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This might actually be the perfect year to lose a second rounder

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It’s a shorter draft, but also likely less talented and with less information available.

2020 Boston Baseball Writers Dinner Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

I would imagine that everyone has heard by now considering it’s the only droplet of real, confirmed baseball news in I don’t even know how long, but in case you somehow missed it the Red Sox were finally punished for their 2018 sign-stealing scheme. After a long process, the league didn’t end up finding much, and certainly didn’t find a controversy on the same plane as that of the Astros, which had dominated the landscape of the sport until the sport abruptly stopped. The Red Sox were still punished, though, having their advanced scout and video replay room operator J.T. Watkins suspended for 2020 and banned from the room in 2021. They also lost a second round pick for this year’s draft.

It’s that second part I want to talk about today, which is not to say that the Watkins thing is not important but more that I’m not entirely sure what else there is to say. I mean, there is a lot I could say, but I don’t have the facts to back up my feelings about this all being laid at one advanced scout’s feet being, well, ridiculous. There are columns to be written — and columns have been written — about MLB’s credibility in general, but that is not what this is.

Instead, I want to focus solely on the loss of the second round pick, and specifically I want to focus on just how big of a deal it is. Now, as I said above, it is nowhere near the punishment handed down to the Astros. If it’s a matter of could it be worse? Well, the answer is an unequivocal yes. No doubt. The much more interesting question, and the question on which I continue to go back and forth and may even go back on again between the time I write my conclusion to this piece and your eyeballs scan the page for the first time, is whether the 2020 season is the worst time to be docked a second round pick?

Seemingly everything in baseball has been quantified to the extent that there is rarely all that much of a question about how much any given player or asset is worth at any given time. I mean, there is obviously quibbling but it’s normally getting down into the nitty gritty where that happens. General value is largely agreed upon and formulaic. That is certainly true for draft picks, so in a normal year there would be some kind of broad, generic consensus about what exactly it means to lose a second round pick. This is not a normal year, though, as anyone with a pulse certainly knows.

Red Sox Spring Training Workouts Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The strangeness of the world in 2020 extends to the MLB Draft landscape, where we will see the most abbreviated draft in league history. The exact specifics are still not known, as the league has final say and has not yet made the decision, but the event will last no more than ten rounds and no fewer than five. Remember, this is generally a 40-round marathon, and it wasn’t all that long ago that teams were able to pick until they were ready to stop. At the very least, this draft will be cut down to a quarter of what we’ve gotten used to over the last quarter century or so.

This, in turn, very obviously alters the value of that second round draft pick that was docked from the Red Sox in this year’s draft, and it appears that the general consensus is that it makes losing that pick hurt even more than it normally would. This was certainly where I landed at first as well. The logic is simple. Losing one pick and having 39 more is a hell of a lot different than losing one pick and suddenly having no more than nine left and very possibly only having four. Logically speaking, it doesn’t take too much to explain why having fewer picks makes each of those five or ten or however many picks more important individually. That’s just simple math.

So, the general consensus is certainly a logical position. However, the more thought I put into it the harder of a time I have shaking the feeling that this is actually the exact year you would want to lose a pick. That sounds absurd given the logic mentioned above, but that logic assumes one very important fact about the talent pool being the same in all scenarios. To take things to an extreme to make a point, however, if you had 100 rounds of elite college and high school players or five rounds of random middle schoolers, the individual picks in the first draft are going to be more important even though there are many more. The talent is just much better. Obviously, the draft is still going to have actual high school and college baseball players this year, but the talent pool is likely going to be weaker.

While the shortening of the draft is certainly a major part of why this year’s event will be so different, it’s not the only one. The way bonuses are going to be given out is also being shifted massively, with players only getting about 10 percent up front with another 45 percent coming in 2021 and the final 45 percent after that. Additionally, if a player goes undrafted, they can only sign for a bonus up to $20,000, much less than they normally would go for. More on that part in a second.

First, I want to focus on the deferral. There are going to be players who are totally fine with that arrangement, but there are going to be many more who look at that and wonder why they wouldn’t just go back to school for a year or go to college from high school for a couple of years and then come out in three years. That’s normally putting a pay day off by three years, but in this case it’s really only putting it off by one. It’s hard to say with any certainly how far the talent will drop in this year’s draft compared to a normal draft year, but I find it hard to believe there won’t be any drop at all. That alone makes a second round pick — and the pool money associated with it — at least a little less value. The extent to which the pick loses value is, of course, dependent on just how far the talent pool drops, and I’m not sure it’s possible to know that yet.

I think the talent pool part of that is most important, but it’s not the only factor here that could make this the year to lose a pick, either. A lack of talent certainly makes the draft a more difficult process, and then when you throw in a lack of scouting as well, all of a sudden things are thrown more out of whack. Now, teams have reports on all of these guys and scouts watch players for years. That said, the final spring leading up to the draft is always the most important — think back to how far Andrew Benintendi’s stock rose in his draft year — and there was virtually no baseball this year. Teams also lean fairly heavily on their in-person interviews, and while they can still do video chats to get a feel for a player’s personality, we know from our personal experience that there’s no replacing an in-person interaction to get a feel for someone’s personality. Drafts in all sports, and seemingly baseball in particular, are something of a crapshoot, but that only becomes more true in this kind of environment.

So, there is a good chance there will be less talent available in this year’s draft, and it seems all but certain that teams won’t have the intel they are used to in informing their selections. Suddenly, that valuable second rounder seems a lot less important. Then there’s the final piece of this, which goes back to the undrafted class. Now, I’m not sure what the undrafted class will look like because, with the NCAA offering an extra year of eligibility to all spring athletes, even college seniors can go back for another year before turning pro. So, there may not really be anyone willing to sign for the $20,000.

However, if there is talent available after five or ten rounds, all teams are essentially on an even playing field with the same offer going around. It will come down to how the organization sells themselves, and while the Red Sox are not a perfectly run machine, they have a mix of recent success on the field, success in developing major talent — especially for position players, and historic name recognition, to make them appealing to prospects. They won’t make up for any talent lost in the second round, but they would have a chance to theoretically clean up in this kind of marketplace to help bridge the gap a bit between their class and other classes around the league.

It goes without saying that losing a draft pick, particularly one as high as a second rounder, is not a good thing in any year. If given a choice, you obviously want the pick. With this draft being so different than what we’re used to, though, it’s hard to put a concrete value on the pick, and thus to decide whether this is the worst year to lose a pick, or perhaps the best. The consensus seems to lean closer to the former, but I don’t know that it’s such a slam dunk. Ultimately, it likely comes down to exactly how many players decide to forgo starting their professional career this year, and that’s not something we’ll know until this process is over. That said, the more I think about it the more I think I come down on the side of this being exactly the year you’d want to lose that second rounder.