Building Up Farm Focus of Red Sox
By Jason Mastrodonato
BOSTON -- Soon after the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, Dave Dombrowski made a public admission about the state of the Red Sox organization.
“I know our farm system has taken a hit, and a lot of that is my responsibility because we’ve traded a lot of guys,” the president of baseball operations said.
With the Red Sox sitting at 81-35 heading into Friday, few fans could complain.
But when the focus starts shifting toward the next three seasons, the image starts to look bleak.
More than half the current team will be eligible for free agency by then.
When they entered the offseason in the winter of 2016-17, the Red Sox had a consensus top-five farm system in baseball.
Today, it’s consensus bottom-10, and even bottom-five in the eyes of some.
It wasn’t planned this way.
The Sox had no intentions of blowing up the farm system two winters ago. It had gotten weaker after Dombrowski traded for Drew Pomeranz during the 2016 season, and acquired Craig Kimbrel in exchange for four prospects (only Manuel Margot has become a valuable everyday player out of that group, and his .711 OPS through 233 major league games shouldn’t cause any to feel regret) the previous offseason.
But then White Sox general manager Rick Hahn called Dombrowski and told him he was serious about trading Chris Sale during the winter meetings in 2016-17.
“We hadn’t planned on going to D.C. doing that,” Dombrowski told the Herald this week. “The Chris Sale trade came out of the blue, because we were not anticipating the White Sox (trying) to trade him and we wanted to get involved and we traded some talent.”
Shortly after the Red Sox traded top prospects Yoan Moncada (.704 OPS in 168 major league games for the White Sox) and Michael Kopech (still in the minors) in the Sale deal, they flipped three more prospects plus Travis Shaw (.848 OPS in Milwaukee) to the Brewers for Tyler Thornburg (5.91 ERA in 102/3 innings in Boston).
The farm system suddenly looked thin.
“I remember at the meetings we talked to the player development and scouting and international operations people, and we needed to go build back our system and get the commitment from everybody,” Dombrowski said. “That means the draft. That means keeping as many players as we could. We have not forfeited any players by signing free agents (tied to draft pick compensation). That has been by design.”
“We were very aggressive in Latin America, traded for slot money and signed more players in that regard. And we were going to spend a lot of time developing those players. We have done that.”
Since the Sale and Thornburg trades, the Red Sox haven’t dealt any of their top remaining prospects, nor any of their controllable players at the major league level.
“We have tried to not trade who we have felt were our top prospects over the last couple trade periods,” Dombrowski said. “I think it takes a while for them to come back.”
A handful of prospects have been sent out in each of the past two summer trade periods, with Eduardo Nunez, Addison Reed, Steve Pearce, Nathan Eovaldi and Ian Kinsler coming back to the big league club.
None of the prospects dealt were considered impact performers.
When Dombrowski identifies the most important players in his organization, he doesn’t move them. Look at Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi.
“I don’t think it was ever tempting to trade Devers,” he said. “People continue to ask about him a lot. But we like him a lot, same thing with Benintendi. Really the foundation of our club is in place at this point. When you’re looking to make an acquisition, you’re careful who you trade.”
But the Red Sox now have what is considered one of the worst farm systems in baseball. There are few players in the high levels of the organization who project to help the big league club, though power-hitting corner infielder Michael Chavis only recently returned to Double-A Portland after an 80-game suspension due to performance enhancing substances, and power-hitting third baseman Bobby Dalbec was just promoted to Portland.
The lower levels are looking better.
“There’s no question we’re rebuilding,” Dombrowski said. “We feel good about that part of it.”
Dombrowski did his best -- unsuccessfully -- to bring a title to Detroit during his time there from 2002 to 2015, and the Tigers were left with one of the sport’s worst farm systems.
What he did in Detroit is not like what he’s done in Boston, he said, mainly because of the Red Sox’s financial advantage.
“We went for it very strongly at that point in Detroit,” he said. “The difference for us here is, at that point we really put our financial resources at the big league level. We’re doing that here but we still have the ability to be aggressive in international market and aggressive in Latin America, doing things in analytics; we spent those dollars there, we were sacrificing those things in Detroit. That was the plan we had. Here we don’t have to do that. We feel like it’s a real different situation for us.
“We’re not only trying to win, which we are, but we’re also in position where we would like to keep the foundation in the future.”