Boston Red Sox reluctant to surrender draft pick to sign free agents


When the Boston Red Sox wrapped up the season with a 17-14 record after September 1 we saw it as a promising sign that their young core was blossoming into a group that could potentially contend next year with the right additions over the offseason. What we may have overlooked is how that strong finish may have hampered the team’s ability to make those additions

The Red Sox were a bottom-five team at various points during the season. While they were unable to climb their way out of the AL East basement, their September rise led to a plummeting draft slot. Boston finished with the 12th worst record in the majors, meaning their first-round draft pick will be unprotected if they were to sign a free agent that has received a qualifying offer.

As a refresher, teams are able to extend a one-year, $15.8 million deal do their departing free agents. If the player declines the offer to sign with another team as  free agent, the team that inks him to a new deal will have to sacrifice their highest draft pick, with his previous club receiving a sandwich round pick as a consolation prize for losing the player. However, the top 10 picks are protected, so the teams with the 10 worst records in the majors this season would keep their first-round pick and instead surrender a far less valuable pick.

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The Red Sox just missed the cut, ending up with the 2nd-highest unprotected draft slot. No team has even coughed up a draft pick that high in order to sign a free agent since the current qualifying offer system was put in place, with the San Diego Padres setting the mark when they gave up the No. 13 pick to sign James Shields last year.

The loss of a draft pick becomes an important factor in weighing any decision to sign a free agent, which is something that Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski discussed on WEEI’ Hot Stove Show earlier this week.

"“You don’t want to do it,” Dombrowski stated in reference to surrendering a draft pick to sign free agents. “There are some circumstances you’d shy away from, where you say, you know what, I don’t want to give that draft choice up for this kind of player. You’re thinking your draft choice is going to be successful, so you have to weigh in to where you think the player you would be drafting there, the type of player down the road he projects to be. It’s something when you talk about development time, that you’re open minded to trading that quality of player you might get with that choice, or not.”"

This year there are a record-setting 25 players that have received qualifying offers, which limits the pool that the Red Sox may fish in if they are reluctant to part with that draft pick. If it needs to be done in order to sign a surefire ace like Zack Greinke then surrendering a draft pick becomes a bit more palatable. It’s far less likely that the Red Sox would give up their valuable pick to sign any of the mid-tier free agents that received a qualifying offer.

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There are two main paths that the Red Sox could explore in order to find the front of the rotation ace they so desperately desire. One is free agency, which takes a significant financial investment. The other is to put together a package of highly touted prospects that entices another team into a trade. Signing a free agent that received a qualifying offer is essentially doing both. Not only do you have to pay a top of the market price, but you also lose a draft pick that may have value equal to the blue chip prospect that would headline any potential trade. That’s a double whammy that would be tough to stomach.

The good news is that not all of Boston’s targets come with the anchor of draft pick compensation. David Price, Johnny Cueto and Scott Kazmir aren’t eligible to receive qualifying offers because they were traded mid-season. A player must be with their team for the entire season leading up to free agency in order to be eligible, which prevents teams from recouping some of the value they surrender for short-term rentals. The draft pick compensation may be a significant enough factor to move those three pitchers ahead of Greinke on the Red Sox’ wish list, while a team picking at the back end of the first round may be more inclined to give up their pick. Teams that expect to receive an extra pick for losing one of their own free agents are also more likely to be willing to give up their first-rounder to sign a free agent, but the Red Sox did not extend a qualifying offer to either of their players that have filed for free agency.

Dombrowski is determined to find an ace by any means possible, but that path he takes may be influenced by his desire to keep the team’s first-round draft pick. If it weren’t for that September surge knocking them out of the bottom-10, the Red Sox could have ended up having their first pick protected. Suddenly that promising finish doesn’t seem like such a good thing after all.