Restocking a Rivalry
The Red Sox and Yankees made a major strategic shift in 2005, battling in a new arena: the draft. Now their moves are paying off
Posted: Tuesday March 25, 2008 1:44PM; Updated: Tuesday March 25, 2008 11:00PM
The Yankees and the Red Sox had engaged in two consecutive seven-game American League Championship Series, splitting the Game 7s, when in 2005 they took their rivalry to a new battlefront: the draft room. Until that point both teams had relied on trades and free agency to acquire impact players. But with aging rosters, bloated payrolls and almost no elite players in the pipeline, the superpowers realized they had to change.
The Red Sox had been victorious in the 2004 World Series, but they resisted the temptation to keep the team intact and cut loose free agents Orlando Cabrera, Derek Lowe and staff ace Pedro Martinez. As compensation, the Sox picked up first-round picks from the Angels and the Dodgers andthree so-called sandwich picks -- supplemental choices between the first and second rounds -- which gave them five choices between 23 and 47. "[Letting those veterans go] was the right thing to do," says Boston general manager Theo Epstein, "because of their age, but part of it was to get those draft picks and rebuild our system.
"We don't want to get ahead of ourselves, but we feel like our first five [picks] all have a chance of being big league players. And if two or three of those guys reach their ceiling, it has a chance to be a franchise-changing draft."
The Yankees' future, meanwhile, looked even more dire in 2005. After New York blew a three-games-to-none lead to Boston in the 2004 ALCS, G.M. Brian Cashman tried to fortify his pitching by acquiring Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright. None would be as good as advertised. "We had a chance to really go into an abyss," Cashman said earlier this year.
Cashman, who often clashed with owner George Steinbrenner's Tampa-based brain trust, persuaded the Boss to give him more control of baseball operations, a change he would get in writing in his new contract after the season. He promoted prospects Chien-Ming Wang and Robinson Cano to the majors in May and gave responsibility for the draft to scouting director Damon Oppenheimer.
"[Cashman] knew my passion was on the amateur side," Oppenheimer says. "He gave us a little more specific thinking on the draft, and we started looking for high-impact talent, premier players at premier positions."
That meant occasionally taking risks. The Yankees had only one first-round pick in the 2005 draft -- the 17th overall -- and when it rolled around, several future big leaguers were still available: outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Travis Buck, relievers Craig Hansen and Joey Devine, and starting pitchers Matt Garza and Clay Buchholz. But Oppenheimer's ideal was a player who could hit in the middle of the lineup and play in the middle of the field or be a front-of-the-rotation starter. So he took C.J. Henry, a 6' 3", 205-pound high school shortstop from Oklahoma City. "He fit exactly what we were looking for," Oppenheimer says. "Obviously, it hasn't worked out the way we wanted."