Yesterday, Red Sox prospect Manuel Margot was called up to Double-A Portland, bringing him one step closer to serving five-to-seven in Fenway Park. Margot is, if you ask prospect hounds and talent evaluators, a pretty fantastic talent just playing his age-20 season. This season, in Salem, he was performing quite well (.265 True Average, .321 on-base percentage, .420 slugging, 20 stolen bases), but not quite pulling a Mookie Betts-in-2013 trouncing of opposing pitchers.
Margot’s calling card is otherworldly athletic potential, but he’s also a phenomenal example of how the Red Sox are poised to compete over the next several seasons, even though 2014 and 2015 look like a cratering for the franchise.
Margot profiles as an above-average center fielder with defense and power. On a team that already has one potential game-changing center fielder with defense and power, it’s easy to see why the quick reaction might be to ship him up to Philadelphia to finally get a Cole Hamels. After all, why would the team need two? And they’ve got Jackie Bradley Jr. in Pawtucket! And Rusney Castillo! Why doesn’t this team just suck it up and deal someone and help the team today?
The Red Sox have depth, both on the major league team — yes, I know, they’re not good right now, fine — and in the minors. Margot is a fascinating prospect, filled to the gills with athleticism and talent, but coming into the season, he was the third-ranked prospect on BP’s Top 10 Red Sox prospect list, and ranked #61 overall on the BP Top 101. Blake Swihart and Henry Owens rated above him, and other prospects such as Eduardo Rodriguez and Rafael Devers rated very closely to him on the Top 101. Other prospect evaluators give the Red Sox and their prospects the same shrift: Boston typically rates as one of the top-10 minor-league systems in all of baseball.
While a stacked minor-league system certainly is no guarantee of future success it is an indicator of both talent and value.
Like the Cubs and the Dodgers, the Red Sox have it all: a stacked minor-league system combined with the resources to add major-league talent through any means necessary: domestic or international free agency, taking on hefty contracts, etc. That’s how the Sox added not-quite outfielder Hanley Ramirez in the offseason this previous year, and incredibly expensive fourth outfielder Castillo in August 2014.
But the last thing the Red Sox should do is act rashly. While a stacked minor-league system certainly is no guarantee of future success — I’m looking at you, early 2010’s Rangers — it is an indicator of both talent and value. The Red Sox have cultivated a powerful amount of depth in the minor leagues, and they’ve resisted the urge to deal substantially from that depth for short-term fixes.
As a result, the Sox appear holding pat despite a down pair of seasons. While that may appear to be “inactive” or “wishy-washy”, it may also prove that discretion is the better part of valor. By sitting on their minor league depth, and waiting until it matures to make moves, they accept a heightened level of risk: they’re waiting until the last possible moment to see if prospects will pan out, and many (Gavin Cecchini?) may now. However, this is a level of risk that a team with the Red Sox’ resources can afford.
Of course a player like Margot — or perhaps more accurately Jackie Bradley Jr. — may not emerge as a superstar or even a full-time starter. Every prospect won’t turn into a hero, even the ones who look like they’re a sure thing. At the same time, by dealing prospects before they mature for established big-league players, the Sox run the risk of shipping off a Jeff Bagwell-level talent that just can’t be found on the open market so easily.
By dealing prospects before they mature for established big-league players, the Sox run the risk of shipping off a Jeff Bagwell-level talent that just can’t be found on the open market so easily.
By waiting, the Red Sox give themselves the flexibility to make moves that suit their needs at any given time, rather than cross their fingers and hope that they make the right move at the right time to force a window open. Dealing a player like Margot now, limits the risk that he’ll pull a Bradley Jr. and fail at the highest level.
Playing the waiting game allows the team to leverage its financial resources to fill in the gaps. While that isn’t a perfect process (Pablo Sandoval better improve his overall production soon), it’s a far sight better than dealing Eduardo Rodriguez for a middle reliever and watching him blossom elsewhere in an attempt to grasp at a win-now, not-later strategy. Cash can paper a lot of holes, but it’s hard to buy a premium player at any price.
Look at the New York Mets as an example: the Mets have a very nice farm system, with both high-level and low-level prospects with lots of talent. However, the Mets don’t have the financial resources that the Red Sox do. They’ve played their way into contention, but have come to a tough position: in order to stay in contention, they may need to turn some of those minor-league chips into big-league talent. Without money, the Mets are limited in their options: deal away prospects with substantive upside and try to shift the window closer to now, or hold pat, and hope that those prospects become the big-league stars of the future.
(The Diamondbacks are doing the same thing by selling prospect Touki Touissant to Atlanta for cash, a move that seems likely to push the window slightly closer to the present at the cost of the future. It also seems ridiculous.)
On the other side, there’s the Angels, a team with massive financial resources but who has already dealt heavily from their minor league stocks over the last several seasons. Today, they’re left with a team that needs to succeed soon, or they risk missing what could be the last window for contention for the near future. The San Diego Padres and Operation “Trade All Your Prospects For Outfielders” fit in this category as well.
2015 is teaching us that Betts and Bogaerts are keepers, but may not be the eight-win stars the projectionists might have pointed at (yet). It’s showing us that Rodriguez might be a keeper, but that Joe Kelly might not be, and that Rick Porcello — maybe — will be a back-of-the-rotation piece, not a front-of-the-rotation ace.
Coming into 2016, the team might have hit some growing pains, but they still have the ability to shift the discussion any direction they choose, without necessarily ruining chances for the short-term OR the long-term. Margot is another piece in a long and robust pipeline of talent, and holding him until he reveals his true self at the major-league (or near-major-league) level allows the Sox to assess strengths and weaknesses at the right time.
It might not be Margot who saves the Red Sox. I mean, it could be, but it’s more likely that it’ll be several players who save the Sox and guide them towards another golden age. Bryce Harper or Mike Trout alone don’t make a team a contender. No, it’ll likely be a team effort, and with the combination of depth and finance, the Sox are in as good position as any team (well, along with Chicago’s and Los Angeles’ National League franchises) to succeed in both the long and the short-term.
Take a deep breath and relax. Manny Margot is coming. And if he doesn’t work out, one of the next few guys probably will. The Red Sox can afford to find out. That’s the power of depth.
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