Names like Kevin Morton, Brian Rose, and Frankie Rodriguez were tossed around plenty this week, Red Sox prospect pitchers of the past who either never really lived up to their athletic potential or were overvalued in the first place.
Who's to say Jon Lester, Craig Hansen, and Manny Delcarmen won't suffer the same fate, argued those who wished Theo Epstein and the baseball ops folks had tossed caution to the wind at this week's trading deadline.
Mind you, these will be the same critics who will go after the Red Sox once they're fielding a team of aging, overpriced free agents, for not having a solid core of homegrown players that came up the rungs of the farm system.
Hmm, sounds a bit like 2001, does it not?
That Red Sox squad was one of aging stars and overpriced free agents, the makeup of which made a necessity by Dan Duquette's plundering of the farm system he originally had set out to build upon his arrival in Boston. Mike Lansing, anyone? Anyone gets on your goat any more about Epstein not making a trade, don't just retort with your obvious Jeff Bagwell argument, use the Rolando Arrojo (who was likely pushing 47 at the time he was dealt to Boston, realistically) and Lansing deal as a weapon as well. That deal cost only Jeff Frye, Brian Rose, John Wasdin, and Jeff Taglienti, but the true burden was on the exorbitant cost of a player like Lansing, who clearly had nothing left.
The real fear of the critics is that the current crop of arms turns out to be no better than guys that Duquette gave up over the years. Surely, name one guy during those eight seasons that truly rose to prominence. Now take a look out there at the value the Sox have given up over the past three seasons with Epstein as GM.
Freddy Sanchez: Leading the NL in hitting at .346.
Hanley Ramirez: Starting shortstop for the Florida Marlins hitting .268.
Matt Murton: Hitting .294 as a member of the Chicago Cubs.
Anibal Sanchez: Four and one in his first seven starts for the Marlins.
While Ramirez and Sanchez were products of the Duquette administration, their performances, along with the Epstein Two, illustrates why the Red Sox in 2006 are so hesitant to give up the talent that everybody else is demanding be included in any major deals. Give up enough Lesters for Oswalts, and sooner or later you find yourself with a depleted farm system, forced to sign whatever Matt Clement is on the market for inflated dollars in order to get by.
Let's put it this way. The Red Sox have openly admitted that they want to be the American League version of the Atlanta Braves, a perennial contender thanks to the continued depth of their farm system. Yeah, how many World Series have they won, asks the critic? Fair point, but let's not forget that of their World Series appearances over the years, one went to seven games -- 1991 vs. the Twins (the best ever) and six in 1992 against the back-to-back champion Blue Jays. They dropped another pair to the juggernaut Yankees of the late ‘90s (1996, '99). Those teams weren't exactly the Houston Astros of 2005.
Besides, being the Atlanta Braves of the AL is an inherently dangerous thought for everybody else in that being good in the National League these days assures you nothing come October against superior clubs.
You could do it that way. Or you could trade all your young talent in a "win now" attitude only to subsequently turn into the Baltimore Orioles. On the heels of the Javy Lopez trade to Boston (Javy Lopez, meet Javy Lopez) the guys over at The Sports Frog point out: "In 2004, the Orioles made a big offseason splash by signing four high-profile free agents. Let's go down the list: Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez, Sidney Ponson, and Rafael Palmeiro. My friends, that is how you build a 4th place ballclub."
There is no set script as to how to win a championship quite obviously, but let's not forget that when the Yankees went on their run of four World Series titles in five years, it was done with a team mainly built through the New York farm system. This, of course, was only made possible once George Steinbrenner was relieved of his duties for a time, and the baseball scouting department did their work uninterrupted, allowing players to mature that otherwise never would have had a shot at staying with the club. Notice how many titles they've won since they started their high-priced free agent binge?
Also true, though, is that of the aforementioned World Series teams, the Twins won largely thanks to a free-agent pickup (Jack Morris) and the Blue Jays cruised after their deadline deal for David Cone. But where are those two teams now? The Twins have gotten no further than the ALDS, and the Jays have not seen October since 1993. An inability to be competitive financially is likely more of answer why they have yet to be back, particularly considering the pitching the Twins have been able to produce over the past decade or so. But, also look at the Braves. This might be the first season since they shocked the baseball world in 1991 that they may not make the playoffs, and even that is not a definite yet (4 1/2 games back as of today).
That may not mean 10 straight titles for Boston, but to be in the hunt for them for a decade, you couldn't ask for more as a Red Sox fan. You build your core around homegrown talent, which affords you the flexibility to sign top-notch free agents, perhaps at dollars that you might not have been able to compete with otherwise. If Oswalt goes on the market after next season, demanding $15 million a season, isn't it a comforting thought to know you can afford it because you still have low-cost guys like Lester and Jonathan Papelbon in the rotation? If you dealt Lester for Oswalt to start out with, you're now in a bind to find a free agent pitcher in the offseason. Here's a partial list of who might be available:
Zito is the top option, and he's going to demand top dollar. Other than that, it's nothing but mid-level hurlers who will be overvalued thanks to the dearth of quality on the market.
See Clement, 2004.
Give up enough of your homegrown talent, and you could end up sooner or later with a $45 million .500 rotation. That's when things hit rock bottom and you're forced into a true rebuilding period. What fun that would be.
The Red Sox are in a unique market in which they can compete now, but also build for the future. But there are times when one has to take precedence over the other.
The future won this week. Time will tell about the Red Sox.