Sometimes you see a trade that just makes you want to scream. One that is such an obvious win for one side that you can't help but wonder how your team didn't get in on that action, offering something slightly better to poach that bargain from the other team.
For the last 15 months, I've wondered how, exactly, the Red Sox allowed the Detroit Tigers to trade for Doug Fister when the price was Charlie Furbush, Casper Wells, Francisco Martinez, and Chance Ruffin--not one of them a top prospect. A few days ago, John Tomase finally provided an answer, if not necessarily a satisfying one: they would not let go of Ryan Lavarnway.
It's hard to look at this without allowing current knowledge to affect the final judgement. To be fair, Doug Fister and Ryan Lavarnway have had very different years. Fister has reaffirmed his position as a strong American League starter, while Ryan Lavarnway has looked a mess behind the plate, and had his ability to hit major league pitching come into question.
Still, one year ago Fister was still a 25-year-old showing promising results and with a profile that would seem to fit Fenway perfectly, and Ryan Lavarnway was an all-bat catcher who had yet to make that all-important jump from minors to majors that Fister had cleared convincingly.
Keep in mind that this deal would have been made in the midst of a fantastic summer for the 2011 Red Sox--a team which seemed sure to make the playoffs. The only question for that bunch was whether or not the starting pitching would hold up without Clay Buchholz, particularly come October. Yes, they ended up getting Erik Bedard, which was a solid and sensible deal, just not exactly a guarantee given how little he'd played that year and his lengthy history of injuries.
That they didn't pull the trigger on Fister makes me wonder if this was Theo missing the trees for the forest. The farm system had been hit hard by the Adrian Gonzalez deal, and this was a team that had spent the last five years hanging its hat on the player development machine that had produced Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz, Jonathan Papelbon, and Jacoby Ellsbury. To dump Lavarnway would really be the death blow, leaving the system almost devoid of talent outside of Anthony Ranaudo. Remember, this was before Middlebrooks had fully asserted himself, after Iglesias had earned his question marks, and during Felix Doubront's lost year. Ryan Kalish topped the system despite having lost a fair bit of momentum to injury.
Now, normally I'm the last person to criticize conservation of prospects, but Fister's situation is exactly the sort of deal which requires some serious consideration, because it may as well be a prospect-for-prospect trade financially. The goal of the farm system is always to produce young, affordable talent, and that's exactly what Fister was and remains.
Who can say what these last two years would have been like had Theo pulled the trigger on Lavarnway for Fister? I suspect that it would be a prettier picture, but it's impossible to do anything more than speculate. Still, it was an opportunity missed, and one that has yet to be really rectified given the holes remaining in the rotation. Having a strong farm system is all well and good--it's great, in fact--but the Sox can't miss the trees for the forest. There are no trophies handed out for having excellent prospects.