Should the Red Sox hold on to their prospects?
Henry Owens didn't ride a fast track to the big leagues. Fittingly, his debut came in the public transportation mecca of New York, after a minor league career that proceeded methodically from station to station on a precise schedule from the time that he was taken as a supplemental first-rounder in the 2011 draft. He spent a year in Single A Greenville, four months in High A Salem, a full year in Double A Portland, and a full year in Triple A Pawtucket, before his long-anticipated callup.
He's shown the ability to dominate at every one of those levels, sometimes out of the gate, sometimes after a period of adjustment. But the end-product on Tuesday was a pitcher who looked poised and polished, someone with the ability to mix four pitches to keep one of the hottest lineups in the game unbalanced for most of his debut.
Now, for the Red Sox, comes the hard part: Peering into Owens's crystal ball and figuring out what he will become. There are no certain answers.
Dan Shaughnessy writes that Owens may or may not be the latest in a line of highly hyped Red Sox prospects who have fallen well short of the assumption of their seemingly limitless potential.
Inarguably, there have been numerous instances where the Sox did not sell high on players, and instead saw their value dwindle. But that's not just an issue with the Boston front office.
The Sox aren't alone in hoarding prospect inventory, at a time when the salary structure of the game — and, yes, the demographics of the best players — suggests that the consequences of trading a future standout or even a solid everyday player for a veteran can come at a devastating cost.
A team like the Tigers under newly deposed president/CEO/GM Dave Dombrowski represented an exception — a team that was never shy about trading its best prospect assets for big league talent, and was rewarded with players like Miguel Cabrera and Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez as a result.
Dombrowski was a master of such moves, helping to explain the prominence of his name in Boston right now.
But it would be a mistake to focus on just one team's formula for flipping prospects as assets. There's a wide spectrum of approaches to using touted minor leaguers that have yielded a broad array of outcomes.
The Padres, for instance, left themselves with what may prove to be years of gruesome excavation after taking a sledgehammer to their young talent pool this winter in favor of the acquisition of veteran assets.
The Mariners spent years ruing their willingness to deal Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb.
Conversely, the Cardinals have typically preserved their prospects as their most valued asset. They've also been baseball's most consistent winner over the last decade. Aside from one trade (two rental months of Carlos Beltran in exchange for premium arm Zack Wheeler), the Giants have preserved the cream of their prospect crop over the last decade in building the groundwork of a champion.
The issue that faces the Red Sox — and, frankly, all other teams — is not one of philosophy. It's about execution.
Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal explains the breakdown in the implementation of the Red Sox' philosophy, noting that the Sox' struggles are not a byproduct of their general beliefs — age preferences, prospect valuation, etc. — but instead reflect the team's evaluations of specific players. The recent history of missteps and inefficient expenditures is both stunning and costly, helping to explain why the Red Sox are at something of an organizational crossroads with a need to reconsider how they evaluate players.
"What has doomed the Red Sox in recent seasons has been their evaluation of specific players, be it their on-field skills or their suitability for their roles. Not until they resolve their deficiencies in scouting and player evaluation can the Red Sox dig themselves out of the hole into which they have fallen so abruptly."
The Sox now have two months to evaluate a host of young players like Owens to determine what kind of assets they represent. The resulting determinations will play a massive role in determining whether the team forges a path forward or unable to escape the quicksand in which it finds itself.