Dave Dombrowski brings a reputation with him to Fenway. As he acknowledged in his introductory press conference, he has spent better than a decade in Detroit, doing his all to put a World Series contender on the field every year. This is on some level true for almost all the big market teams in baseball, but it's a matter of degrees. The last 15 years of Red Sox baseball have been about not just contending in any given year, but contending in all of them, present and future, even if it meant giving up some percentage points in the current year.
The difference largely manifests itself in the utilization of the farm system. A big part of Dombrowski's reputation is that he has a penchant for trading prospects for major league talent. Say what you will about his success rate in doing so, or the extenuating circumstances, the simple fact is he's dealt away plenty of young players in his time.
This has raised the hackles of many a Red Sox fan. This, after all, is the fanbase that was sold on the concept of the "$100 million player development machine" so many years ago by Theo Epstein. And with so many exciting young players gracing both Fenway Park and Boston's system--or at least Greenville--these days, it's not hard to understand why some would be...concerned that Dombrowski is going to seriously hurt the team's future in order to push all-in on the next few years.
The bad news, at least for those standing closest to the cliff's edge: Dombrowski will trade some prospects. Probably more than you're comfortable with. Probably some you quite like. Hell, I'm at the point where I'd be surprise if Manuel Margot was in the organization next year.
The good news: most of the players you should really want to stay aren't prospects anymore. They're the core of what is now the current youth movement--not the next one--at the major league level. And they are exactly why now--which is to say 2016 and beyond--is as good a time as any for the Red Sox to win.
I speak, of course, of Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts. At least to start. Those two are the easiest to place, categorically speaking. Whether you're using advanced stats or just the old eye test, Betts and Bogaerts are already major contributors in Fenway, providing strong up-the-middle gloves and above-average bats with plenty of room for growth. They are not question marks, but exclamation points, and if Dombrowski were to trade either away, he'd have to know the immediate gains (assuming there were any) would be marginal and likely more than covered by differences in salary. Dombrowski has a lot of pieces to work with that wouldn't leave gaping holes in the majors; it doesn't even fit with his supposed philosophy to trade away guys of this caliber at this level.
Frankly, this may also be true of Blake Swihart. In part because he's hitting quite well in recent months after being called up too early by half (.314/.352/.419 since June 19), and in part because it's damn hard to find catching in the game today. Ryan Hanigan is pretty solid, and Christian Vazquez could probably partner with him just fine, but Vazquez is exactly the kind of player Dombrowski wouldn't trust over someone like Swihart, who's showing that there's something behind all that prospect hype by actually contributing in the majors.
So the Red Sox have these three players--all of them potentially stars, and all of them almost certainly at least solid major league contributors at bargain prices. Maybe throw in Eduardo Rodriguez or Brock Holt or Travis Shaw or Jackie Bradley Jr. or Henry Owens or Brian Johnson too. Those guys are less certain (though Rodriguez might very easily be in the other camp), and could just be in Dombrowski's sights. But if you can add even just one of them to the other category, that's four strong young players. That's the sort of core that signals to smaller market teams that the window is open, and now is the time to push, and push hard.
The Red Sox are no small market team, this is true. But that doesn't make it wrong to push in like one when the opportunity presents itself. Yes, if the Sox trade away good minor league players for major league help and sign, say, an ace to a long contract, they'll need to make adjustments at some point down the line to ensure they avoid an outright "rebuilding" period. But as we saw in 2014, even when you try the slow-and-steady approach, there are no guarantees. Sometimes the market does not line up to provide the proper answers, and minor leaguers either take a little while longer than expected to make the jump, or just burn out entirely. Say what you will about this past offseason for Ben Cherington, but the only way anyone turns 2014 into a good year is with precognition or, well, an all-in approach.
So yes, Dave Dombrowski may mark his first offseason in Fenway by trading away some of Boston's best young prospects. And if he takes this too far and sends the likes of Betts and/or Bogaerts away for anything shy of Mike Trout, I'll be right there raising the pitchforks with the rest of you. But if it's a Margot getting sent away. Owens, or Johnson, or Travis, or maybe even Rafael Devers, and the result is that we have a much better shot of wasting no more of the limited years of Bogaerts, Betts, and those who remain after all the dealing is done, then it may well be for the best.