three
When the Boston Red Sox hired Theo Epstein in November of 2002, he announced at his press conference that "We're going to turn the Red Sox into a scouting and player development machine." Five years and two World Series titles later, I think it is safe to say that Epstein has succeeded in this endeavor.
There have been rumblings that too much is being made of the Red Sox farm system, that it is their financial advantage that has made the difference. More brazen critics of Epstein have pointed to his checkered track record in the free agent market to assert that he might not be all he is cracked up to be. This thinking is fallacious in that it fails to acknowledge the synergies between all of a GM's responsibilities.
Think about it. Even with a fat payroll, without a good farm system and cheap Big League contributors, Theo cannot afford to take a risk on J.D. Drew or Julio Lugo. Take away the inexpensive talent and you need to sign a middling, more expensive option. Think Luis Castillo for about $5 million instead of Dustin Pedroia for near the league minimum. Such a swap would financially preclude even most of the wealthiest teams from pursuing top-tier free agents.
But what about the prudence of such free agent signings? Haven't many of them been just awful for the Red Sox? The Boston brass is well aware of the risks associated with such signings. They would not take on the risk of Julio Lugo picking up where he left off for the Dodgers or J.D. Drew's health failing him (or having a bizarre outlier season) if they did not know that cheap talent was on the diamond all around them. As they proved this year, the worst case scenario for the free agent signings is baked into their win-loss expectation bands.
If Drew and Lugo disappoint, we win 89. If Drew and Lugo disappoint but Beckett comes into his own and Pedroia is everything we think he can be, we win 100. But then if Manny drops off a bit and Coco still can't really hit, maybe we win 95.
What the "scouting and player development machine" allows Boston to do is leverage their revenue advantages so that they can comfortably project a best and worst case scenario. Outliers to the downside will not kill their chances, while surprises to the upside make them potentially dominant.
The rest of this piece will take a look at past Red Sox drafts in the Epstein Era in hopes of providing some clarity with respect to how the Red Sox arrived where they are as well as how the longer-term health of the organization is looking.
A quick look at this draft reveals disappointing results outside of Jonathan Papelbon. The Red Sox flipped David Murphy at the trade deadline (along with others) for uber-bust Eric Gagne while Matt Murton was involved in the Nomar Garciaparra deal that brought Orlando Cabrera to town the last time Boston won the World Series. Abe Alvarez has disappointed, as ultimately his command has not been able to make up for his lacking velocity.
Still, Papelbon alone makes this draft something of a success.
With no first round picks in 2004, the results ended up looking a lot like 2003. Boston netted a gem in Pedroia and the only other standout from this crop was traded away in just a horrible deal. Cla Meredith was sent along with Josh Bard to San Diego in the Doug Mirabelli deal of early 2006.
This was the mother load. Jacoby Ellsbury was a World Series MVP candidate. Craig Hansen has already pitched with the big club and despite some disappointing setbacks, seemed to pull things together in Pawtucket at the end of the 2007 season. We all know about Clay Buchholz, and Jed Lowrie and Michael Bowden figure to be contributing for either the Red Sox or one MLB team or another shortly.
Further down the draft we see Mark Wagner, a catcher who just may be heir apparent to Jason Varitek. At hitter's paradise Lancaster, the 23 year-old Southern Californian posted a .318/.406/.533 in 95 games as he battled injuries throughout the year.
While outside of Justin Masterson the top of this draft has disappointed some, down-draftees Ryan Kalish and Lars Anderson offer quite a bit of hope. Failing to come to terms with Matt LaPorta may end up being something of a regret down the road.
As far as 2007 goes, the jury obviously is still out. I can report first hand, however, that the Red Sox are awfully excited about what they came away with.
All in all, the longer term outlook for the franchise remains strong. Some development from the top of the 2006 class will go a long way to ensuring that the Red Sox will be able to continue to plug some cheap talent on the big club year after year.
Said another way, the "machine" seems to be cranking just fine.