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.
To the links!
ABOUT LAST NIGHT: Owens impressed in his big league debut, walking off the mound after five-plus innings with a lead, but his bullpen proved brutal as the Red Sox got blown out, 13-3, by Yankees. Peter Abraham examines a promising start and a cover-your-eyes ending.
Chase Headley of the Yankees told John Tomase of WEEI.com that Owens didn’t feature “super stuff,” but that his poise and execution stood out and suggested a pitcher who can be a solid big league starter. Here’s the box score.
The Red Sox are 3-7 against the Yankees this year and 10-19 against them over the last two years. The team is now 20-32 on the road this year.
THE MOST COVETED FREE AGENT IN THE GAME?: The Tigers showed the door to president/CEO/GM Dave Dombrowski after a 14-year run that turned a team that was one of the worst in major league history in 2002 to a World Series participant in 2006 and a perennial contender this decade. He will now be courted by a host of teams looking to bolster their front offices. Nick Cafardo examines Dombrowski’s record and wonders whether the Red Sox can afford not to explore adding him as a president of baseball operations, above GM Ben Cherington.
Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com said that the Red Sox are likely to speak to Dombrowski but identified a number of reasons why he might not be a fit for the Red Sox.
Christina Kahrl offers an excellent look at Dombrowski’s track record for ESPN.com.
On Fox Sports, Dave Cameron offers a look at the one problem that plagued Dombrowski — and likely allowed the Red Sox to get past Detroit and win the World Series in 2013.
AS OWENS ARRIVES, JOHNSON IS LEFT TO WAIT; BARNES ON DECK?: The words “ulnar collateral” are frightening ones when associated with a pitcher, yet for now, the Red Sox remain optimistic that Brian Johnson’s left elbow irritation (located, manager John Farrell said, close to the ulnar collateral nerve) is treatable with rest. Indeed, there’s at least the possibility (though something less than a certainty) that Johnson will pitch again this year, but to date, there’s no suggestion that the pitcher will require surgery.
While Johnson has been sidelined, Matt Barnes — who has spent most of this season in the bullpen — will return to the PawSox rotation on Wednesday. Barnes’s best secondary pitch throughout most of his minor league career had been his changeup. In the bullpen, he often stopped using the pitch, leaning heavily on a breaking ball that has shown considerable improvement this year but that has done little to allow his potentially electric fastball to play up.
“Where’d his changeup go?” one talent evaluator recently wondered.
Though his long-term role might remain in the bullpen, the Sox want Barnes to bring back his full pitch mix, with the move back to the rotation being seen as one means of assisting that process. Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal details Barnes’s move.
A LOT HAS HAPPENED IN 21 MONTHS: Of the nine players in the Red Sox lineup on Tuesday in New York, just three (David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Xander Bogaerts) started a postseason game for Boston in the title run of 2013. Dustin Pedroia took stock of the far-reaching changes in the organization in Peter Abraham’s notebook.
AUGUST BLOCKBUSTER REDUX?: Dave Cameron of Fangraphs examines whether the Red Sox can re-enact the Great Salary Dump of August 2012. Specifically, he examines whether the Red Sox and Padres might make dance partners for a deal that would be built around third baseman Pablo Sandoval in exchange for pitcher James Shields, with the Red Sox perhaps sweetening the pot with a pair of potentially blocked prospects in Jackie Bradley Jr. and Deven Marrero.
VICTORINO, REMEMBERED: Chad Finn of Boston.com revisits the question of whether Shane Victorino lived up to his contract in Boston, and despite the fact that his contributions were almost non-existent in 2014 and 2015, comes away with an emphatic “yes” of an answer.
While the 2013 season is treated increasingly as some kind of serendipitous accident for the Red Sox, it’s possible to go too far in looking past how the Red Sox ended up being a spectacular team that year. One of the most underappreciated aspects of that team was the fact that Red Sox team had three of the top 20 all-around players in the game that year in Dustin Pedroia (6.6 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference.com, a mark that ranked 10th in the majors), Victorino (5.8, 17th), and Jacoby Elllsbury (5.7, 19th).
That trio helped the Sox produce their best-rounded team since at least 2008, and offers a mold of the type of player that the Red Sox need to build around going forward.
Now, in a 2015 season when Pedroia’s secondary skills (defense and baserunning) have taken a severe statistical hit and when both Victorino and Ellsbury are gone, the Red Sox are left with a roster that has proven anything but well-rounded. Mookie Betts looks like he has a chance to contribute in every facet of the game, and Xander Bogaerts has been an asset both on offense and defense, but beyond that pair, the team hasn’t gotten any contributions that can be characterized as having been both offensively and defensively above-average.
The team’s efforts to land players with diverse skill sets in the last 12 months — through the additions of Rusney Castillo and Pablo Sandoval — have yet to yield dividends. The book remains out on Castillo, certainly, who is just now showing early signs of gaining his footing in the big leagues, while there are sirens blaring about the possibility of Sandoval’s offensive and defensive decline. A great deal is riding on the Sox’ ability to find (or develop) their next wave of Victorino-like players.
THE HITTER’S MIND: John Jaso broke down his five at-bats against the Red Sox on Saturday with David Laurila in Fangraphs, in a fashion that illuminated the thought process that underlies an offensive approach. Of particular intrigue was the way that Red Sox catcher Ryan Hanigan shaped Jaso’s offensive approach.
CRUZING FOR HOMERS: Nelson Cruz is attempting to illustrate the notion that home runs, like bananas, can come in bunches. Cruz has now homered in five straight games — the second time this year that he’s had a five-game homer streak. Greg Johns of MLB.com details the feat.
According to Elias Sports, Cruz is the fifth player ever with two five-homer streaks in the same season, joining Harmon Killebrew (1970), Frank Thomas (1994), Barry Bonds (2001), and Chase Utley (2008).
CARRASCO’S BREAKTHROUGH: Curious why Carlos Carrasco’s name excited so much interest at the trade deadline? In his last two starts, Carrasco achieved a mark of excellence in back-to-back performances that had been unseen by an AL pitcher since a prominent screwballer pronated his way to prominence in the 1980s, as Jordan Bastian details for MLB.com.