Drafting and developing talented players already was a challenge. A team that yielded just one impact player out of each draft was doing about as well as could be expected.
But severe new spending limits restrict teams from being able to pay draftees what they once could, effectively restricting the number of elite draft picks they can sign. In addition, in contrast to previous years, while a team still must forfeit a draft pick to sign a compensation free agent, the team losing the free agent doesn’t inherit that draft pick. The pick instead vanishes into nothingness—and, with it, the $1 million or more the team would have been able to add to its newly restricted signing-bonus allotment.
(Had that rule been in place two years ago, the Red Sox wouldn’t have had a first-round pick, let alone two, and wouldn’t have been able to draft either Matt Barnes or Blake Swihart.)
One might gauge how much a team values a draft pick by the size of his signing bonus—in other words, its investment in him. In the first 10 rounds of the 2011 draft, Boston handed out 10 signing bonuses worth more than $100,000 in the first 10 rounds, eight of which were worth more than $500,000.
In 2012, the first year of the new spending system, the Red Sox handed out just seven signing bonuses worth more than $100,000, five of them worth more than $500,000. Of the players Boston drafted in rounds 6-10, all but one received a bonus of $25,000 or less, an indication that those players were selected more to allow them to allot money elsewhere than for their potential impact as prospects.
What does that mean? Rather than bringing 10 or 11 players who realistically could be viewed as prospects, the Red Sox brought in just seven. The challenge of producing one impact player from the draft class grew steeper accordingly.