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No Pressure, Dudes

But, um, the entire Red Sox organization is counting on you.

2024 Boston Red Sox Rookie Development Workout Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

The zoomers won’t believe this, but there was an era not all that long ago (within my own lifetime!) when we as baseball fans knew almost nothing about prospects. A couple of times a year Peter Gammons might toss a few lines about Frankie Rodriguez into his Sunday notes column; or if you flipped to the back of the program at Fenway, you’d find a single page on the farm system promising you that Donnie Sadler, Jeff Suppan, and Steve Lomasney were all destined for Cooperstown. But that was it! There was no Soxprospects.com or FanGraphs; there was no Futures Game. Most fans didn’t even hear of any Red Sox rookies until they flipped to Channel 38 one night and, oh look at that, there’s a new kid in the Sox lineup tonight, let’s see if he’s any good.

The internet allowed a whole new prospect content economy to emerge almost over night, and thank Pedro it did — following prospects is fun! I’ve always been a big prospect nerd, even way back when I had to dig through the program just to learn their names.

Nowadays, though, most Red Sox fans pay at least a little attention to the farm system, enough to know the biggest prospects, anyway. And I suppose that’s a good thing because, yesterday, the Red Sox brass finally admitted a truth that had been made fairly obvious by their actions over the last four years: the Red Sox are officially in wait for the kids mode.

In case you missed it, both Craig Breslow and Tom Werner spoke to the media yesterday and conceeded that, not only will the Red Sox not be going full throttle this offseason, but it seems like they don’t even want the throttle anymore and have listed it on Craigslist. For sale: payroll throttle, never used.

Here’s Tom Werner, backtracking like Coco Crisp in the 2007 ALCS:

Maybe that wasn’t the most artful way of saying what I wanted to say, which is that we’re going to be pressing all levers to improve the team. In the end, nobody’s happy with our performance the last few years. Some years, we go after somebody who is about to be a free agent, or was a free agent, as it pertains to Trevor Story or Raffy Devers.

We felt very strongly that we were going to compete for [Japanese free agent Yoshinobu] Yamamoto’s services. But in the end, he went to another team. But we felt were in the mix and we were going to be competitive. We certainly aren’t happy with the current roster as it was at the end of last year, so if I was going to say it again, I would say that we’re going to be pressing all levers and weren’t going to be happy with just one [method] — that includes free agency, trades or talent from Triple and Double A. I think that’s really what I meant.

In the end, we don’t have a line in terms of our payroll that we look at as much as trusting that Craig [Breslow] is going to deliver on his assurance that we’re going to be competitive.

And here’s Craig Breslow, the man whom Werner kinda/sorta throws under the bus at the end there, telling everyone to pump the brakes:

As I’ve gotten to know this organization better through the conversations I’ve had with ownership, they absolutely are still supportive of assembling a World Series team as quickly as we possibly can.

But I think the reality is that it’s going to require a step forward from the young position players. It’s going to require the build-out of a talent pipeline of arms that we can acquire, we draft, and we can develop internally.

And it’s going to require aggressive player development in the minor leagues and the major leagues so guys that we think are the next wave — Mayer and Anthony and Teel, that group — are not just big leaguers but impact big leaguers.

The convergence of all those pieces is the fastest path to a World Series team . . . We want to build this thing in a way that there’s not just quality once in a while but there’s quality paired with consistency.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and I’m tempted to start with the ludicrous claim that creating a talent pipeline of internally developed players is the “fastest path to a World Series team.” It plainly is not. It’s the cheapest path to building a winner — and if your owner insists on resetting the luxury tax at regular intervals, then it’s also probably the best way to achieve sustained success — but it is absolutely not the fastest path. I know this because, uhh, THE WORLD SERIES CHAMPION TEXAS RANGERS EXIST! I’ve seen them! Right there on my television!

