I’ve spent a lot of time in recent weeks tearing down some Red Sox prospects and starters in order to try and give some perspective on deep and comparatively weak areas within Boston’s organization. I know I’ve put myself at risk at becoming somewhat of a Negative Nancy in the Fire Brand and Interwebs Red Sox community, but I think it’s important to put things in perspective when evaluating your favorite team. It makes the individual story lines more compelling, and it makes beating the odds even more exciting when grand slams sail over Torii Hunter, or when undrafted Independent League outfielders become staples of your team’s success.
With that in mind, I’m throwing caution to the wind this week and taking a look at five reasons it’s an incredible time to be a Red Sox fan right now. Thanks for letting me indulge as I look for a mid-January pick-me-up with baseball still a long ways away.
1) The Farm System
This is a pretty obvious one, but the Red Sox have a loaded farm system right now, and for someone who follows MiLB religiously it’s quite a treat. We’re about to see a real transition towards a younger, more flexible Red Sox team in 2014 with Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley poised to start every day, Christian Vazquez and Garin Cecchini banging on the door and Henry Owens and Blake Swihart waiting in the wings. Couple those players with a trio of talented right-handers in Matt Barnes, Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo, plus the criminally underrated Brandon Workman, and it’s hard not to get giddy over this team’s immediate and long-term future.
Make no mistake – some of these prospects will fail, leaving a taste of bitter disappointment behind. But there is strength in numbers here, and many of these names, along with talented young players like Will Middlebrooks, Felix Doubront and Rubby De La Rosa – are going to make an impact.
2) They Just Won, Duh
Listing this behind the farm system should tell you all you need to know about how stacked the Red Sox are with prospects right now. But while it’s important to keep an eye towards the future, being referred to as “the reigning champs” from now until next October is pretty sweet, and this is a team with a legitimate chance of getting back to the playoffs. It’s amazing how quickly the fortunes of an MLB franchise can change, and that’s a point that should be reinforced given that a year ago today, we were all still cursing Bobby Valentine and wondering if the Red Sox could feasibly compete with the Blue Jays.
Boston sports fans are obviously spoiled, but 2011 and 2012 were rough for Red Sox fans, despite what little sympathy we’re likely to garner from the outside world. That the Sox are now in an enviable position in terms of current talent, financial flexibility, recent hardware and talent on the farm is remarkable, and we should enjoy it while it lasts.
3) Ownership/Front Office
The front office blew it by signing Bobby Valentine. Ben Cherington shouldn’t have traded two starting position players for Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon. The track record here isn’t perfect, but when you consider the financial dedication of the Red Sox current ownership and the disciplined approach of our new GM, Sox fans have it pretty good when it comes to leadership. Cherington played it safe with contracts and yet still got plenty of upside in 2013 in the forms of Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli, and added incredible depth to the team with the likes of Stephen Drew and Ryan Dempster. Improving current iterations of a baseball team without mortgaging the future is the most difficult task any GM faces, and so far Cherington has passed that test with flying colors.
In many ways, the Punto trade perfectly exemplifies why Red Sox fans should be so happy both with ownership and the front office. John Henry and co. were willing to spend huge on the likes of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, and then Cherington was savvy (and fortunate) enough to find a way to dump those contracts and start over. They will make plenty more mistakes along the way, but moves like signing Pedroia to an extension, getting Napoli to come back on a team-friendly deal and avoiding past mistakes by letting Jacoby Ellsbury walk – no matter how painful that decision was – all point to good things in the future.
4) The Current Legends
I spend so much time praising the next wave of talented Red Sox players that it can be easy for me to lose sight of some all-time Red Sox greats I get to watch on a daily basis right now. Pedroia is destined for the Red Sox Hall of Fame and could have a shot at Cooperstown if he can stay healthy for another five-six years. His defense is absurd, and I look forward to seeing if some of his power returns in 2014. Ortiz is the best DH in history, and if the ridiculous bias against designated hitters has dissipated by the time he’s eligible for the Hall, he has a shot at inclusion, too.
Lester falls short by those insane benchmarks, but he’s the best lefty in Red Sox history as well as a homegrown player with a terrific story, and Clay Buchholz is special when he’s healthy. Other players like Daniel Nava, Mike Napoli, John Lackey and, of course, Koji Uehara provide us with great story lines and even better talent. Ellsbury will be missed, but with plenty of talent coming up behind him and plenty of stars on the roster now, it’s not difficult to find a Red Sox player you want to hitch your cart to.
5) Xander Bogaerts
I think we all knew this was coming, but after a year of trying to provide a reasonable, balanced look at Xander, let me go out by saying this. Players like Xander don’t come along very often. The last time the Red Sox had a prospect of this caliber, we traded him for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell – a fair deal, but one that robbed us of watching an insanely talented Hanley Ramirez in his youth.
That’s not going to happen with Xander. Now, we get to watch one of the game’s next potential superstars grow, struggle and flourish under our very own eyes. We so often err on the side of protecting ourselves against the failure of prospects, and that’s a good idea, but if there was ever a time to let go, it’s now. Dream as big as you dare to dream on Xander, because the kid is special and he’s going to make an impact now. We could be dealing with a generational talent, the next in a long line of Boston legends, and I’m going to savor every minute of it.
And with that, I’d like to take a moment to let FBAL readers know that I’m moving on from Fire Brand after an awesome year of analysis, arguments and laughs. Thank you for making me a better writer, thinker and fan, and thank you for providing me a home in which to share my deepest (and dumbest) Red Sox thoughts. I’ll still be writing about plenty of baseball on the interwebs, mostly at Baseball Prospectus, and I’m obnoxiously active on Twitter so I’m easy to find. You can expect me to keep contributing to the Troll Bag, so stay in touch and I wish you all the best. Go Sox.