There is a small but dishearteningly vocal minority that would disagree with the notion that Boston is currently in the midst of a win-now window. Most of us, though, would obviously acknowledge that this is the case. This is why Dave Dombrowski is here, as he is not really someone you call upon when you’re looking for a rebuild. Instead, he is known for doing what it takes to get the players who ostensibly should be able to get a team over the top. That doesn’t always work out, of course, and there are plenty of people who disagree with Dombrowski’s process, or at least some individual moves. Most of this comes down to the fact that much of Dombrowski’s process involves sacrificing the farm system. This has come into play this winter as the Red Sox haven’t really had the farm system to compete in some trade scenarios. With that in mind, I want to kind of take a basic look at the team’s farm right now.
We will, as always, take a deeper look into the farm system after the New Year when we start our prospect ranking series and get ready for the 2018 season. In the meantime, though, I want to zoom out a bit and take a more general look at the state of the system. This is a time of year when farm systems are in the forefront of everyone’s minds between the continuously rolling farm system rankings as well as trades around the league with one team almost always getting prospects. It’s brought some discussion to the forefront regarding Dombrowski’s performance to this point in his Red Sox tenure and how it has affected the team’s prospect ranks. So, I want to focus on how we got to this point with Boston’s farm system and how avoidable it was, how bad things really are, and how the team can go about improving it.
Let’s start with that first point and check out how the Red Sox got to this point where they are at least in the bottom half of the league’s farm system rankings. To start, there is obviously the tragic passing of Daniel Flores earlier this winter. It should go without saying that the baseball ramifactions are the least important part of this tragedy, but they exist. Dombrowski’s trades in recent years are also obviously a huge part of this, particularly as he’s dealt for Craig Kimbrel and Chris Sale. Those deals saw top prospects like Manuel Margot, Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech change teams. Of course, Boston got elite stars in return, so dealing top prospects is to be expected. The issue many have with Dombrowski is that he always seems to give up an extra piece in deals. That would include Logan Allen (from the Kimbrel deal), Mauricio Dubon (from the Tyler Thornburg deal) and Luis Alexander Basabe (from the Sale deal). There are a couple of key points here. For one thing, we don’t know that the deal could have been done without these players. It’s been said enough that it seems like fact, but we really have no way of knowing. There is also the fact that all of these players, while fine, are not exactly elite-level prospects.
This brings me to my next point as we look at the state of the system. I will not deny that Boston’s farm system is in a relatively rough spot, particularly when compared to how big of a strength this was for the team earlier in the decade. That being said, having guys like Allen, Dubon or Basabe wouldn’t really improve the group by all that much. None of those players are likely to be top-100 prospects moving forward, and it’s top-end talent that Boston is missing in my eyes. Jason Groome is a top-100 guy and I think Michael Chavis will sneak on to most lists, too, but beyond that there isn’t much. What the Red Sox do have are those solid depth pieces that those “extra throw-ins” would be. Bryan Mata, Josh Ockimey, Jalen Beeks and Darwinzon Hernandez are just a few of the good but not great players that make up the middle segment of the Red Sox farm system. Allen would probably be on the high-end of this group and it’d be great to have all three of those players, but I don’t think they’d improve the system’s biggest weakness.
That brings us to the final portion of this program: The next step. While the major-league roster should continue to be the focus and the team needs to try and win a championship, keeping a solid farm system around at all times only helps that goal. Unfortunately, there isn’t really a clear path for the Red Sox to improve the group. Jackie Bradley Jr. is the only plausible trade candidate who could bring back significant help for the farm system, but that would probably hurt the major-league roster too much to make sense. Beyond him, the only possible trade candidates on the major-league roster would be either Blake Swihart or Sandy Leon, and neither of them have enough trade value to make a significant impact. Instead, the team needs to focus on free agents this winter and keep what they have in the system. Additionally, they need to make smart choices in the draft and on the international market. This is obvious, but it’s the only way to improve the system right now. It also has to hope for some breakouts from its current crop of prospects. They got one from Chavis in 2017, and there is some potential for it to happen again in 2018. We’ll go deeper into this area as the winter moves on, but off the top of my head Mata, Tanner Houck and Bobby Dalbec are some guys who could see significant rise in their stock next year.
At the end of the day, Dombrowski gets a lot of blame for the Red Sox farm system but the cost has seemingly been worth it so far. The high-end talent has been dealt for truly elite pieces, and the mid-tier “extra” pieces probably wouldn’t make a massive difference to the current farm system. This is all without even including the mass graduation of elite talent to the major-league club in recent years. Now, the real challenge for Dombrowski and the developmental team begin. The Red Sox are focusing on the here and now, but with some luck and smart management they can get back up towards the top half of the minor-league rankings as well.