As Dan Duquette gets ready to re-enter Major League Baseball after a hiatus of nearly 10 years, it is worth reconsidering one contentious area of the new Orioles general manager’s track record in Boston.
For the person charged with building an organization, nothing is as important as the cultivation of a robust farm system that can produce a steady flow of talent to the majors. Young, inexpensive stars represent the most important building blocks of championship teams, whether by providing the core group that can compete for titles or by serving as the currency for trades to address areas of need.
Perhaps that explains why Duquette becomes rankled when confronted with suggestions that the Red Sox farm system was barren in his wake. Duquette was hired as Sox GM from Montreal in 1994 largely because of his track record of building a homegrown powerhouse with the Expos. He helped create one of the most formidable talent factories in the game in that stint before heading to Boston.
But with the Sox, it was different. His first draft pick was a tremendous success, as he selected Nomar Garciaparra with a first-round pick in 1994.
But from that point on, especially in the early rounds, the Sox missed on player after player. The Sox had seven first-round draft picks over the remainder of Duquette’s tenure; of those, just two – Adam Everett and Phil Dumatrait – played a single day in the majors.
During his time as a GM in Boston, Duquette’s draft record was generally viewed with great cynicism based on the poor performances by the Sox' early-round selections under him. Duquette prioritized the selection of New Englanders in the draft in hopes of galvanizing fan interest. That strategy failed to net star-caliber talent; only one player taken with that approach, Manny Delcarmen, became an impact big leaguer.
A disclaimer. It is worth noting that Duquette was encouraged by ownership in his last years to plow assets into the major league roster. Then-CEO John Harrington was more interested in seeing the Sox win a World Series while still technically under Yawkey family stewardship than in building for the long haul.
The current Sox owners are fully supportive of spending aggressively on amateur talent and recognize that area as the most efficient one for their dollars. That wasn’t the environment in which Duquette worked during his final years in Boston.
Even with that disclaimer, Duquette often points out that it was his farm system that was fertile enough to position the Sox to make numerous trades after he left. The acquisitions of players such as Cliff Floyd and Alan Embree in 2002, Curt Schilling after the 2003 season and Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell following the 2005 campaign were pulled off largely with players minor leaguers who had entered the system under Duquette.
Still, retrospectives about Duquette’s drafts have focused primarily on their failures and with good reason. Forgotten first-rounders Rick Asadoorian and John Curtice and Josh Garrett and Andy Yount and Corey Jenkins represented incredible missed opportunities, players taken when future superstars like Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia and Chase Utley remained on the board.
In contrast, the Sox have viewed as a model drafting team in the years since Duquette’s departure. The team has seen a steady flow of homegrown franchise players matriculate to the majors under the current ownership group.
But how significant is the draft disparity between what the Sox accomplished under Duquette and what the talent they accumulated under Theo Epstein?
To answer that question by one arbitrary measure, it is intriguing to examine the number of All-Stars yielded by the Duquette and Epstein drafts. Doing so offers a somewhat surprising picture of the talent accumulated under Duquette.
THE DUQUETTE YEARS
Nomar Garciaparra (1994, 1st rd, No. 12): Five-time All-Star (four times with Red Sox)
Note: Garciaparra was drafted, reached the majors and signed to a first-of-its-kind long-term deal by Duquette. He was a superstar-caliber talent in his prime, perennially among the top handful of players in the league for a number of years. He was traded in 2004 by Epstein.
Carl Pavano (1994, 13th rd): One-time All-Star (zero times with Red Sox)
Note: Pavano was dealt to the Expos by Duquette as part of the package for Pedro Martinez.
Justin Duchscherer (1996, 8th rd): Two-time All-Star (zero times with Red Sox)
Note: Traded to the Rangers in 2001 for catcher Doug Mirabelli. Duchscherer became an All-Star four years later with the A’s.
Shea Hillenbrand (1996, 10th rd): Two-time All-Star (one time with Red Sox)
Note: Hillenbrand reached the majors with the Sox under Duquette and was an All-Star in Boston in 2002 before Epstein traded him in the 2003 season.
David Eckstein (1997, 19th rd): Two-time All-Star (zero times with Red Sox)
Note: Selected off waivers by the Angels in 2000, when Eckstein was in Triple-A.
Freddy Sanchez (2000, 11th rd): Three-time All-Star (zero times with Red Sox)
Note: Sanchez was traded by Epstein in 2003.
Kevin Youkilis (2001, 8th rd): Three-time All-Star (all with Red Sox)
Note: Red Sox officials have said that, prior to the ownership change, Youkilis had been relegated to the status of a potential throw-in, and that it was only with the ownership changes in 2002 and then the overhaul of the front office following Epstein’s appointment as GM after that season that Youkilis was identified as a player to protect.
TOTALS: Seven players who were selected as All-Stars, six players who were selected to multiple All-Star teams and 18 total All-Star seasons. Of those 18 All-Star seasons, eight have come for the Sox, and 10 came after the players left the organization that drafted them.
THE EPSTEIN YEARS
Jon Lester (2002, 2nd rd): Two-time All-Star (all with Red Sox)
Notes: Epstein was a strong voice in the draft room as an Assistant GM when Lester was drafted in 2002, though he was not GM at the time, and so Lester is included in this side of the ledger. (For more on Lester’s selection as the first draft pick under the current Red Sox ownership group, click here.) Epstein was, however, GM when the Red Sox agreed to trade Lester to the Rangers with Manny Ramirez for Alex Rodriguez.
