By Sean McAdam
If the Red Sox had to lose free agent Victor Martinez to another team, they got the best possible result they could have hoped for when Martinez signed a four-year, 50 million deal with the Detroit Tigers Tuesday.
Here's why: The Tigers, by virtue of their record in 2010, had MLB's first "unprotected pick" in the 2011 draft. That pick now goes to the Red Sox as compensation, and gives the Sox one of the top 20 selections . . . compared to the late-50s pick they'd have received had Martinez signed with a team with one of the top 15 choices.
As part of the current rules, MLB ordinarily "protects" the first 15 picks in the first round. That's meant to ensure that teams with poor records the previous year keep their first-round pick even if they sign a Type A free agent -- as Martinez was classified. If teams with protected picks sign a Type A free agent, they surrender their second-round pick rather than their first-rounder.
The draft order is determined in reverse of the previous year's standings, meaning the Tigers, who finished with a 81-81 record, were determined, after tiebreakers, to have the 16th pick. But rules dictate that teams that failed to sign their 2010 first-round picks (Arizona, San Diego and Milwaukee) are given make-up picks in essentially the same slot as the previous year. Thus, the Tigers were pushed back from 16 to 19.
Interestingly, Detroit went into the last day with an 80-81 record. Some executives believe that, mindful of their place in the drafting order, the Tigers were intent on losing the final, otherwise insignificant game of the regular season against the Baltimore Orioles. Rather than use one of their regular starting pitchers, they cobbled the game together with five relievers.
But it didn't work. The Tigers overcame an early 2-0 deficit to win 4-2.
The win proved costly. Had they lost, the Tigers would have finished 80-82 and nudged the Oakland A's out of the final slot in the "protected pick" list.
Under that scenario, the Tigers would have forfeited their second-round pick. So instead of getting the No. 19 pick (along with a sandwich-round pick), the Red Sox would have gotten a pick somewhere in the late 50s as compensation for Martinez. (There are 33 picks in the first round -- 30 teams, plus three make-up picks -- the entire sandwich round, which will be determined by the number of teams losing free agents, and 15 more picks into the second round.)
Thus, a costly victory for the Tigers resulted in the Red Sox A) improving their compensation pick by about 45 slots and B) getting the best possible pick available for Martinez.
Had Martinez signed with Baltimore or Seattle, two other teams in the running, the Sox also would have gotten only a sandwich and a second-rounder since the Orioles and Mariners have "protected" first-round picks.