As Keith Law continues to unveil his yearly prospect #content, he got up to his annual farm system rankings on Friday. It is one of his more anticipated pieces of work every year and he takes into account everyone’s entire minor-league system and, well, he ranks them. In recent years, Boston has been quite high on these lists as they’ve consistently had an enviable stable of prospects. This year, however, they fell all the way down to 24th after coming in at 16th a year ago. According to Law, it is the lowest they’ve been since he started ranking farm systems. You can see the list in its entirety here.
I’ll start by getting the negatives out of the way, because while I think some people tend to overrate these types of lists it’s certainly not good to be ranked this poorly. While prospects don’t always pan out and teams who rank highly on these types of lists don’t always turn into juggernauts, it’s obviously better to have a more highly regarded farm system. Not only does it allow a team to continuously replenish its active roster with good young talent, but it gives them more appealing trade chips to add veteran talent to a roster that is one or two pieces away from being a true championship contender. Prospects are key for building sustainable success, and that’s true for multiple reasons.
That being said, I suspect the reaction to Boston’s fall in these rankings will probably be a little over the top. For one thing, these things are inherently cyclical and the Red Sox are at the bottom of a cycle. The league’s new rules have been built to harm big-market teams who win, and that’s been the Red Sox. Between stricter draft penalties that make sure teams like Boston can no longer simply buy the best prospects who would otherwise skip MLB for college and stricter international signing rules, the Red Sox have fewer avenues with which to flex their financial muscle. Particularly with that international signing market, they not only faced regular penalties for exceeding their allotted slot value, but also missed another year of that market due to illegally manipulating markets. Now, of course, there is a hard cap, and the player on whom they spent the most money this year passed away after the season. Clearly, Daniel Flores’ passing was more important in other contexts besides the Red Sox’ farm system rankings, but it bears mentioning in this conversation.
Even with all of that, Dave Dombrowski is not going to skirt responsibility, particularly in an offseason where the perception has been that he has been sitting on his hands. For one thing, the Yankees have one of the game’s best systems despite consistently winning and playing in a large market. Of course, they also had a fire sale a few years ago at the trade deadline while the Red Sox were winning a division, so that’s a major difference that shifts the scales in their favor. People will also point to him making too many trades that depleted the farm system, but Michael Kopech is the only clear top-100 prospect he’s dealt. Manuel Margot and Yoan Moncada are also outstanding young players, of course, but he got stars for all three players mentioned above and managed to hold on to Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers. That, essentially, cancels out Margot and Moncada since Boston didn’t have room for all of them. Among the other prospects he’s dealt, players like Anderson Espinoza, Javier Guerra and Luis Alexander Basabe have seen their stock fall precipitously, while Logan Allen has seen his rise modestly. Ultimately, Dombrowski has traded plenty of talent but it’s not as bad as his reputation would suggest.
The final point to make here is the one that is made every year, and it’s that the Red Sox still have a ton of young talent that graduated relatively soon. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are still in their age-25 seasons. Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers are even younger, and Eduardo Rodriguez gives them an exciting young pitcher in his age-25 season. It’s true that Boston doesn’t have six years of control on all of these players as they would a prospect, but they also have the inside track in locking them up long-term (or at least that’d be the hope) and theoretically these players should only get better rather than worse. Having that much young talent out of the farm system would hurt anyone. The Red Sox have work to do to get back up to the upper half of these rankings, and it will take good drafting (and for what it’s worth Law said Boston had one of the best drafts in baseball last summer) and smart international signings to get there. Ranking 24th here is far from ideal, but it’s not the end of the world that some would suggest it is.