By Matt Barry – @oobcards
Do you remember when the Boston Red Sox had the top ranked farm system in Major League Baseball according to ESPN in 2015? I do. Andrew Benintendi, Michael Kopech, and Yoan Moncada headlined a plethora of great young talent. Benintendi had just been drafted with the 7th overall pick after winning the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s top college player. Moncada was signed out of Cuba and widely regarded as the game’s next great Cuban player. Kopech was throwing about 105 miles per hour. And there were many other good prospects with great upside.
Theo Epstein had focused on rebuilding a stale farm system and masterfully pieced together the best in baseball. But all of that work has since been decimated by President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski. Dombrowski had been a very successful GM with the Expos, Marlins, and Tigers. He built winners at each of those places, which isn’t easy to do in those markets. But his style has always seemed to slant towards big trades involving young prospects. And in all instances, he would leave those general manager positions with an empty cupboard for the next GM to refill. In Detroit, he took over in 2002. The next year, the Tigers lost 103 games. But just three years later, the Tigers would win the American League pennant. From there, a World Series victory was the focus and he was directed to win now by owner Mike Illitch. Many of the trades Dombrowski made were in the Tigers’ favor. He acquired Miguel Cabrera in 2007, Max Scherzer, Ian Kinsler, and Prince Fielder in 2009, and David Price in 2014. The Tigers would lose in the World Series again in 2012 and then miss a golden opportunity in 2013, losing to Boston in the American League Championship series. He led the Marlins to the World Series Championship back in 1997, only to orchestrate a fire sale a year later.
Upon joining the Red Sox, Dombrowski made an excellent trade by acquiring closer Craig Kimbrel from San Diego for four prospects, highlighted by Manuel Margot. He would also sign that year’s big free agent in David Price to a $217 million contract. Before the 2017 season, Chris Sale was acquired in a deal involving both Moncada and Kopech. Sale is one of the top pitchers in the game, but second half swoons have plagued him some. The question has become whether or not the slight build of Sale can survive all the way through a postseason run. Dombrowksi would also trace top pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza for starter Drew Pomeranz. Pomeranz would win 17 games in 2017 while Espinoza immediately succumbed to Tommy John surgery. In his two seasons as President of Baseball Operations, the Red Sox have won 93 games both seasons and the American League East title. But both seasons have ended in disappointment. Price contributed in the bullpen in the postseason and Sale had his difficulty in the postseason. The Red Sox have much of their over $200 million team salary locked into four starters, Price, Sale, Pomeranz and Porcello. And now, not much of a farm system to upgrade it.
So, here we are, entering the 2018 season and the fans want another run at a World Series. Alex Cora is the new manager and the pitching and hitting coaches have been replaced. But, unfortunately, David Ortiz has not. Fans want a big bat to help fill that void. But, the debate has been just how much of a void it is and at what cost do the Red Sox fill it. Remarkably, Dombrowski has not done much to change the roster from last year. Eduardo Nunez is a free agent and Dustin Pedroia could miss time recovering from injury. Relievers Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith should start the season as major pieces to the bullpen. Other than that, not much is different. Even Brock Holt is back, much to my chagrin. For a couple of months now, the Red Sox seem to be the main suitor for 30 year old slugger JD Martinez. But talks seem to be stagnant. In fact, a pretty good list of free agents seems to be in limbo.
All of this has led to some panic and anxiety from fans. Why hasn’t Dombrowski acted with more of a sense of urgency? If he doesn’t sign a big bat, does the team have enough to make a trade deadline deal or two in July? Or is Dombrowski handling this offseason better than we think? In the past, Dombrowski has been a win at all cost roster manager. And, in some ways, he has done it in Boston as well. But he hasn’t used his lack of a good farm system to overspend on a 30 year old who can’t field. That player quickly becomes a 34 year old who can’t hit sometimes. If you are Dombrowski, you have to rely on your core young talent to perform better than last year. He also has two players in Benintendi and Rafael Devers who now understand the pitching talent and rigorous 162 game schedule. They should continue to progress. Chris Sale is already talking about being more durable. Pomeranz is in a contract year and should be motivated. The bullpen should be excellent with many swing and miss arms.
But two of the most important players are Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, still under team control and very good, talented players. Having a manager with the energy and passion of Cora should help. Bogaerts is now healthy again. And, even though many fans are mad that the team offered Betts less in arbitration than he received, Betts still has a huge raise and a new outlook for this season. I look for both to have big seasons with something to prove. Depth is an issue with this team, but that may be addressed during spring training and the market finally gets settled. My main concern is what happens at the deadline. Do the Red Sox have enough to improve the club in July? With the 24th ranked farm system according to Baseball America, this remains to be seen. And judging by the resume of Dave Dombrowski, he will look to dip into it again…and again.
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