The 2015 Boston Red Sox have not been a good team. There have been calls to just give up on the season and start a rebuild, but what does a Red Sox rebuild even look like? Damian Dydyn explains that we’re currently watching a team with financial muscle and good prospects conduct a rebuild.
There has been a lot of griping lately about the performance of the high-priced Red Sox veterans. After all, they’re getting paid a ton of money so they should be providing a ton of value on the field, right? There is a belief that choosing to sign or extend veterans signals that the Red Sox simply aren’t willing to hit the reset button and do a proper rebuild of the roster and that they’ve doomed themselves because they bet on the wrong players.
Has anyone stopped to think that maybe, just maybe, this is what rebuilding looks like for a team with the resources of the Red Sox? As they can afford to push right up to the luxury tax limit every year, so why not fill in the rest of the roster with veterans as they turn over the long term core and try to compete? Why is a full-blown youth movement the only way to do it? Especially when the Red Sox did not have prospects in left field, at third base or enough starting pitching prospects ready to break in as the 2015 season began that it would have made sense to hold those spots for the kids. A good old fashioned roster detonation would probably lead to more top 5 overall draft picks between playoff seasons but when that is weighed against the revenue that can be generated by remaining competitive it makes sense for wealthier teams to avoid hitting that reset button.
The Red Sox will be shedding Napoli, Victorino, Masterson and Breslow from the roster at the end of this season, saving at least $43.25 million. Koji Uehara comes off the books after next season, saving an additional $9 million. David Ortiz could choose to retire in either off season as well, which could save the team between $10 million to $16 million dollars of payroll in each season. While these decreases are offset a little by Porcello’s extension increasing his pay by $7.5 million and Miley seeing incremental increases in the next two seasons, the Red Sox will have a fair amount of turnover among the veterans and more than a little payroll flexibility as they move forward.
As of the mid-season break, Keith Law ranked the Red Sox farm system number 1 in baseball. While that ranking includes the promotions of a number of prospects across the majors from the pre-season rankings that have graduated, the Red Sox have been amongst the teams that have been hit by prospect promotions with Blake Swihart and Eduardo Rodriguez being forced up by injuries and under-performance. Brian Johnson is still a part of the farm system, but he also recently got his first major league start. Tony Kosinski gave us a look at some of the prospects that have been succeeding on the farm, but how and, more importantly, when could they fit into the major league roster going forward? We will start with the prospects who are closest to cracking the big league roster.
Sam Travis, 1B: ETA 2017
Manuel Margot, CF: ETA 2017
Andrew Benintendi, CF: ETA 2017-2018
Brian Johnson, SP: ETA 2015-2016
Henry Owens, SP: ETA 2016-2017
Both Travis and Margot are currently playing in Class-AA Portland and both are continuing to succeed after mid-season promotions to that level. It’s possible one or both could see time in Fenway in 2016, but neither is on track for a starting job before 2017. Each is also playing a position that should have a spot open by then. For Travis, first base will be available next season with the departure of Mike Napoli, which could potentially be filled by a number of in-house options (Brock Holt, Travis Shaw, Hanley Ramirez or Pablo Sandoval) in the short term or could be manned by a stopgap free agent on a one year contract. Either way, there’s a pretty good chance that by the time Sam Travis is ready to make the leap, there will be an opening for him on the roster.
Margot is looking at a slightly more crowded path to the bigs, but there is a pretty good chance that if he continues apace, there will be a spot for him as well. Whether that means moving Mookie Betts to right or left field to open up center, or having Margot take up the spacious and difficult to play right field, one spot in the outfield will open up when Victorino leaves and another may be available if Hanley moves to the infield or designated hitter in the next few seasons. Like Travis, there should be an opportunity for Margot to step in. Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo will also be vying for starting positions so no matter how it shakes out, the Red Sox should have a lot of speedy defenders to mix and match.
Andrew Benintendi was selected 7th overall in this past June’s draft and Brandon Magee has a great write-up about his potential and how quickly he could rise through the system. He may also be able to debut in 2017, but as a draft eligible sophomore, he is still young and could reasonably be held back until 2018. He shouldn’t be too far behind Travis and Margot, and figures to be in that outfield mix as well.
Moving on to pitching, Brian Johnson just made his major league debut and he should continue to get his feet wet over the rest of the season and next year. He has proven all he needs to in Pawtucket so it is merely a matter opportunity as 2015 winds down. Yet to debut is Henry Owens, who could see a few starts this year, but is more likely to break in during the 2016 season.
When we look at this group over a longer period, we can probably safely assume that these five will need some time at the major league level to acclimate, much like we’ve seen with Bogaerts and Betts, and like we are currently seeing with Blake Swihart and Eduardo Rodriguez. That means we can add a year or two onto their estimated arrival dates before we can expect them to settle in and produce consistently. That takes us into 2018 and 2019, or to the end of the Hanley, Panda and Porcello deals which coincides with when players like Bogaerts and Betts are likely to be getting more expensive. It should also line up well with the next wave of impact bats.
Yoan Moncada, 2B: ETA 2018-2019
Rafael Devers, 3B: ETA 2018-2019
Javier Guerra, SS: ETA 2018-2019
Moncada was the big international free agent signed out of Cuba last winter and the Sox paid a hefty price to land him. While he initially struggled with baseball in America, after a long hiatus from playing the game, he has turned the corner and is flashing all of the tools. He makes good contact, has excellent power, good range at second and steals plenty of bases. He also plays a position locked up in Boston until the end of the 2021 season so he may need to move to third base or the outfield. However, his bat should play anywhere, so if he continues to succeed, the Red Sox will find a place for him defensively.
Rafael Devers has a great arm at third, but somewhat limited range. There have been plenty of scouts over the years who have predicted a move off of third base early in his career but he has managed to quiet his critics thus far. If he can stick at the position his arrival should dovetail nicely with Panda’s inevitable move to first base or designated hitter, or even to another team.
Javier Guerra offers another option for replacing Sandoval in that he could force Bogaerts to the hot corner around the time Pablo is ready to depart. He is a slick fielding shortstop with impressive power at the plate and stands as another level of redundancy in the prospect pool.
This group of three hitters, when combined with Travis, Margot and Benintendi give the Red Sox a lot of potential replacements at positions that will need them, right about when they will need them. And since those prospects were mostly in place before the signings of Ramirez, Sandoval, or Porcello, it’s safe to assume that those contracts were given out with these prospects and their timetables in mind. While it is highly unlikely all of the players listed here will pan out, if two or three of the hitters and a starter or two do, the timing would be excellent for turning over some of the veteran-held spots on the roster. There are additional prospects that could push their way into the discussion by then as well, but each of them are still very young and have a lot of ground to cover before they are worth forecasting. Trey Ball, Michael Kopech, Michael Chavis and Anderson Espinoza all have exciting upside and any one of them could be added to this group of expected reinforcements by this time next year.
What the Red Sox currently have is a disappointing major league roster with a very promising minor league system that is poised to arrive just as the most expensive veterans are transitioning out and the current crop of very young budding stars is going to need to be extended. Is that by design? Probably. Teams with less resources can’t plug holes in their major league rosters with $20 million dollar per year players while they wait for their prospect pool to mature and bear fruit. The folks on Yawkey Way can and that leaves us with the question: Is this what a Red Sox rebuild looks like? I would say yes. Why not keep fans in the ballpark while turning over the core if you can afford to pick up overpriced big name veterans to fill those gaps?