Jonathan Papelbon (2003, 4th rd): Four-time All-Star (all with Red Sox)
Note: At a time when Papelbon is testing the free-agent waters, here’s a look at his origins in the Red Sox system.
Dustin Pedroia (2004, 2nd rd): Three-time All-Star (all with Red Sox)
Note: As with Lester in 2002, Pedroia was the first pick of the Red Sox in 2004 despite being a second rounder. The Sox had parted with their first round selection in order to sign free agent closer Keith Foulke.
Jacoby Ellsbury (2005, 1st rd): One-time All-Star (with Red Sox)
Clay Buchholz (2005, sandwich pick): One-time All-Star (with Red Sox)
TOTALS: Five players who were drafted by the Sox under Epstein have emerged as All-Stars, including three -- if one includes Lester -- that have made multiple All-Star teams. Of those 11 All-Star seasons, all 11 have come with the Sox, who have kept most of their top prospects in Boston.
The construct of the “All-Star player” is, of course, imperfect. For instance, Hillenbrand made two All-Star teams, but had poor on-base percentages and only once in his career did he have an OPS as high as .800. Eckstein is unfailingly described as scrappy and did a remarkable job of maximizing his ability, but as has been pointed out often (and rightly), Pedroia is a vastly better player.
For the most part, the players who emerged as “All-Stars” from Duquette’s draft were average to slightly above-average big league regulars. Still, Duquette’s drafts produced a pair of players who performed at a superstar/MVP level for multiple years in Garciaparra and Youkilis.
The players who have emerged from Epstein’s drafts as All-Stars have more frequently achieved and sustained superstar-level performance. Pedroia won an MVP and Ellsbury might lay claim to that honor this year. Papelbon has had one of the best starts to a career of any closer in history. Lester thrust his name into the Cy Young mix in 2010 and seems capable of doing so again.
Beyond that, a few things stand out when looking at the top players who were drafted and developed under Duquette and Epstein:
-- Duquette drafted more All-Star players (7) than Epstein’s farm system has yielded to date (5, 4 if Lester is not counted). That said, it will be necessary to check back in on that topic for several additional years. Players whom the Sox selected from 2006-11 (some, like Daniel Bard, who remain in the Sox system; some, like Justin Masterson and Anthony Rizzo, who have been traded) under Epstein could join the list of stars.
-- The Epstein-drafted players all delivered their All-Star seasons for the Sox. Duquette was more willing to move his better prospects. He dealt Duchscherer for Mirabelli and fumbled Eckstein on waivers. He also dealt Pavano in a franchise-altering move for Pedro Martinez. Of the 18 All-Star seasons produced by Duquette draftees, 44 percent came as members of the Sox.
-- Duquette’s brutal absence of success in the early rounds of the draft (which should have delivered the greatest impact) was softened by incredible and surprisingly frequent success drafting in the later rounds. Aside from Garciaparra, a first-rounder, the other six Duquette Era All-Stars were taken in the eighth round or later.
--That later-round impact could have been even more pronounced if the Sox hadn’t torched their relationship with Mark Teixeira, whom the Sox took in the ninth round of the 1998 draft.
-- The impact selections under Epstein, meanwhile, came in the early rounds. Indeed, it is notable that the Sox typically have achieved a major organizational impact with their top overall pick under Epstein.
Lester, Pedroia, Ellsbury, Nick Hagadone (a key to the Victor Martinez trade), Casey Kelly and Reymond Fuentes (both keys to the Adrian Gonzalez deal) were all top overall picks by the Sox. David Murphy has had a nice if unspectacular big league career. Jason Place is the only true bust of a top pick by the Sox under Epstein.
However, to date, the Sox under Epstein didn’t acquire the later-rounds impact draftees that characterized the Duquette era. But that could change. Players drafted in the eighth round or later under Epstein who could make a significant impact in future years include Ryan Kalish (2006, 9th round), Drake Britton (2007, 23rd round) and Brandon Jacobs (2009, 10th round), among others.
-- Duquette’s drafts in Boston were vastly more productive than those of his archrivals. Over Duquette’s eight-year tenure, the Yankees produced just two All-Stars (Eric Milton and Mike Lowell) and one additional big league regular (Nick Johnson) through the draft.
If Duquette is to help reshape the Orioles into a meaningful contributor in a hellacious American League East, his draft record will have to improve dramatically when it comes to his top picks. As Baltimore tried to play catch-up in a devastatingly deep division, they cannot afford the kinds of misses with their top picks that occurred in the GM’s Boston tenure. Meanwhile, it is virtually impossible to bank on the kind of middle- and later-rounds success that Duquette had in Boston; there was a significant element of luck in play that allowed the Sox to salvage what could have been some dismal drafts.
That said, if Duquette can couple the sort of impact the Sox made in the later rounds with strong early picks, then he could well help the O’s to regain their footing after 14 years meandering through losing records. For as much as the Sox’ draft record under Duquette is criticized, upon further inspection, the Sox acquired a surprising number of players who went on to have solid big league careers, and in a couple of instances, did far more than that.