On Monday, the always illuminating Rob Bradford wrote a story about the Red Sox’s troubling tendency to trade away young talent while holding on to players that appear to be more borderline. (And: it’s actually online!)
Braford touches on a number of recent Sox minor league players who’ve been traded away — Anibal Sanchez, Hanley Ramirez, Cla Meredith. (I’d add in Freddy Sanchez.) For those convinced that Boston’s front office is determined to hold on to its young, cheap talent at the expense of putting together a more expensive, veteran, go-for-it-now team, these names should be more than enough to convince anyone that’s not the case; what’s cause for concern (or at least discussion) is that these names were the ones let go. Sanchez, in his second year of MLB service, is leading the NL with a .344 average. He was the trade bait used to get Brandon Lyon, Jeff Suppan, and Anastacio Martinez from from Pittsburgh in 2003. (Supan and Lyon combined to go 7-10 with 9 saves and a collective ERA of over 5.00; neither of them made the postseason roster for the Sox.) Ramirez and Sanchez, who were sent to the Marlins for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, have been standouts in Florida: Ramirez’s stat line — .283 average, 13 HRs, 49 RBIs, 104 runs scored, and 44 stolen bases — would be good for any rookie, never mind one who can play a decent shortstop. Sanchez is 7-2 with a 2.89 ERA; last night, in just his 13th career start, he threw baseball’s first no-hitter in two years. Beckett, meanwhile, is 14-10 with an ERA of over 5.00, while Lowell’s numbers are about equal to Hanley’s. Oh, and Ramirez and Sanchez make well under a million bucks. Combined. Beckett and Lowell make well over $10 million. Finally, Meredith has gone 5-1 out of the Padres bullpen…with a Papelbon-esque ERA of 0.75.
Suffice to say, none of the young’uns the Sox have seemed so adamant about holding on to — Craig Hansen, Manny Delcarmen, Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia — have thus far had success comperable to their former teammates. That doesn’t mean they won’t, and the success of the young NL phenoms who cut their teeth in Pawtucket and Portland doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have struggled in the AL, or struggled in Boston’s fishbowl atmosphere (San Diego, South Florida, and Pittsburgh ain’t exactly known for their rabid fanbases). But collectively, they do raise questions about the state of the Sox’s behind the scenes operations.
Specifically, I wonder the extent to which the loss of a number of non-household name guys — scouts, talent evaluators, etc — has hurt a Red Sox front office that’s long on brains but short on on-field experience. In the last couple of years, Boston has lost Miguel Garcia, Tom Moore, and David Chadd to the Tigers, where Garcia and Moore were reunited with Dave Dombrowski, who’d been their general manager in Florida and is now their GM in Detroit. (Garcia is currently Detroit’s director of Venezuelan operations and Central American scouting; Moore is the assistant director of Latin American and professional scouting; and Chadd is the VP of amateur scouting.) Justin Verlander was scouted, drafted, and signed by this crew; so was Jonathan Papelbon. Another loss (and another former Marlins hand) was Louie Eljaua, who was big on David Ortiz because of Ortiz’s play in Dominican summer ball; Eljaua is now with the Pirates. Departures like these don’t get a lot (if any) attention; still, there are those within the Red Sox who worry about these departures and wonder the extent to which their experience and acumen is missed.
The return of Theo Epstein in spring training has meant the Sox’s baseball ops crew has retained continuity despite the departure of Josh Brynes and Peter Woodfork to Arizona in the offseason. The off-field staff of a baseball team — coaches, trainers, scouts, GMs, and on and on — contains so many moving parts, and there are so many variables that come into play when considering and nurturing young talent. But the immediate results of the Red Sox’s development machine, and the decisions the team has made about who to keep and who to trade away, has been less than ideal. Maybe it’s time to look a little further down the chain of command for some possible answers as to why this is the case.