Leave It To The Kids

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Everyone has their addictions. For some it is the hankering for a cup of coffee, for others it may be the lottery, but for me, it’s baseball prospects. I have collected memorabilia and baseball cards for my whole life; the idea just piqued my interest at a young age and has never gone away. Cards are what began my prospect “addiction”, and here’s how: Just like the in stock market where someone with little money has to look for the possibility of large growth in a newer, cheaper stock because proven stocks are too pricey, I discovered that while I love Ken Griffey Jr. and Pedro Martinez, it would be too expensive for me to buy their best cards. This is where prospects entered my life. I saw that while every prospect might not pan out, somewhere in the vast ocean of the minor leagues there is the next Griffey Jr. The MLB, NFL and NBA drafts are like three extra Christmases to me, a whole new crop of talent to pick apart and in my attempt to find that needle in the haystack.

I also love the MLB offseason, but it is always a stressful time for me. With my obsession with prospects comes a level of attachment to them, and every with every winter comes the chance that we trade away the next Babe Ruth, completely unaware of his talents. This is a constant fear of mine, as the Red Sox are always in the thick of things when it comes to free agent signings and are always the first team mentioned when a new big name is reported as being possibly available, like Giancarlo Stanton in 2012, or Cliff Lee in 2013:

What about Cole Hamels? Johnny Cueto? You betcha.

If a top player is even remotely on the market, then Boston is usually rumored to be involved in that potential blockbuster. If said blockbuster does happen, it can deplete the farm system and eventually contribute to a star being born for another franchise (See Rizzo, Anthony). Just about every avid baseball fan has been engulfed in the recent Jose Fernandez trade fiasco over the last couple of weeks, and the apparent cost of such a trade, mentioned as part of a recent piece by Peter Gammons:

“We thought we might be able to piece something together with the Red Sox,” said a Marlins official. “With ERod (Eduardo Rodriguez), Mookie Betts, Christian Vazquez, Yoan Moncada and another pitcher I thought we had something that might work.” Why not?

I mean sure while you’re at it, add Xander Bogaerts to the deal and maybe a year supply of kettle corn? Let me clear things up, Fernandez is a STUD, but that package is downright criminal. Now let’s play a little game, let’s say the Red Sox and Marlins agree to the trade mentioned above, who wins? There is no wrong answer here. The Red Sox just pulled out an ace who is affordable, under team control for three seasons and is only 23. The Marlins, meanwhile, fast-track their rebuild with a mix of MLB ready talent and a super-prospect to bolster the farm.

These are the trades that make or break franchises for the next decade. Sure, if Fernandez were to come out and mimic Clayton Kershaw’s dominance here in Boston and Betts and Rodriguez become quality MLB starters, if not potential All-Stars, then this hypothetical trade would be a win for both teams. But, it is more often the case that one side is the clear winner in a blockbuster. Let’s examine two of the more notable recent examples of lopsided trades:

The Franchise Maker

Date: December 5, 2007
Tigers receive: Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis
Marlins receive: Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Mike Rabelo, Eulogio De La Cruz, Dallas Trahern and Burke Badenhop

The Rationale: Maybin and Miller were both highly touted prospects, both considered top 10 prospects by Baseball America at the time of the trade and were supposed to be the centerpieces of a rebuilding Marlins team. On the other side was Cabrera, whom had established himself as one of the most feared sluggers in the MLB and was already a four-time All Star. The trade reunited him with Dave Dombrowski, who had signed Cabrera as an amateur free agent in 1999.

Breakdown: One of the top five greatest robberies in baseball history. Cabrera has dominated the MLB every season since the trade eight years ago. The Marlins saw Maybin struggle with injuries and eventually both sides parted ways. Miller never developed into the starter everyone saw him as and eventually reinvented himself into a bullpen force, but not while playing for Florida. Miller (-2.4 WAR from 2008-2010, per Baseball-Reference) and Maybin (1.9 WAR from 2008-2010) combined for a negative WAR in their only three seasons with Marlins. Meanwhile, Cabrera has spent the last eight years with the Tigers combining for a 48.7 WAR and has propelled a lowly Tigers team to multiple ALCS’ but never came out with the World Series trophy. On the other hand, the Marlins haven’t made the playoffs since 2004, and have had only two winning seasons since the trade was made in 2007.

Erik Bedard? ERIK BEDARD?!?!?!

Date: February 8, 2008
Orioles receive: Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, Kam Mickolio and Tony Butler
Mariners receive: Erik Bedard

Rationale: Bedard was once a great major league pitcher and at the age of 28 served up his best season, posting a 13-5 record with a 3.16 ERA over 28 starts, placing 5th in the American League Cy Young voting. The lowly Orioles capitalized on Bedard’s peak value and sent him to the Mariners, who salivated at the opportunity to give ace Felix Hernandez some legitimate support, sending a package centered around outfielder Jones (the 28th ranked prospect at the time of the trade) to Baltimore.

Breakdown: Ahhhhh, good ol’ Erik Bedard. So much potential, so, sooo many injuries. Bedard never made more than 18 starts after being shipped to Seattle and spent more time under the surgeon’s knife than on the diamond. Jones is now one of the best all-around players in baseball, making five All-Star teams (including one in each of the last four years), posting 26.6 WAR in his eight seasons in Baltimore. Tillman has produced flashes of brilliance, including an All-Star appearance in 2013, and is still only 27 years old. Sherrill had a 31-save season in his only full season in Baltimore, getting an All-Star nod himself.

I could spend hours listing the most one-sided trades in recent MLB history, but that would drown out my larger arguement: the bigger the trade, the higher the chance you destroy your team. For every superstar-for-prospects trade that works out (Cabrera for Maybin and Miller), there are a dozen examples of the star-for-prospects trade where the star sputters out and the prospects provide the base for the team’s future sucess (Bedard for Jones and Tillman).

My point is this: no “fringe-stars” allowed. If a trade is going to be made go all in, make a trade for a younger superstar (see Gray, Sonny or Sale, Chris).

The Red Sox have an elite farm system and that, combined that with its recent graduates, has Boston looking at a bright future… if Dealin’ Dombrowski is able to allow the prospects to develop in a system that has churned out some elite talent in the last decade, that is. Most Red Sox fans are impatient. They want the star on their team ten minutes ago and they are willing to send away whomever it takes to get them. As someone who is familiar with our minor league system, I am telling you that the farm is the future. Sign all the free agents your heart desires, but history says stay away from blockbuster trades.

With a strong core of young talent, the Red Sox have something to look forward to for years to come. Boston has a long term solution at shortstop for the first time since Nomar Garciaparra in Bogaerts, a 5-tool centerfielder in Betts, and a lefty that can cornerstone the Red Sox rotation for the next decade in Rodriguez. Even with so many top level prospects having moved on to the majors, the Red Sox still have a top five farm system, according to Baseball America and MLB.com. An organization with young talent like Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, Anderson Espinoza, Rafael Devers and Michael Kopech will keep providing talent to the Sox for the the next three seasons and more. The future is bright, the Red Sox just have to be willing to let it shine.

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