Though Epstein is known as a new-age baseball thinker, one of his most trusted early advisers was Bill Lajoie, who was 39 years older and cut from the old school scouting cloth that Moneyball virtually mocked. Lajoie, the former general manager of the Tigers who passed away last December, helped Epstein learn how to approach a draft.
In San Diego, Epstein noticed that the Padres tried to arrange the top 200 players in order, which invited the difficulty of trying to draw fine distinctions between player 156 and 157, for instance. The top 200 invariably included players the team's scouts didn't necessarily recommend but were considered to have early-round talent by industry consensus.
Epstein asked Lajoie, "How many guys would you have on your board?"
"Screw it," Lajoie replied. "Just focus on guys you're really excited about. Go with the guys you're on early and have the most history on and screw the guys who pop up late and you don't know anything about. The guys you can't get excited about? Don't spend time with them. You're not going to take them.
"We would rank 20 guys," Lajoie said. "And we'd get 12 of our 20."
With time running out before the start of the 2009 draft, the Red Sox were uncertain about the order of the top four players on their board, the ones they thought might be available when they picked at No. 28. Epstein, his assistant Allard Baird and scouting director Jason McLeod wanted one more firsthand look at all four players, but they were scattered from Puerto Rico to the West Coast.
What to do? Epstein approached Henry, the team's owner, and essentially asked, "Can we borrow the jet?"
Henry understood the power of mining information from statistical analysis: It had made him a rich man. He had applied proprietary formulas to his money-management firm. He so believed in applying the same principles to running the Red Sox that after the '02 season he first tried to hire Beane to replace Port. Beane accepted the job one day, changed his mind the next and recommended the like-minded Epstein. Henry threw his full support behind Epstein, which sometimes includes his private aircraft.
Epstein, Baird and McLeod saw four players in three days. They jetted to Puerto Rico to see Reymond Fuentes, an 18-year-old player recommended by area scout Edgar Perez. They weren't sure if Fuentes was a first-rounder or a second-rounder, but watching him play a doubleheader convinced them that his speed, defense and swing gave him the makings of an Ellsbury- or Johnny Damon--type player. They drafted Fuentes in the first round and signed him with a $1.13 million bonus.
Over the past five years, the Red Sox have spent $44 million on the draft without picking higher than 19th. The only teams to invest more in those drafts are perennial losers with expensive picks every year: the Pirates, the Nationals and the Royals. Tampa Bay, at $40 million, is the only winning organization that has approached Boston's spending during those five years. Thanks in large part to their deep farm system, the small-market Rays are chasing Boston in the AL wild-card race, trying to steal their third postseason appearance in four years.