Major League Baseball penalized the Red Sox with the forfeiture of a second-round pick in the 2020 draft for illegal use of the video replay system to steal sign sequences in 2018 — a hit that is impactful but nonetheless short of a worst-case scenario.
Whereas the Astros lost both their first- and second-round picks, the Red Sox dodged the worst-case scenario by keeping their top pick — a reflection of what MLB deemed the differing levels of wrongdoing in the infractions. For the Red Sox, retaining their top pick is significant in a year in which the team has its highest draft position (No. 17 in the first round) since 2016. That first-round position is tied for the team’s fourth-highest since 2000.
But even the loss of a second-round pick is unusually significant given the abbreviated nature of the 2020 draft. As MLB teams look to limit their spending outlays in a season where the COVID-19 pandemic threatens either to wipe out or at least significantly limit revenues from games, the league and the Players Association agreed in March that the draft could be shortened to as few as five rounds.
That increases the value of each pick, making the loss of any more significant than in a typical year. The Red Sox might not have access to an area of the draft in which they’ve enjoyed success in recent years, including 2018, when the team selected outfielder Jarren Duran (now one of the organization’s top prospects) in the seventh round. As such, the loss of any pick represents a larger share of the team’s potential draft pool than in most years.
The impact on the Red Sox is unlikely to be felt in the short term, but the loss of access to amateur talent can be hard to mask. In 2016, for instance, the team was penalized by MLB for circumventing rules prohibiting “package deals” for international amateur prospects. The Red Sox lost five prospects from their signing class of 2015-16, and the team was prohibited from signing any international amateur players in 2016-17 — a ban that team officials believe played a significant role in the thinning of talent in the farm system in the last two years.
Now, at a time when the team has prioritized rebuilding the upper levels of its farm system — a major motivating force in the trade of Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers —the loss of a top pick represents a setback in the effort to refill, though not as harmful a penalty as the Astros had to pay.