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 and three 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.
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."
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.
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.
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."
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
Henry has yet to
make it out of A ball, hitting .222 with 15 home runs over three seasons. But
Oppenheimer fared better in later rounds, getting speedy outfielder Austin
Jackson in the eighth and hard-throwing pitcher Alan Horne in the 11th, both of
whom are considered top prospects. Jackson's signing also reflected New York's
determination to leverage its resources in the draft; the Yankees gave the
eighth-rounder $800,000 to forget about his basketball scholarship offer from
A year later the
Yankees' new emphasis on the draft would have an even bigger payoff. Cashman
and Oppenheimer landed a slew of promising pitchers, including Ian Kennedy
(first round) from USC, Joba Chamberlain (first-round sandwich pick) from the
University of Nebraska, Brooklyn high schooler Dellin Betances (eighth) and
Mark Melancon (ninth) from the University of Arizona.
"We missed on
Joba, like a lot of teams," says Epstein, whose team used three picks in
2006 before the Yankees took Chamberlain. Likewise, the Yankees had missed on
Buchholz in '05. New York was turned off by an January '04 incident in which
Buchholz and a McNeese State schoolmate were arrested for stealing 29 laptops
from a school where Buchholz's mother worked. (Buchholz was eventually given
probation.) He soon transferred to Angelina College, a junior college in
Lufkin, Texas, where he was 12--1 with a 1.05 ERA.
"He was a guy
you had some questions about," Oppenheimer says. "The incident with the
computers, pitching at a junior college, his command wasn't great ... it just
didn't add up for us. When we saw him pitch he wasn't that extreme a talent
that leads you to overlook what were real off-field issues."