Monday, November 30, 2009

Giving up a draft pick

The Toronto Blue Jays almost certainly will offer arbitration to shortstop Marco Scutaro on Tuesday, ensuring they'll receive a first-round draft pick from the team that signs him as a free agent. Should the Red Sox sign Scutaro, they would forfeit the No. 29 pick in the draft. Some have speculated that the Red Sox, a player-development machine, would shy away from signing a 34-year-old shortstop at the price of their first-round draft pick.

Not so fast.

A glance at the list of the names atop the list at and the names atop the Baseball America list to be released in a couple of weeks reveals that first-round draft picks aren't as critical to the deep-pocketed Red Sox as they are to other teams. Consider the list:

1. Casey Kelly: 1st-rounder in 2008
2. Ryan Westmoreland: 5th-rounder in 2008
3. Ryan Kalish: 9th-rounder in 2006
4. Josh Reddick: 17th-rounder in 2006
5. Lars Anderson: 18th-rounder in 2006
6. Anthony Rizzo: 6th-rounder in 2007
7. Junichi Tazawa: International free agent
8. Jose Iglesias: International free agent
9. Stolmy Pimentel: International free agent
10. Michael Bowden: Supplemental pick in 2005

It's not that Westmoreland or Kalish were diamonds in the rough that the Red Sox somehow unearthed deep in the draft the way the Patriots unearthed Tom Brady. The Red Sox didn't necessarily have a scout who saw something in Anderson that no one else saw.

The Red Sox, rather, could afford to pay above-slot money -- meaning bonuses significantly higher than they'd normally pay to late-round picks -- to high-school guys who intended to go to college unless the team that drafted them convinced them to do otherwise.

In that way, the Red Sox drafted first-round talent -- or, at least, second- or third- round talent -- deep in the draft.

The college pitcher drafted one spot ahead of Westmoreland got a $600,000 bonus from the Cleveland Indians, according to Baseball America. Westmoreland, who had a scholarship offer in hand to play at Vanderbilt, got $2 million to decide that education was overrated.

The college third baseman drafted two spots ahead of Kalish got a $70,000 bonus from the Cleveland Indians. The college pitcher drafted one spot ahead of Kalish got a $400,00 bonus from the Los Angeles. Kalish, who could have played quarterback at Virginia, got $600,000 to decide that he liked baseball best of all.

None of the players drafted in the same neighborhood as Anderson got anything worth reporting in the way of signing bonuses -- with the exception of pitcher Michael Dubee, who signed with the Phillies for $125,000. Anderson, who was all set to go to Cal on a baseball scholarship, got $825,000 to make his minor-league bus rides a little more tolerable.

That still happens:
* Pitcher Madison Younginer might not be a household name yet, but he was Baseball America's 19th-best high school talent with a commitment to Clemson who slid into the seventh round. When the Red Sox offered $975,000 to him last summer, he decided orange wasn't his favorite color anymore.
* Outfielder Brandon Jacobs fell into the 10th round this year thanks in large part to a commitment to play football at Auburn, but the Red Sox got him into their system thanks to a signing bonus of $750,000.
* Third baseman Miles Head tumbled all the way into the 26th round because he looked like he'd made up his mind to play for Georgia, but $335,000 from the Red Sox -- a fortune at that point in the draft -- convinced him to do otherwise.

In some ways, if the Red Sox lose their first-round pick, they can use the $2 or $3 million they save to buy some talented high-school draftees out of otherwise firm college commitments. Younginer and infielder David Renfroe -- the 43rd-best high-school talent last year who slid into the back of the third round with a commitment to Ole Miss -- are recent examples of that.

Losing a first-round pick for a free agent is a big deal and shouldn't be taken lightly.

For the right free agent, though, it's something from which the Red Sox can recover in the later rounds of the draft -- or by spending big bucks in international free agency.

(One last thing to consider: Should the Red Sox sign another Type A free agent, be it Chone Figgins or Matt Holliday or John Lackey or Rafael Soriano, they can only lose one first-round pick. The price of Scutaro then would become a second-round pick.)

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