Boston Red Sox draft pick penalty hurts more than usual

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 30: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred visits "Mornings With Maria" hosted by Maria Bartiromo at Fox Business Network Studios on September 30, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 30: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred visits "Mornings With Maria" hosted by Maria Bartiromo at Fox Business Network Studios on September 30, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images) /

The Red Sox were penalized a 2nd-round pick from MLB’s sign-stealing investigation and that price is higher than it would have been in previous years.

When MLB released their findings on the Boston Red Sox sign-stealing investigation the penalty appeared to be a mere slap on the wrist. Blame was pinned on a video replay system operator while everyone else was exonerated, including then-manager Alex Cora, whose one-year suspension is based entirely on his involvement in the Houston Astros scandal.

While commissioner Rob Manfred viewed J.T. Watkins as a rouge employee, absolving the Red Sox coaching staff, front office and ownership of any guilt, he still docked the team a second-round draft pick.

"“The club must be held accountable, particularly since the club may have benefited from Watkins’ conduct,” Manfred wrote in his report, per The Athletic."

A second-round pick might not seem like a steep penalty but it’s more severe under the current circumstances. MLB is reeling from a loss of revenue during the shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and one way they plan to cut costs is to abbreviate this year’s amateur draft. Instead of the typical 40 rounds, this year’s draft could be reduced to as few as five rounds. 

Losing one pick doesn’t seem like a big deal with the depth of a normal draft but that perception changes drastically when it could mean losing 20 percent of your picks. The notion was not lost on Chaim Bloom, who will be conducting his first draft at the helm of the Red Sox front office this year.

"“The potential limitations on the draft this year just makes that punishment larger. It’s significant,” Bloom told reporters on Wednesday, per the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier."

The Red Sox were penalized in last year’s draft for exceeding the luxury tax by $40+ million in 2018, dropping their top pick out of the first round to No. 43 overall. This was a significant factor in why ownership was reluctant to add payroll during the 2019 season when they were still in tax territory but wanted to avoid the top tier of penalties. Losing their second-round pick would have been even more devastating if their spending had resulted in their top selection falling back 10 spots again.

Boston hasn’t had much luck in recent drafts but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value to be found in the second round. Jon Lester (2002), Dustin Pedroia (2004), and Brandon Workman (2010) were all selected in the second round of their respective draft classes.

A case can be made that the current draft format with 40 rounds is too long, with most selections after the first handful of rounds essentially being a crapshoot. However, smart organizations can find diamonds in the rough and sometimes those late-round lottery tickets pay off. J.D. Martinez was picked in the 36th round in 2006. He took a while to develop but it’s fair to say he’s far outproduced his draft stock.

The Red Sox could use a few of those lottery tickets to rebuild a farm system that rates 25th in baseball. Jeter Downs (44) and Triston Casas (77) are the only prospects to crack their top-100 list.

Forfeiting a second-round pick deprives the Red Sox of an opportunity to improve their thin farm system and the penalty is magnified by a shorter draft. This will be a difficult draft to evaluate players since high school and college teams are currently shut down, preventing scouts from getting a proper read on their potential. Whiffing on a draft pick due to a lack of information will hurt more when teams have fewer selections and the Red Sox will have fewer than most.

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At least the Red Sox get to keep their top draft pick. They will have the No. 17 pick in the first round, their highest draft position since 2016 when they selected Jay Groome 12th overall. The Red Sox nabbed Andrew Benintendi with the No. 7 overall pick the previous year. Even the first round of the MLB draft can be hit-or-miss but this shows the talent that can be found in the opening round.

Nailing that first pick will be more important than ever with a shorter draft and a long wait until Boston’s next selection in the third round.

The penalty isn’t nearly as severe as the one the Astros received, the loss of first- and second-round picks in each of next two drafts, but Houston’s crimes were far more egregious. The Astros scheme involved every layer of the organization and was implemented to rely signs to the batter in real time by banging on a trash can after decoding signals from the opposing catcher with a live feed from a monitor in the dugout.

Contrast that with the Red Sox, who committed a minor violation when a staff member occasionally used live game video to update scouting reports that he legally gathered from watching video before games. It’s still technically a violation to do so during the game but how the Red Sox players utilized the information was perfectly legal. This is why Manfred’s report indicated that none of the players would have warranted punishment even if they weren’t given immunity.

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MLB handed down a penalty on the Red Sox before any plans about the upcoming draft were finalized. They can’t possibly know if this violation warrants losing a second-round pick if they haven’t confirmed how many rounds this draft will last. Every round that gets wiped out increases the value of the remaining picks. In a normal draft, it would be a fair price to pay. If this year’s draft is reduced to as few as five rounds, the punishment won’t fit the crime.