By Sean McAdam
Though a new collective bargaining agreement is months away from being negotiated, speculation looms that a new CBA for 2012 and beyond will eliminate the existence of compensation draft picks for lost free agents.
Under the current system, however, teams are still compensated for losing free agents to whom they offer salary arbitration, and next week, the Red Sox intend to take full advantage.
Thanks to the loss of Victor Martinez (Detroit), Adrian Beltre (Texas), the Red Sox will have four of the first 40 picks in the annual entry draft which begins Monday and runs through Wednesday.
The Sox will select 19th (Martinez), 26th (Beltre), 36th (Martinez) and 40th (Beltre). By signing Class A free agent Carl Crawford from Tampa, they forfeit their own first-round pick at No. 24.
"It's always a great feeling to have extra picks," said general manager Theo Epstein. "I think it energizes the scouting staff for the whole year, because they know, going in and seeing players, there's a much better chance that they can get a guy instead of seeing someone they like and realizing they're going to go before we pick.
"When you get in the room and put them all together, it's exciting because you know when you rank the first 40 guys, you know you're getting four of them. We just have to do our job and get them in the right order."
Since this might be the last time the Red Sox have these many picks this early, there's a feeling that they need to take full advantage of the opportunity.
"We've tried to make the most of the current system," said Epstein. "That's always been a factor in some of our free agent decisions, trying to accumulate picks because that's one of the best ways to create an advantage: accumulate sandwich picks.
"We recognize that that's the system in place now, so we should try to take advantage of it while we can. We're in a wait-and-see approach. Who knows what the next CBA might look like. Because of the uncertainty, I think it just puts an emphasis on the moment, now, and taking advantage of the system that exists now. Let's work extra hard, let's get an extra look and let's do everything we can to make the right selections now that we can.
"There might be a day where we wake up and we're talking fondly of bygone days when we had four of the first 40 picks of the draft and nobody will ever have that again. Who knows what the next system will be? We've got to take advantage of this one while it exists.''
Further motivation comes from the fact this year's crop of high school and college players is among the deepest in recent years.
"It's a pretty talented class," said Red Sox scouting director Amiel Sawdaye, now heading his second draft after replacing Jason McLeod. "We see most of the depth in college pitching. There's a good group of high school pitchers (at the top), the top five or 10 guys in the draft that we're probably not going to get.
"It's a pretty good draft. Nothing historically great, but it's a good draft."
As usual, the Red Sox will try to take a long-term view when making their picks and not focus on filling present-day needs.
"We try not to get too caught up in drafting for need,'' said Epstein. "I think that gets you in trouble because the college guys don't get there for three or four years, the high school guys (take) four or five years, so who knows what our needs will be at the big league level by then. Even organizational depth can shift by then, so we try to stick with the best player available."
Having multiple picks in the first few rounds could allow a team like the Red Sox to be more aggressive in drafting a player that might have both high upsides and some risk.
"You want to get good players and you want to combine upside and probability,'' said Epstein. "But when you don't have extra picks, it's sometimes hard to take that extra risk for the very high upside. You can diversify your portfolio a little bit when you have extra picks, take that chance.''