At some point, every fan of the game thinks they have a plan that could win if only they were given the opportunity to put it in action. Over at Beyond the Box Score they had a similar desire: a 30-team, five-selection, simulated draft.
The idea was simple: each GM was assigned to a big league club and given five picks in a blind draft. The rules: every player selected player must have already been in an MLB organization. Major leaguers, minor leaguers, free agents - so long as they've belonged to an organization. In other words no future Cuban or Japanese free agents or players who might be drafted. Second, you couldn’t draft a player already on your team. Third, the acquiring team had to be able to take on that player’s contract. So a low payroll team like the Rays couldn’t claim A-Rod, Clayton Kershaw, and David Price, assuming all three were available. Finally, any player selected by two or more teams would remain in their existing organization. This added a bit of game theory to the draft. Sure, adding a big name would be nice, but is a second tier player a better bet? Or a prospect not guaranteed to make the major league club?
As the simulated Mike Hazen or Dave Dombrowski, I was tasked with the mission of building or maintaining the Red Sox.
Step one: look at the Red Sox roster and the indispensable Baseball Reference to determine what my shopping list--both in terms of additions and subtractions--would need to look like. The Boston farm system, as we know, is deep, but this draft was designed for the 2016 season so replacing top prospects wasn’t in the cards. Rather, I drafted to mitigate expected losses and keep the team stocked with talent for this year. What losses? The top candidates to leave the Sox seemed to be Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, David Ortiz, David Price, and Craig Kimbrel. Those are the biggest names and the Sox players most will be counting on to safely provide top production. I would hope the farm remained mostly in tact.
Xander and Mookie making close to the league minimum and the two David’s and Kimbrel making rather more would prove a major factor in finding their replacements as well. The Sox could probably add more salary but not $100 million more. If a big contract wasn’t taken I could be in trouble.
MLB's top-100 prospects list features 4 Red Sox in the top-40
The Sox "only" have four prospects listed, but they are ranked early and often.
My list would consist of these items across the players: someone who could fit at the top of the rotation, a leadoff hitter, an outfielder, a shortstop, and a good bat. If Kimbrel was selected, replacing the closer would be an internal job. If Big Papi was selected, well, some 2017 strategy might factor in early. The priority was Xander Bogaerts. Should one team select Bogaerts, the dropoff would be huge.
The five players I selected: Trea Turner, Stephen Strasburg, Nick Markakis, Ben Zobrist, and Evan Longoria. Turner and Zobrist for their ability to play shortstop in a pinch, with Turner also possessing upside to replace Xander in the long haul. And since he’s blocked from Washington’s major league roster right now, he might be a prospect available for the taking. Strasburg would be my Price replacement, if I could land him. Markakis would slot into the outfield and bring his career .359 OBP to the leadoff spot in anticipation of losing Betts. Longoria, the longtime Ray, would hopefully mitigate the loss of Ortiz' bat while providing some defensive help at third as well.
As has been discussed, Hanley Ramirez is primed to take over at DH in 2017 following Ortiz’s retirement. Should Ortiz be selected, Pablo Sandoval could move across the diamond to first base and throw Ramirez into DH duties starting with 2016. In theory, everyone would be in a position to succeed.
Of these players the two Nationals (Turner and Strasburg) were claimed by other teams and per the rules didn’t leave Washington. The other three joined the Red Sox, which turned out to be a good thing because the Sox were hit hard: eight players, the most of any team in the simulation, were poached. Xander Bogaerts, Craig Kimbrel, Blake Swihart, Rafael Devers, Eduardo Rodriguez, David Price, Jackie Bradley Jr., and David Ortiz all departed. Mookie Betts, selected by multiple teams, remained with the team.
The revised roster would look something like this:
C Ryan Hanigan (and later Christian Vazquez)
1B Pablo Sandoval
2B Dustin Pedroia
3B Evan Longoria
SS Ben Zobrist
LF Nick Markakis
CF Mookie Betts
RF Rusney Castillo
DH: Hanley Ramirez
The rotation was hit twice and didn’t add Strasburg. Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Joe Kelly, Henry Owens, and Steven Wright could be the Opening Day squad. Not ideal, and right back to 2015’s problems. If the simulation included the rest of the season, this year a trade for a top-of-the-rotation arm would have to become a priority. Koji Uehara would return to closing and shift everyone in the bullpen up a spot.
On the whole, I'm glad this process is a fun simulation rather than a terrifying reality. Reading through the entire process, some teams were hit much, much, harder than others. It still makes for an interesting exercise, and there are a few surprises both among players who didn’t get selected and players who only one team put a claim on that ended up changing teams. At the end of the day, though, all you can do is hope that other teams are too afraid to gamble on your players while also not overlapping with your own selections. Perhaps I should just count myself lucky that Mookie Betts was either good enough to frighten everyone away, or to draw multiple selections. As bad as losing eight players was, it could have been worse.