The 2014 Red Sox are going nowhere and have been headed there for months now. There was a time where it was perfectly acceptable to still hope they would finish out the season strong, though, providing optimism for 2015 when the kids are a year older, Allen Craig's foot is maybe healthier, and the offseason brings in the necessary reinforcements to put them over the top. Now, though, the Red Sox are down to their final six games of the season, and at most can win a worse than mediocre 74 games without providing any of that optimism. That's why it's time to simply root for the Sox to drop most, if not all, of their contests in the final week of 2014, in order to set themselves up for the best draft position possible next June.
It might feel odd to root against your favorite team, even over a short stretch of time, but 2014 is without meaning at this late stage. The Sox final two series come against the Rays, who are out of it, and then the Yankees, whose season at this point is entirely about the retirement of Derek Jeter. The Sox' performance against these two clubs in no way impacts who makes it to the playoffs, who is seeded where in the playoffs: nothing with any kind of spoiler qualities attached to it. The Red Sox are, in this final week, playing only for themselves, and it's been clear since they traded away four-fifths of their Opening Day rotation that their focus has been on 2015 rather than the immediate present for a while now.
Entering the series with the Rays, the Red Sox have the fifth-worst record in baseball at 68-88. That doesn't mean they will draft fifth in the 2015 draft, though: the Astros failed to sign the number one pick in this summer's draft, Brady Aiken, so they will get the second overall pick as compensation in the 2015 draft. With that in mind, the Sox are currently set to select sixth in next June's draft.
In 2014, the sixth team was the Mariners, who were allotted a draft budget of $6,767,900 for their first 10 rounds of selections -- they sacrificed their second-round pick to sign Robinson Cano, so that total isn't quite reflective of the money the sixth-selecting team would get. Compare that, though, to the Red Sox, who drafted 26th and had 11 picks in the first 10 rounds, yet only had a draft budget of $6,373,300. It took an extra first-round selection for the Sox to get to the middle of the draft budget list, and they were only as close to the Mariners' budget as they were because Seattle had sacrificed one of their own.
A more direct comparison is on what the two teams had available to spend on their first pick, budget-wise. The Red Sox were allotted $1,870,500 for the 26th pick, while the Mariners had $3,575,900 for the sixth. The Twins, who picked fifth and had 10 picks, had a first-pick budget of $3,851,000 and an overall budget of $7,525,600.
The Red Sox can get into the top-five fairly easily, so long as their week doesn't involve too many Ws. The Twins currently possess that slot yet again, but are just 1.5 games worse than the Red Sox in the standings.
If the Sox go 2-4 to close out the season, and the Twins go 4-3, the Sox jump into the top-five. That's probably their best realistic bet at making it, since the Rockies are three games worse with six to go, but it's obviously no guarantee since even a .500 week from the Sox could keep them from making progress. The Astros and Cubs are both right behind them in the standings, too, so the Sox really can't afford to play too well in this last week if the plan is to get into the top five.
It will be difficult for the Reds to both enter the top-10 and push the Red Sox out of it, at least, as they sit 72-84 and four full games back of Boston with just six games to go on their own schedule. That's the only team the Sox have to worry about, too, as the Marlins sit 12th in the projected order at present, but are 6.5 back of the Sox with seven to play: they would have to lose the rest of their games at the same time the Sox win all of theirs in order to even tie.
So, unless the Red Sox go on an absolute tear in this final week of the season, they're likely to be in the top-10 picks. That matters for a different reason than being within the top-five does -- which is mostly just for the extra sexy that additional budget and a wider talent pool allows --as the first 10 picks in the draft are protected. What this means is if the Red Sox were to sign a free agent such as James Shields, who will almost assuredly receive the qualifying offer from the Royals that guarantees draft pick compensation, they would only have to sacrifice their second-round pick, not their first. Not only does that mean they get to keep the earlier pick and select someone who has very likely is a more impressive prospect than whomever they'd get in round two, they also get to keep the loftier draft budget associated with the selection.
Boston's season has no real meaning left in 2014, with 2015 being the focus. Given what they can squeeze out of a terrible, loss-filled final week, that should be the hope for Sox fans who want to give the team the best long-term chances going forward. It might be ugly in the present, but ugly is what we've already been dealing with all season: let's hope the Red Sox can give that awfulness a little more meaning before they reach the end of the line.