For one moment, pretend you are Ben Cherington and you are on the phone with Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn. After months of secret negotiation without any leaks to the media and public indication that they weren't interested in a trade, Hahn is on the verge of accepting a trade for White Sox ace Chris Sale.
There's just one more hurdle to clear.
"Your package is great. The deal is done with one caveat," Hahn says (hypothetically). "Give me either Xander Bogaerts or Mookie Betts."
"Let me get back to you," you (as Cherington) say as he ends the call, places you phone on the table and let out an enormous sigh. You're ready to do the deal, but you have to make a decision: do you keep Betts or Bogaerts?
Betts and Bogaerts represent two of the most well-regarded position player prospects the Red Sox have developed in a long time. While both players bring very different skill sets to the table and play different (very important) positions, they are both considered untouchable in a trade. There is an extremely high chance (although never say never) that both players will be playing for the Red Sox on Opening Day, but this situation brings up a question: if you had to give up one of Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, who would you give up?
To come to a conclusion on this (incredibly hypothetical) situation, one must measure the current value profile of each of the players.
Xander Bogaerts is one of the most promising young shortstops in the game. While his rookie season on the whole did not go as well as expected, Bogaerts showed flashes of brilliance, displaying the potential that made him a top-2 prospect in all of baseball. There were times where Bogaerts displayed the raw, natural power that tantalizes scouts, especially coming from the shortstop position at a time where power is scarce across baseball.
That being said, there are concerns with Bogaerts. The root of many of Bogaerts' struggles came as a result of his difficulty recognizing pitches and timing the breaking ball. Bogaerts' defense is also suspect. While both scouts and the Red Sox coaching staff recognized the significant strides the 22 year old made at the position after the trade of Stephen Drew, the concerns subsist.
One rival scout noted that Bogaerts' swing tends to get long at times and, despite his elite bat speed, can get him into trouble. Bogaerts still projects to get on base at a high clip and his blips of success suggest that he can succeed at the major league level. Despite these concerns, it is widely expected that Bogaerts does become that franchise cornerstone that many projected him to become. He is, after all, still just 22.
Betts finds himself in a different position to Bogaerts, similar to where the latter was prior to the 2014 season. After coming up and finding consistent playing time in the Red Sox lineup, Betts dominated at the plate, displaying his whip-like bat speed at the plate and his athleticism on the bases and in the outfield as he continues to learn a new position.
Where Betts really stands out is his otherworldly hand-eye coordination. Betts has a remarkable ability to swing at strikes, and only strikes. He waits to find his pitch and solely swings at those pitches (consider him the anti-Pablo Sandoval). His ability to recognize his pitch and drive it with his extra-base power stood out. One American League East scout said that he "wouldn't be surprised if Betts ends up as the best player on the Red Sox by the end of the 2015 season." He has the potential to be that good.
Bogaerts represents the player with the highest ceiling, a player that, if he reaches his full potential, has the capability to be among the most valuable players in baseball due to the scarcity of offensive prowess at shortstop and his prodigious power. Bogaerts' stock is slightly down after a lackluster season, but it's important to remember that that same stock started at a place that was higher that Betts' prospect stock at its highest point.
Betts' stock as a young prospect is as high as its ever been after his performance in 2014 and he clearly is a special talent. The decision between Betts and Bogaerts really boils down to one thing: choosing a prospect that has less potential volatility in regards to success but a slightly lower ceiling (and it's important to remember relativity in this situation) or a player that has the potential to be a top-5 hitter in baseball with a higher range between ceiling and floor.
While risk is slightly higher for Bogaerts that he doesn't reach his full potential than it is for Betts, it's important to consider positional relativity in this situation (which plays a major factor in calculating Wins Above Replacement). Bogaerts occupies a position where elite hitting is extremely scarce. So while Betts has the chance to be a star, it is ever-so-slightly easier to find an elite hitter to play an outfield position than it is to fill a high-skill position such as shortstop.
Ultimately, it's really a toss up, a coin flip and a hypothetical situation that the Red Sox likely will not encounter this offseason. It is, however, always fun to wonder.