Winning by losing? Why Red Sox' best chance for 2015 might be crumbling down the stretch

July 29, 2014 - 7:53 am

The Red Sox' run of eight wins in nine games proved a blip, quickly giving way to a crumbling stretch of five straight losses and now six in seven games, the latest a dismal 14-1 defeat at the hands of the Blue Jays. The team has officially raised the "For Sale" flag, and at a time when the team is on pace for 73 games, given the pieces that could be moving in the coming days, there's a very real chance that the team falls well short of even that. Of course, there's something to be said for just such a scenario. In some ways, the most direct path for the Red Sox to be good in 2015 may be the possibility of being wretched for the duration of 2014 -- reprising a page from the late-2012 playbook that helped position the Sox for a title in 2013. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels joined Rob Bradford and Alex Speier on The Trade Deadline Show last Thursday to discuss the matter. (To hear the interview, go to the Trade Deadline Show audio on demand page.)

"On some level the rules are in place to create parity. Finishing at the bottom of the standings, we have a chance to do it this year," Daniels said. "We certainly don't want to, we weren't designed that way. The system is set up that it's an enormous advantage to finish last. It's something we need to look at as an industry.

"We have an incentive to lose on some level and nobody wants to acknowledge that and nobody builds their team thinking to lose. In the NBA, you finish with the worst record, you'll still have to go through the lottery. You're not guaranteed to pick first. In baseball, not only do you get to pick first, but then you get a bigger draft budget for your pool so you actually get the access to the top player, but you also get the advantage of moving money around and more money to spend throughout the draft.

"Same thing on the international side. Plus you get the top waiver claim all winter and into the first month of next year and you get the top Rule 5 pick. Four or five times over you have an advantage in terms of acquiring players in almost every avenue except for trades and major league free agency."

In fact, a team does have a meaningful advantage in major league free agency if it finishes near the bottom of the pile. The team's with baseball's 10 worst records have protected first-round draft picks, meaning that even if they sign a free agent who receives a one-year qualifying offer from their 2014 teams (a group that will likely include Max Scherzer, Hanley Ramirez and presumably slugger Nelson Cruz), they would retain their first-round pick.

That does influence strategies in the free agent market. For instance, the Orioles had no plans to sign Cruz this past offseason until they'd already given up their first-round pick by signing Ubaldo Jimenez. The team felt that Cruz was a talent worthy of sacrificing a second-round but not a first-round pick. This past offseason, the Mets adopted a more aggressive free agent strategy (headlined by the signing of Curtis Granderson) in part because their first-round pick was protected.

So, while Monday's game offered a reminder that some bad baseball could lie ahead for the Red Sox, that could be a portent of more freedom to pursue a dramatic reversal of course by next year.

Alex Speier contributed to this report.