Let’s get the obvious out of the way right off the bat, shall we? The Red Sox farm system is nowhere near where it was in terms of talent earlier in the decade when they were regularly among the best groups of minor leaguers in all of baseball. This is not necessarily something that is due to poor roster management, to be fair. It’s the natural progression of a farm system graduating a whole lot of top-tier talent in a short window and a competitive team failing to find impact prospects in hard-to-find places. It happens.
It should also be acknowledged, before I start getting into this, that I obviously have some bias when talking about the Red Sox farm system. That can work in both directions, to be fair. It is certainly a negative in that I am more likely to inflate a prospect I pay much more attention to relative to your typical minor leaguer from another organization. On the flip side, I pay closer attention to the minutiae here than, for example, a national public evaluator would. While these evaluators from national sites certainly have a better base of knowledge in this area, there is simply not enough time in the day for them to pay granular attention to every farm system in baseball. In other words, someone like most of us who pay close attention to the Red Sox system while largely ignoring the rest of the league will often notice a riser earlier than those with more of a national focus.
Okay, so now that the housekeeping is out of the way let’s get into the narrative at hand. Go on the ol’ Twitter machine and check out any rumor from a national writer about a player in which the Red Sox may be interested. The replies to said rumor are always the same: “They have nothing to trade.” It’s the most common sentiment around the Red Sox this trade deadline, as they clearly need some help from their bullpen. The perception among the general fan public, however, is that they simply don’t have the minor-league talent to get any sort of difference maker.
To be fair, that sentiment is not entirely unfair given the way prospects and farm systems are generally covered publicly. For the most part, major evaluations on public sites like Baseball America, Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus are done in the offseason. Granted, these are often updated as the year goes on and specifically around the All-Star break, but it’s the offseason lists that get the most attention. Ask any prospect writer about a list and you’ll likely hear a version of the same thing. “These lists are just a snapshot in time.” That is to say: The preseason lists are how things look on that date, but things are subject to change significantly throughout the year.
It can be easy to look at prospect and farm system rankings from the offseason and just assume that’s the way they change all year. And, to be fair, it’s not entirely false. Even the biggest risers and fallers probably aren’t making that significant of a jump or drop in just a few months. In the Red Sox case, they were widely seen as one of, if not the, worst farm systems in baseball. They were largely bereft of top-100 names, outside of Michael Chavis on some lists. Chavis, of course, is no longer a prospect. Ipso facto, they have nothing to trade.
There are two points to make to counter this argument that you’ll see with regards to any Red Sox trade rumor. The first is about the Red Sox farm system specifically. Now, as I said above, they have not made any sort of truly significant jump this year. We are not suddenly talking about a top ten, or probably even top twenty, system in baseball. In fact, Fangraphs still has them as the worst system in the game.
That, however, is just one measure and also a measure of the group as a whole rather than individual potential trade chips. For example, take a look at Baseball America’s top 100. The Red Sox currently have three players on the back-end of their list in Triston Casas, Bryan Mata and Bobby Dalbec.
That doesn’t include Jarren Duran, either, who represented the team in the Futures Game and was on an earlier version of this list. It doesn’t include Thad Ward, whose stock is rising with each and every start. It doesn’t include Tanner Houck or Darwinzon Hernandez, two close-to-the-majors arms who seemingly have a floor of at least a useful major-league reliever. It doesn’t include Jay Groome, a guy who has seen that list many times and still has the potential he showed when he was a potential 1-1 selection. It doesn’t include Antoni Flores, Gilberto Jimenez, Nick Decker, Brandon Howlett or Nicholas Northcut, all raw and flawed but very talented low-minors players.
The point being: There are pieces that should draw interest from other teams. Now, again, this is all relative to the perception of the system. There’s no doubt this team is lacking a true, top-tier talent that may be required for the very top of the trade market. They don’t have the prospects for someone like Noah Syndergaard, for example, without dipping into the major-league roster. That’s probably true for Edwin Díaz as well.
However, that brings us to the next point. We don’t really know what the trade market is going to look like. It seems like a whole lot of trades this time of year end up costing less than what we expect. That could be different this year with it seemingly being a market heavily in favor of sellers, but then we saw our first major deal made on Sunday. That deal sent Marcus Stroman to the Mets for a return that was....not as impactful as many expected. New York did send two good pitching prospects, but neither of them were the high-end, impact players the Red Sox are missing. They are in a similar tier, in fact, of the many prospects the Red Sox have at the top of their system. All of that was enough to get one of the best starting pitchers on the market with a year and a half of control. Presumably, that would be roughly enough to get some of the best relievers on the market with similar control as well. Granted, you can’t judge an entire trade market by one individual deal, but it provides the only road map we have.
Now, back to the question at hand. Is the farm system really as bad as people say? I guess the answer depends on how you’re looking at it. Compared to other systems as a whole does it rank near the bottom of the league? Yeah, probably. Does that mean the Red Sox don’t have enough to get the impact reliever many of us feel they need to make this roster really work? It does not.