If there’s one thing that baseball fans love, it is home-grown talent.
Everyone loves superstars, everyone loves pitchers who hit 100 miles per hour on the radar gun and hitters who crush tape-measure home runs.
If those players happened to rise through their major league franchises’s farm system, well that just adds another reason to embrace them.
Yankees fans don’t just idolize their late 1990’s dynasty because of the key players who were instrumental to the franchise’s success. Those players, Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte were their players. They were drafted or signed as Yankees, rose through the system, and then won four World Series titles in five seasons.
The desire to replicate that success is why when current Red Sox President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski trades guys named Anderson Espinoza, Manuel Margot, and Javier Guerra; three players who have combined for zero major league innings pitched and zero major league at-bats, Red Sox fans still get nervous.
This past Saturday evening, about two hours prior to his scheduled start against the Detroit Tigers, White Sox ace Chris Sale was suddenly scratched from his start.
Given the time of year, and the rumors surrounding the White Sox and their alleged willingness to sell-off even the most cherished of major league assets, the ace starting pitcher. Sale’s sudden removal from the mound caused the internet to erupt in speculation of a trade.
The “late-scratch” is often a sign that a player has either been dealt, or is so close to being dealt that their current team does not want to in any way risk the player’s health, and the trade’s viability by placing him on the diamond where an injury could occur.
It turned out that there was no trade.
Sale wasn’t being traded, he was busy throwing a clubhouse tantrum which ultimately resulted in him being suspended.
Between the time that Sale’s start was called-off, and his clubhouse incident and subsequent suspension were announced, Red Sox fans (myself included) were busy expressing all forms of hesitance surrounding a potential, but completely unconfirmed White Sox-Red Sox trade involving Sale.
Given that Red Sox fans have spent the better part of nearly three seasons lamenting the franchise’s lack of a clear-cut ace-type of starting pitcher, one would think they’d be popping champagne at the mere suggestion they’d be acquiring Chris Sale.
Instead they were expressing a lot of valid concerns that Dave Dombrowski had included one of, or even more than one of the Red Sox very best young prospects.
Those guys are named Andrew Benintendi, Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers and Michael Kopech. NFL Insider Peter King was just one of many to express his feelings about a potential Sale-to-the-Red Sox blockbuster.
On the one hand, why would Red Sox fans not be celebrating a Sale acquisition? He is about as close as one can come to an established ace starting pitcher. He’s not signed to an absurd nine-figure contract, and he’s only 27 years old.
Then again, the prospects required to acquire a guy like Sale are limited to what have to be considered “can’t miss” future major leaguers, and not just average every day player types, we’re talking about potential future All-Stars.
Moncada can seemingly do it all. Benintendi looks like a multi-talented, above average, future starting outfielder. Devers is further away from reaching the majors but he’s got a surplus of one of the sport’s most cherished talents, power.
Then there’s Michael Kopech a Single-A starting pitcher who has recently gained a lot of well-deserved publicity for being able to throw a baseball about as fast as any human being has ever been able to throw one.
As ESPN New Hampshire’s Marisa Ingemi recently pointed out, Dave Dombrowski has a pretty good track record when it comes to making trades.
There’s one problem though.
No rings. Or at least no rings during his lengthy tenure in the Detroit Tigers front office.
Winning a World Series is tough. There’s only so much any individual can control, and when that individual does not even play the sport, there’s a real issue with assigning too much blame to that person.
A reasonable and impartial baseball fan could have looked at a potential head-to-head matchup between Dombrowski’s 2013 Detroit Tigers, and the 2013 Boston Red Sox and assumed that the Tigers should win a best-of-seven showdown.
For those with short memories, from the first pitch of that series until the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 2, the Tigers looked like they’d cruise to an easy win, and advance to their third World Series of the Dombrowski era.
Then former Tigers skipper Jim Leyland pulled starter Max Scherzer, and his bullpen allowed a few runners to reach base, and Leyland kept trying to find someone in the pen to get a third out, and Torii Hunter was not quite as quick or athletic as he was in his prime, and the Red Sox had David Ortiz, and in a matter of minutes that series went from being the Tigers to lose, to the Red Sox to win.
Blaming Dave Dombrowski for that loss and the Tigers eventual ALCS loss to the Red Sox would be a bit harsh. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but the fact remains that in spite of numerous trades which would be deemed successful, the Tigers never won a World Series with Dombrowski in the front office.
The current state of the Tigers is that they’re not an awful team, but they’ve got a few less than ideal contracts on the books, a roster that is by no means young, and farm system that is by no means loaded with talent or depth.
That’s the situation that gives Red Sox fans nightmares.
What if Dombrowski shipped Moncada and one or even more than one of the Red Sox remaining top prospects to the White Sox in exchange for Sale, and the Red Sox still were not able to win a World Series??
Red Sox fans are well aware that a team need not appear perfect to win a World Series. The 2013 Red Sox were not perfect, nor were the 2007 or 2004 World Champs. Each team did have some weaknesses but they also had a lot of talent and talent was for the most part at its best when it was most critical.
How many times did Red Sox fans curse JD Drew’s existence before his ALCS Game 6 grand slam helped to propel the team past the Cleveland Indians? Jon Lester looked all but finished during parts of the disastrous 2012 season, but in 2013 he became an ace that would eventually land a contract worth over $150 million on the free-agent market.
Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling both had their best days on the mound prior to the 2004 season, but that postseason they were both good enough to help lead the team to their first World Series title in 86 years.
Those Red Sox teams did make midseason deals, but none of them involved their very best prospects.
The Red Sox did need to part ways with a pair of high rated prospects in order to acquire 2007 hero, starting pitcher Josh Beckett.
Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez have both turned into pretty good major league players. For all the griping that surrounded Beckett by the time he was traded from the Red Sox to the Dodgers in August of 2011, he was still arguably the biggest reason that the 2007 Red Sox ended up as World Series Champs.
When it comes to Dombrowski, the question Red Sox fans hope Dave Dombrowski asks himself is, at what is enough enough?
This team is in many ways already outperforming expectations.
If I or anyone else told you that in late July David Price would be 9-7 with an ERA of 4.51 and a whip ratio of 1.275, Carson Smith would be lost for the season, Clay Buchholz would be so bad that he’d lose his starting job, and both Koji Uehara and Craig Kimbrel would be on the disabled list with Uehara in danger of being lost for the season, would you guess the Red Sox would be 55-41?
I’d say that most reasonable fans would have assumed that this season was panning out in a similar fashion to the previous two, in other words, at or near the bottom of the division with little or no hope of the playoffs.
Except that’s not even close to where this team currently sits. This Red Sox team is good, it isn’t unreasonable to think they’re already more than good enough to make the playoffs, and if a couple of things were to break their way, there’s World Series title potential here.
Adding an ace would almost certainly help. It would not make them locks to win anything and in an era when prospects are consistently over-hyped, Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi do stand out as prospects who seem extraordinarily likely to come close to or even live-up to the considerable hype surrounding them.
Tread carefully Dave Dombrowski. A team of stars is not always a team of champions and the future is never as far down to road as it seems.