Since the heyday of Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dustin Pedroia in 2007-2008, the Red Sox' farm system has gone surprisingly quiet. Jed Lowrie bounced around between All-Star and washout, Felix Doubront's star couldn't survive an offseason of conditioning issues, and our dynamic duo of right fielders are currently stuck in limbo after Reddick's late-season decline and Ryan Kalish's year-long vacation at Mass General. About the only impact player that has really emerged is Daniel Bard, and unless this year proves otherwise, he's only a bullpen arm.
Of course, the Sox have seen other products come out of the farm system. The man who plays first these days did not come from thin air, but from the sale of two of the most exciting prospects the team has seen in the last few years in Casey Kelly and Anthony Rizzo. Victor Martinez, too, came over for Justin Masterson amongst others. It's not that the farm system has been completely dry, just that between those trades, the bust of Lars, the unfortunate case of Ryan Westmoreland, and the injury-filled 2011 of Ryan Kalish, the Sox haven't seen much of an impact on the major league roster.
This offseason, the Sox are clearly not in a mood to stop shelling out their prospects for more established talent. Mark Melancon is probably basically what the Sox hope Weiland will become, and after Thursday's rumor fest surrounding Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey it seems only a matter of time before the Sox pull the trigger on another deal. But for a team that's seen so much success come from home-grown players, this has to make us question whether the Sox really know what they're doing, or if they're overreacting to 2011. Are we on the fast track to becoming the Mets with all these trade talks?
The difference between this offseason and the typical Red Sox trades are the targets and the stages their careers are at. Adrian Gonzalez and Victor Martinez were both picked up on the verge of free agency, as their initial contract extensions were coming to an end. The players that the Red Sox have been after this year are a bit unusual for a big-market team in just how affordable they are. Andrew Bailey, Gio Gonzalez, and Mark Melancon have not had one arbitration hearing between the three of them.
They are also, despite what Oakland may want you to think, not on the same level as an Adrian Gonzalez. If Gio came at a price as steep, it's only because his park and division gave his baseball card stats a bit of a superficial boost. The move seems to have been of the sort typical of the Nationals these days: an overpay to build legitimacy as a product. All-together, these are the sort of players who will fill out the roster of a championship team behind the true superstars like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Adrian Gonzalez.
This offseason could prove something of a turning point for the Red Sox. Two years out of the playoffs now, three without a postseason win, and Ben Cherington is trying to fix the financial mess he's been left with. It's tempting to ask the team to go even further over-the-top, and certainly there are plenty of fans who are angry over the team's unwillingness to commit to players like C.J. Wilson or make the trade for Gio, but those are the kinds of moves that got the team in trouble in the first place.
Right now the upper minors are a little questionable for the Sox, but it's about time the Sox got back to building that core of youth players that make the contracts of Gonzalez, Beckett, and Crawford (well, if he rebounds) viable. There's nothing wrong with trading a Weiland for a Melancon, but dealing a Lavarnway, Middlebrooks, or combo of Reddick/Kalish is another matter entirely. These are the players who will have to give us eight affordable years, replacing the eight digit contracts that have left the team so very inflexible these days. As much as Pedroia, Lester, and Youkilis remain bargains, their $30 million is no longer negligible. The same will be true of Gio Gonzalez before too long. There needs to be a fresh cycle at some point, or the team will be buried under their weight.
I recognize that teams don't want the Red Sox' rejects any more than we do, but the Sox don't have to be chasing after the overhyped guys like Gio Gonzalez right now. Players like Felix Doubront, Junichi Tazawa, and Che-Hsuan Lin aren't going to bring in stars, but what about a Gavin Floyd for a year, or someone like a Luke Hochevar to fill the back-end roles while the team tries to recover financially? They aren't exciting names, no, but the only way this offseason is going to be about exciting names is if the Sox dig themselves into a deeper hole (or get lucky on the way the market plays out with short-term deals).
It's time for the Sox to get back to doing things the way they had for much of the last decade, and to find that next wave of youth that will keep the team going. Because if they don't, as the savings of Lester/Pedroia/Ellsbury/Youkilis start to drop off, they're going to be in an even more difficult predicament than they are now.