"At some point we're going to most likely do something that is painful. But if you're trying to get quality talent, you're going to have to do that."
Those were the words of Dave Dombrowski on November 12th. One day later, the Sox would ship prospects Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, Logan Allen, and Carlos Asuaje to San Diego for closer Craig Kimbrel. It was a steep price for a reliever in a market replete with excellent free agent options, but not the one Red Sox fans had been expecting after Dombrowski's warning. Surely there was more to come. This was simply the prelude to the system-shattering trades on the horizon. Yoan Moncada, Anderson Espinoza, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers--the question wasn't so much if the Red Sox were open to dealing their top prospects, but just how many they'd finish the offseason with.
Well, there's still a ways to go before spring training, but the Red Sox don't seem to have any more big offseason moves queued up, and all four of those names are still within the organization. In fact, it doesn't seem like the Red Sox came particularly close to moving any of them. They signed David Price to get their ace, and added Carson Smith by trading Wade Miley. We never heard anything about them being particularly close on, say, Jose Fernandez, the Chapman talks ended with the introduction of Moncada's name (and the discovery of domestic abuse allegations), and there's no indication they were willing to play in the realm of Arizona's insane offer for Shelby Miller.
Hell, Dave Dombrowski didn't even give up Boston's draft pick. The David Price contract is certainly a break from the team's recent philosophy, but on a larger scale the Red Sox' President of Baseball Operations has been about as conservative with the team's young players as his predecessors.
There are two ways to look at this, and they are hardly mutually exclusive. The first: it's an unqualified positive that Dombrowski has solved Boston's biggest problems without dealing away the team's young talent. The second: those painful trades may still be in store come July.
After all, just because the Red Sox have managed to hold onto their most valuable assets through the busiest portion of one offseason with Dombrowski doesn't necessarily change them from trade chips to cornerstones of the future. And as it stands, the Red Sox are very likely to need some help come the trade deadline. Make no mistake, they are set up to contend right now, and are probably favorites to lead the AL East headed into July. But if they do manage that, it will likely be while dragging some dead weight on their roster.
Whether that comes from Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval (side note: the joke is obvious, uninspired, and beneath you. Do not make it), Rick Porcello, Rusney Castillo, or the fifth starter committee, there's clearly a few uncertain roster spots for the Sox. The Sox can expect that some of them will break the right way, but not all of them. And for those that do not, there might well be nobody able to step in and contribute. And that's when the Red Sox might find themselves dipping into their prospect stores.
And really, the approach makes plenty of sense for this Red Sox team. It's a team full of players who could be All-Stars, or just completely untenable. Blowing their assets to replace a scattershot selection of them in the offseason wouldn't make much sense. Yes, the Red Sox could have done something strange and ended up replacing Pablo Sandoval and Rusney Castillo at the cost of their farm system. But where would they be if Sandoval and Castillo ended up being the ones to bounce back while Hanley Ramirez and Rick Porcello were awful? This way, they'll at least get a few months of games in 2016 to see who's got it and who doesn't before making any big decisions.
Rodriguez looks to take the next step in 2016
The Red Sox need someone to step up to form a strong one-two punch with David Price. With a few adjustments, Eduardo Rodriguez can be that guy.
This does come at a cost. By July, Sandoval and Ramirez had both already cost the Red Sox quite a bit with their terrible play. But the Sox are hoping they can take a couple rough performances on the chin thanks to a relatively weak AL East and a roster with plenty of top-end talent. And this way, if they get to the halfway point and get a better idea of who really needs to be replaced, they can give themselves the best possible team headed into the games that matter most, hopefully in October. The Sox trade some certainty for uncertainty in the short-term, but put themselves in position to maximize the quality of the final product.
And there's always the hope that they don't need to move any of these guys. It's overly optimistic to hope that all of Boston's big question marks either bounce back or find internal answers, but it's not hard to imagine that the Sox find themselves more in need of a mid-level answer than a blockbuster come the deadline. And in that case, they'll be happy to head into the offseason with Moncada et. al still in hand. If it costs them a couple wins in those early months, that's a small price to pay for the extra information.
But do recognize that, just because the Sox have cleared their first major hurdles under Dave Dombrowski without trading from their top tier of prospects, that doesn't mean the farm system is suddenly sacrosanct. The time will almost certainly come when Dave Dombrowski does make that painful trade. The hope is that it's not made just to push the Red Sox from bottom-feeders to contenders, but from contenders to favorites. And hopefully for a while to come.