It happens to every team: an exciting prospect makes his way up through the minors, is declared the future of the team, and proceeds to spend the rest of their career bouncing back-and-forth between the bench and Triple-A. They linger in the background of the team for years as embarrassing reminders of misplaced faith, poking their heads out as long shot possibilities whenever the team is in desperate need at one position or another. If you've ever said "Maybe this is the year [Player X] puts it all together," that's who we're talking about.
The Red Sox are no exception to the rule, and over the past few years had acquired their share of top prospects gone wrong:
- Ryan Lavarnway started his major league career with two homers that, at the time, seemed poised to save a 2011 season fated to become an all-time disaster. One year later and he was all but written off after a 2012 season every bit as bad as the Red Sox'.
- Will Middlebrooks was the one bright light in that otherwise lost year, and seemed likely to be manning the hot corner for years to come after hitting .288/.325/.509 before his wrist was broken. His most noteworthy accomplishment since? Ending Game 3 of the 2013 World Series with an obstruction call.
- Allen Webster's place in Red Sox history is secure, but it's because of the payroll-saving trade he was part of that freed up the Sox to do what they did in 2013. As an actual pitcher, he had slotted in as one of the team's best prospects, and then produced some of the worst starts this organization has seen in years
What do these three players have in common? Over the past few months, the Red Sox have sent all three away. Lavarnway was designated for assignment, eventually making his way to the Orioles (the team he made that big debut against in 2011), while Will Middlebrooks and Allen Webster were traded for Ryan Hanigan and Wade Miley respectively.
Also gone: Anthony Ranaudo and Rubby De La Rosa. Neither one quite fits the bill yet, but both were in dangerous territory. Rubby De La Rosa is three years removed, now, from his strong stint with Los Angeles in 2011. And while he has a Tommy John Surgery in there to excuse things, he underwhelmed in 100 innings with the Red Sox this year after getting off to a strong start.
Ranaudo, on the other hand, has yet to really get a long enough time in the majors to prove himself one way or the other. But his prospect career was rife with injuries and letdowns, only turning around in the last couple years. And however superlative his minor league numbers may have been of late, the early returns at the highest level were not encouraging. This sentiment about summed it up:
@RedSox_Thoughts But none of us have to pretend Ranaudo is a major-league pitcher anymore, and that’s the greatest gift of all.— Brendan O'Toole (@unexpectedbass) January 27, 2015
Keith Law ranks five Sox prospects in top 100
You can probably guess who at least a few of them are, but there are some exciting new entries on the list as well.
None of this, of course, is in any way a positive for the Red Sox, however we might frame it. There are hundreds of players like this floating around baseball, and if 90% of them will never figure anything out and another 9% only ever manage to be bench players, there's still that 1% that does get it together. Guys like Randy Johnson and--closer to home--David Ortiz do exist (though Ortiz' pre-Boston numbers are not so bad as they're often made out to be). By shuffling these players off to Texas and Arizona and San Diego the only thing the Red Sox can be sure of is that, on the off chance they do figure it out, they won't do so in Boston.
But if this clearing out can't be considered addition by subtraction, the helpful bonus to fans' sanity is a nice cherry on top. These moves were not made to keep Ben Cherington out of awkward encounters in the halls of Fenway Park, after all. The Red Sox have added a starting pitcher, a backup (or super-sub) catcher, and a lefty reliever in return. If Wade Miley's ground balls prove as effective as the Red Sox hope, we'll be talking about his ERA in August, not the blissful absence of Allen Webster's.
That being said...for now, with all the stats at zero, it's nice to be able to look at Boston's 40-man roster and not have to think about whether this is the year that Allen Webster learns how to locate. Or Will Middlebrooks figures out how to take a pitch. Or hoping against hope that nobody so much as mentions Ryan Lavarnway in the same sentence as "catcher". Being a fan can be stressful enough without having to deal with the ghosts of seasons past.