In 2021, the Rangers won just 60 games. Two years later, they won the World Series. They did not turn around the franchise by patiently building a player development pipeline; they did it by paying good baseball players a fair market wage for their services. The top four Rangers by bWAR — Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Adolis Garcia, and Nate Eovaldi — were all acquired via cash transactions, Semien and Seager signing massive free agent deals, Eovaldi signing for a more modest but still significant outlay, and Garcia coming to Texas in a trade that sent nothing but money back to the Cardinals on the other end of the deal. Jonah Heim (sixth on the team in bWAR) was acquired from the A’s in a trade that was effectively a salary dump, as the Rangers sent $13 million in cash to Oakland and took on Khris Davis’s salary, while sending Elvis Andrus and a replacement player the other way. Nate Lowe (eighth on the team in bWAR) was acquired for prospects, after he started to get too expensive for the Rays. And Jon Gray (tenth on the team in bWAR and third amongst pitchers) was another significant free agent signing.

So, no, building a talent pipeline is not the fastest way to win a World Series, and Craig Breslow almost certainly knows that.

But, regardless, that is not the path the Red Sox are going to be taking, apparently. Jordan Montgomery and Blake Snell are not walking through that door. Instead, it looks like they are going to stay out of the deep end of the free agent pool until the big three of Marcelo Mayer, Roman Anthony, and Kyle Teel arrive.

This brings us back to the discussion about the prospect content economy. Because the truth is that, even though we now know much more about prospects than ever before, we seem to collectively struggle to understand just how unlikely it is than any one particular prospect becomes, in Breslow’s words, an “impact” big leaguer.

From 2010 through 2019, 32 different players have been ranked as a top three Red Sox prospect according to Soxprospects.com. How many of them became “impact” players? Well, let’s take a look. Here are those 32 players, sorted by career bWAR:

Yikes! 17 of these 32 players (that’s over 50% for you math nerds) failed to accumulate even 2 bWAR for their entire careers (it’s actually 18, but we’ll be generous to Jarren Duran, who likely has a lot more baseball to play). In other words, over 50% of these guys effectively failed to have any Major League career whatsoever. And to be clear, these 17 guys aren’t just a bunch of Bobby Dalbec types, players with obvious flaws who were never too highly regarded in the first place. Blake Swihart was once the 17th best prospect in all of Baseball, according to Baseball America. Anderson Espinoza was 19th. Casey Kelly climbed all the way up to 31. Henry Owens and Jay Groome both cracked the top 50.

And even amongst the ones who did have Major League careers, how many of them became “impact players”? It’s hard to know what that term means, but one way you could look at is by determining how many of these guys put up seasons of over 2 bWAR (2 bWAR generally being considered league average). The first seven names on the list easily qualify. But beyond that, Andrew Benintendi (who was once the number one prospect in the whole game, remember) has failed to produce at that level in 3 of his 7 seasons. Yoan Moncada and Manuel Margot have each topped 2 bWAR just twice.

To be blunt: it is, sadly, unlikely that Marcelo Mayer, Roman Anthony, and Kyle Teel all become “impact” big leaguers, let alone All-Stars. And it’s damn near impossible for them to ever form a core as good as the Mookie/Xander/Devers core that the Red Sox once had but decided was too expensive to keep together. And this is to say nothing of the fact that, uhh, none of them pitch! So even in the best case scenario where all three make it to Fenway by 2025 and are established big league contributors by 2026, the Red Sox will likely still find themselves in a position where they’ll need to to pay for pitching on the free agent market. And, by the way, Rafael Devers will be on the backside of his prime by then and Trevor Story will be a 33-year-old oft-injured shortstop making $25 million per year.

I like Mayer, Anthony, and Teel. I really do. I hope they do everything they set out to achieve on a baseball diamond. But, now, I also feel bad for them. Tom Werner and Craig Breslow just effectively told them that they are the three most important people in the Red Sox organization. The fate of the team rests on their shoulders. I hope they can handle it, but I’m certainly not counting on it. You can’t count on prospects. Ever. After all, we don’t know if Marcelo Mayer’s shoulder is even healthy right now, let alone whether it can handle the weight of Red Sox Nation’s expectations. No pressure, kid.