The Red Sox have a young and productive big-league lineup. That’s great! The Red Sox also have a promising farm system with some real high-end talents in it. That’s also great! These two facts can't live side-by-side forever, though, at least not in their current form. At some point, those prospects will be ready for the bigs, and they might not all have a place to play. That’s where trades come in: as much as it might upset those waiting to see the careers of these prospect play out in Boston, a trade or two is bound to come eventually.
And that's okay! A trade (or trades) would improve the current Sox, who are tied for first in a competitive AL East. The rotation or bullpen could be shored up, there could be a lineup upgrade to solve on of the few problem areas on the roster — a lot could get done with a trade. Yes, any deal would cost prospects, but that’s part of what they exist for. Prospects are there to fill holes, whether they fill them themselves or by being traded for someone who can.
That’s not to say the Red Sox should trade all of their prospects or anything like that. Dealing all the kids would have kept them from this current roster with Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, and more. There are only so many roster spots, though, and the lineup is mostly set for the next few years, if not longer than that. So, figuring out which prospects the team can live without -- as the Red Sox did when they sent Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, Carlos Asuaje, and Logan Allen to the Padres for Craig Kimbrel this past offseason — is key. Yes, Kimbrel was expensive, but that’s because he's Craig Kimbrel. And the Sox still, even after dealing Margot, have a glut of outfield talents in their organization.
Let’s look at that and other gluts to see where Boston stands. Jackie Bradley and Mookie Betts are two of the most important players on the Sox, and both are under contract through 2020. That’s two of the three outfield spots filled. Right now, Blake Swihart is in the other outfield spot, but top prospect Andrew Benintendi is in Double-A, starting to heat up, and could very well be ready for the majors sometime in 2017. Plus, Swihart is just in left for now since the Red Sox need someone there while Brock Holt is injured. Is Swihart’s future behind the plate? That’s unclear given Christian Vazquez’s defense is exponentially superior, but his bat is also well behind Swihart’s.
Swihart could be a full-time left fielder for the Red Sox given his bat and athleticism if Boston wants to stick with defense behind the plate, but what then of Benintendi? Swihart also isn't the only major youth without a true position at this time, as Yoan Moncada -- the top prospect in the system — is a second baseman who might never play there in the big leagues.
Moncada is currently at the keystone for High-A Salem, but Dustin Pedroia is not only in Boston, but still thriving at 32 and under contract at a reasonable rate through 2021. Third base isn't exactly open, as Travis Shaw has succeeded in his year-plus in the majors. Shaw might have the bat for first base, but his recent slump is a reminder that he could be a better fit at third, anyway. That leaves Sam Travis and Hanley Ramirez to fight over first base in 2017, but maybe not really, since Ramirez can replace David Ortiz as the team's designated hitter. And if Travis isn't ready to begin next season at first after tearing his ACL this season, a one-year deal to a free agent might keep the position full, anyway.
Any solution that isn’t Travis is potentially a temporary one, and if they find a long-term solution that isn’t Travis, then suddenly he’s available to trade.
Shortstop is the one position without significant depth or questions, but it’s not without it entirely thanks to Marco Hernandez — a prospect whose presence made it easier to deal Asuaje. And the position is primarily manned by Xander Bogaerts, who might very well be the team’s best overall player.
Room will eventually need to be made for Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi. Room might also eventually need to be made for Blake Swihart, especially given the presence of Benintendi. Where is this room going to come from? That's unclear right now, but it’s even more reason to be okay with making a trade that deals from one of Boston’s strengths: the farm system.
You can't predict four or five or six years into the future with any real certainty, but there is a chance that once the Sox outfield adds Benintendi, then they have their alignment set for the rest of the decade. There is now a line of third baseman in the organization that might even be a little too crowded, given Shaw isn't a free agent until after 2021.
If Shaw fails to keep up the pace he’s been on in his 127 big-league games, then at least Rafael Devers and Michael Chavis are already in the organization, and Moncada is in need of a position switch. Even Swihart might be an option there, given he was a catcher, and transitioning from behind the plate to the hot corner with his athleticism isn’t a rarity or a move bereft of success stories. Hell, the man who has gone unmentioned here to this point, Pablo Sandoval, pulled it off, and no one is confusing him with Swihart anytime soon.
There is no shortage of options for filling holes as they are created, and that’s why the Sox are in a position to deal prospects for big-league help in the meantime. Swihart could be the centerpiece of a deal for Julio Teheran, who is under contract through 2019 with a $12 million option for 2020. He could be dealt to the Brewers for Jonathan Lucroy, who has a 121 OPS+ over the last five seasons to go along with some of the greatest defensive prowess behind the plate in the game — he’s also under contract through 2017, and is young enough to extend so it doesn’t just feel like a short-term rental.
Swihart, given he’s just 24 and has had some measure of success at the plate despite being called up before he was ready, still has plenty of value attached to him. It doesn’t have to be Teheran or Lucroy, but he could be a center piece for a whole lot of plausible Sox trades that help them win both now and later.
And if not Swihart, then maybe Devers — do the Sox need to have Shaw and Moncada and Chavis and Devers all in the same organization? Some prospect (or, in the case of Swihart, young major leaguer) is going to end up traded eventually to fill one hole or another. And it’s going to be disappointing, given the emotional investment you’ve made and the future you've dreamed up, but it’s not necessarily going to be a bad thing in reality where the games are actually played. In that reality, the roster is crowded, and likely to end up more so before long.
This all belongs in the Good Problem To Have bin. The Sox have so much young talent already thriving in the majors that it makes sense for them to trade some of what hasn’t established itself at a time when an upgrade here and there could be the difference between watching the playoffs from the dugout or from home. This isn’t a team one piece away desperately trying to win with an aging core, a now-or-never nightmare that could haunt the organization for years. This is the Red Sox already showing what a strong system can do with the likes of Bogaerts, Betts, Bradley, and more. Now they just need to fill in the blanks utilizing some prospects in the other way they contribute to teams: by playing for a different one.