By the time baseball season rolled around, I was already on academic probation. Every. Season. Due to this, I spent my high school career (took me five years, thanks to a lengthy battle with mononucleosis) dabbling in fall sports, like soccer and basketball. I never made it out of little league ball, but man, like so many other 90’s kids that spent their summers trying to recreate The Sandlot in real life, I swore I’d be the next Nomar Garciaparra, Mike Piazza, or Shawn Green.
Instead, I just became adult Gerard. A slightly taller, more good looking version of the little me. None of my friends or acquaintances – save for Milton native Rich Hill – ever amounted to much of anything on the baseball diamond either, whether it be in college or the daunted Cape Cod League.
Because of this, I harbor zero attachment for Sox prospects, as they are quite literally a dime a dozen. For every Dustin Pedroia, there are 30 Matt Murton’s. For each Jon Lester, you have 40 Craig Hansen’s. Yet fans everywhere are enamored with the likes of Jay Groome, Michael Chavis, Jaleen Beeks, and Bobby Dalbec. And that’s good… great even. We should take a vested interest in the players of tomorrow, and we should be knowledgeable enough (as Sox diehards) to name drop a prospect or two in a heated internet debate.
But don’t get too attached folks, because Dave Dombrowski’s at the helm, the Winter Meetings are just days away, and our President of Baseball Operations has a case of the tradesies.
While some will attest that we absolutely cannot trade another top tier blue chip prospect, I reply with a resounding nay. Nay, I say, and for good reason. For many good reasons, actually, and they’re listed below for you:
1. As recently as 2015, the Sox top five ranked prospects were Rusney Castillo, Yoan Moncada, Blake Swihart, Henry Owens, and Eduardo Rodriguez. Not a single player from that herd is a necessary piece to Boston in 2018 or beyond; Castillo is a 30 year old, overpaid fourth outfielder at best, Moncada is a strikeout machine that brought us Chris Sale, Swi may have a future in the bigs if his wiry frame can be utilized somewhere in the field, Owens is a lanky, disastrous walk aficionado, and E-Rod, while has proven to show great promise, is yet another young pitcher plagued by injuries.
This just goes to show what a crapshoot it is to label a player a “top” prospect; a blue chip, can’t-miss, top tier future hall of famer. Don’t make the mistake of looking at our 2017 top crop of minor league ballers and assume they will be the next big thing, or an All-Star, or even a starting major leaguer. Even more unsettling, is the crew from 2013: Allen Webster was ranked 3rd in the organization, Owens 4th, Matt freaking Barnes 5th, and then household commodities Anthony Ranaudo, Garin Cecchini, and Trey Ball coming in at 6-8; in the words of Austin Powers… WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?!
2. As currently constituted, the Sox best position player is far and away Mookie Betts. Did you ever get the feeling that Mookie just kind of came out of nowhere? Well, that’s because he did. The second baseman turned corner outfielder never even cracked the Sox top 15 ranked prospect list!
Strange, how a budding superstar can make such a significant impact without ever donning the title of a “top prospect.” It’s almost as if you can be a perennial All-Star, no matter where you rank in your organization’s prospect list. This goes to show that no matter how poor a team’s farm appears to be, great players can emerge from the cornfields at anytime. Thus, leading credence to the fact that you can trade your high ceiling minor leaguers, and still develop terrific major league talents while doing so.
3. Every prospect is expendable, and the expendables rarely bite Boston in the bum. I’ve scoured trade after trade via the annals of Firefox, and there simply isn’t one young draftee we can look at and say, “damn. The Sox missed the mark on that guy.”* Freddy Sanchez was Boston’s second baseman of the future, but was honestly standing in the way of a younger, painfully more talented Pedroia. Sure, Hanley was a star in the Senior Circuit, but the return was greater than the send off. The 2004 World Series victory would not have happened with anyone other than the 25 we had.
The most notable (I use that term loosely) prospects Boston has heave hoed, would be David Murphy, a decent outfielder for Texas but nothing more than a contributing player; also Josh Reddick, who’s carved out a decent career, but players of his caliber can be signed, drafted, or traded for routinely. And how about that Pedro trade? Sure was difficult parting with Tony Armas Jr. and Carl Pavano (who the Sox rocked for 10 runs before he could even record an out when he was a Marlin), wasn’t it? To find a regrettable prospect maneuver, we have to go back in time 27 years, to 1990, when Jeff freaking Bagwell was dealt away for Larry Anderson; painfully, the GM at the time had the option of moving Scott Cooper instead. But even then, Mo Vaughn stepped in and manned the first base bag, giving fans years of light tower ding dongs.
The point is, fear not. Don’t get caught up in the young guys in Portland and Pawtucket. They can be overhyped. They can be dealt. They can face personal challenges too difficult to overcome, like Ryan Westmoreland. Or they can sadly be hindered by mental health concerns, a la Brian Johnson – one of the feel good stories of 2017, I’d say. Regardless, Dombrowski has made a literal career out of acquiring star talent, and he’s not going to quit now. This is a guy who traded six minor leaguers for Miguel Cabrera, and just one of them, Andrew Miller, turned into an All-Star player.
Furthermore, the scrutiny of our General Manager’s trades have been under fire at one time or another. ¿Y por que? The acquisitions so far are paying off serious dividends: Craig Kimbrel, 6th in the Cy Young voting this year. Chris Sale, 2nd in the Cy Young voting this year. Drew Pomeranz, a 17 game winner. Sure, the verdict is still out on Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith, but the latter was a cog in the bullpen for the stretch run this year, and Thornburg eyes to vie for the 7th-8th inning role in 2018; plus, the departures of Travis Shaw and Moncada opened the door for Rafael Devers – addition by subtraction.
Bear in mind, minor leaguers don’t just come out of high school or college, ready to go. It takes time to develop, and every year there are new faces to lock down the organization’s top 30 list. And right now, there are some phenomenally talented young hitters and pitchers that either one or two years ago were unheard of by Sox fanatics. From the mound, there’s Bryan Mata, Tanner Houck, and Mike Shawaryn, all of whom are capable of being busts, aces, trade bait, or reliable number 2’s. then there’s Josh Ockimey, a slugging first baseman rarely mentioned, and 19 year old Cole Brannen, who’s a mirror image of Andrew Benintendi. Chances are, we won’t see all, if any, of them develop in a Sox uniform. But that’s not necessarily what prospects are for. They have a singular purpose: to make the team better. Whether that occurs via a sudden call up and years of contributions, or as a trade piece for players like Jose Abreu or Aaron Nola, that is up to Dombrowski.
But whatever he decides to do, let’s hope it happens sooner rather than later; the offseason is cold and depressing, and I want need something to cheer about.
*There is an aside, that does not pertain to the article, but is worth mentioning. Yes, the Red Sox have been fortunate in not trading away future star players for a majority of the franchise’s existence, but they have been on the raw end of many one sided maneuvers. This is an organization that has traded Bill Lee, as a response to his criticism of ownership; they also sent 1986 ALCS hero Dave Henderson to San Fran, where he eventually left to become an All-Star in Oakland. Bronson Arroyo, a steady contributor, was flipped for flop Wily Mo Peña; Jamie Moyer, traded amidst a 7-1 campaign for Darren Bragg. The list goes on, to include Jim Longborg, George Scott, and Cecil Cooper… it seems the team has a storied history of being able to evaluate minor league talent, yet unable to see the significance of current or rising stars.