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The Red Sox earned an unprotected draft pick (and that's a good thing)

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The bad news: The Red Sox will have to give away their draft pick if they want to sign any free agents with qualifying offers. The good news: The Red Sox will have to give away their draft pick if they want to sign any free agents with qualifying offers.

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The Red Sox have had an awful lot of experience with losing of late. 2013 was brilliant, but outside of that wonderful oasis, the Sox have now been a losing team in three of the last four years. Making matters more frustrating still, this is not how these seasons were supposed to play out. 2012 may have come on the heels of the collapse of 2011, but that team had still won 90 games. The 2014 team were defending World Series champions, of course, and the 2015 Red Sox were bolstered by some of the biggest free agent signings of the offseason. Each time the team held reasonable aspirations for first place, and each time they finished in last.

In 2012 and 2014, those last-place finishes did at least give the Red Sox some value in the draft. Oftentimes in professional sports, if you're going to fall short, it's better to get destroyed than to hang around the middle. The Sox don't really seem to have made the most of that opportunity after 2012, as Trey Ball has done nothing but struggle in the minor leagues, but Andrew Benintendi is already looking very much like the real deal after just a few months in the system.

2015, however, brings no such value. Or at least significantly less. Having finished with a 78-84 record after a 32-26 run through the last two months of the season, the Red Sox will draft 12th in 2016. It's not that far from the spot where they nabbed Benintendi in 2015, but the gap between the top-10 picks and everything after is massive. For the Red Sox to actually get a player out of that pick, after all, they will need to avoid signing any free agents who received a qualifying offer. This for a Red Sox team whose top priority is, by all indications, an ace starting pitcher. Yes, David Price is going to hit the market without a qualifying offer, but on the whole, good luck.

So the Red Sox hemorrhaged some serious value by not losing just a few more games there. And that's damn good news.

Oh, sure, if the Sox had chosen to blatantly tank by signing Eric Gagne and have him pitch every ninth inning they were ahead, I guess that would have been fine. But outside of that, winning these meaningless games and giving up meaningful draft positioning is actually the perfect way to end the season, and we shouldn't have it any other way. Consider the lineups for the final game in each season.

2012:

Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Daniel Nava,  LF
Cody Ross, RF
James Loney, 1B
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
Ryan Lavarnway, DH
Pedro Ciriaco, 3B
Jose Iglesias, SS

2014:

Mookie Betts, 2B
Daniel Nava, RF
Yoenis Cespedes, DH
Allen Craig, 1B
Garin Cecchini, 3B
Rusney Castillo, CF
Bryce Brentz, LF
David Ross, C
Jemile Weeks, SS

2015:

Mookie Betts, CF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Xander Bogaerts, SS
David Ortiz, DH
Travis Shaw, 1B
Rusney Castillo, LF
Blake Swihart, C
Deven Marrero, 3B
Jackie Bradley Jr., RF

How many real pieces for the next season do you count in each lineup? 2012 obviously had the Ellsbury - Pedroia combo up top, then there's Daniel Nava, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Jose Iglesias. That's four starters, two of them really foundational members, to go with a Pawtucket call-up in Iglesias, and a lot of dross.

2014...Well, Mookie had earned his place, which was nice, and at the time it was not clear Daniel Nava's Boston tenure was going to end so soon. Outside of them, though, it's Rusney Castillo and...well, maybe Yoenis Cespedes? Though by then it already seemed likely he was going to be dealt with Castillo having been brought in.

Now we come to 2015. Barring trades, I would say seven of the nine players in that lineup will carry over into the starting lineup for 2016. The odd men out are Travis Shaw, who may well force his way into that role if he doesn't just have it to start the season, and Deven Marrero.

The Red Sox were also winning, for the record, with the likes of Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, and Eduardo Rodriguez pitching reasonably well in the last couple of months. That's probably three of their five starting pitchers for 2016. There's more work to be done in the rotation, to be sure, but the seed for that unit's revival might already be there.

Yes, it's obviously good to have higher draft picks. And it's obviously good to have those picks be protected picks. But it's also better to enter the offseason with a group of guys capable of playing something like 90-win baseball over a significant period of games than with the train wrecks that saw out the end of the 2012 and 2014 seasons. The Red Sox managed to find nearly 30 wins between 2012 and 2013, yes, but that's no easy feat, and an attempt to cover a similar gap is what led to the offseason signings of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. The Red Sox will certainly be making at least one major addition this coming offseason, but it won't be the square peg - round hole contortion that was Hanley Ramirez, left fielder. It will very likely be a top starter filling the obvious hole in the rotation.

So if it's better, in a vacuum, to have that protected pick, in reality that pick comes with a cost. To get it, you have to be a bad team. And while the Red Sox were bad for most of the year, the fact that a good portion of the 2016 squad showed up and looked awfully good to earn their way out of protected pick territory is something to be celebrated, not lamented.