Did the Red Sox give up too much for Craig Kimbrel? Yes, they probably did.
The Prospect Industrial Complex doesn't like this trade, citing the vast potential of Logan Allen, Carlos Asuaje, Javier Guerra, and Manuel Margot.
"If you're a Boston Red Sox fan, this is exactly the trade you feared Dave Dombrowski would make when he joined the front office, trading away the jewels of the majors' best farm system for veterans who are or may be past their peak values," wrote Keith Law of ESPN.
Prospect evaluators with Baseball America, Fangraphs, and MLB.com expressed similar sentiments. They all see Margot and Guerra as future stars with Allen an intriguing prospect.
But the thing is, this trade is exactly the reason Dombrowski was hired in August.
The Red Sox have finished in last place two years in a row, steadily losing ground in the American League East after winning the World Series in 2013. Their business model is not built to sustain more failure.
It's hard to ask people to pay an average of $52 for a ticket and $40 to park without dangling some kind of reward out there. Fans in Boston want to dream on this season, not two or three years down the road. Tickets go on sale in a month and nobody breaks out their credit card because of prospect depth.
"We didn't give anything up at the major league level to affect our club this year," Dombrowski said on Friday. "It's good talent. Some of it's a while away."
Back in August, Dombrowski hinted he would make a deal such as this.
"If you know you have a shortstop, that's not a position you'll need to worry about," Dombrowski said. "The young players on the major league roster allow us some leeway."
Shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who won a Silver Slugger the other day, is only three years older than Guerra. Mookie Betts is two years older than Margot.
Guerra and Margot, as good as they might be, were what amounted to inventory for the Red Sox. Their value was as trade chips.
Could the Red Sox have gotten more for them? Presumably not, otherwise they would have. That package of four players was not bringing back Sonny Gray or Chris Sale. Dombrowski mentioned the other day that that the GM Meetings were helpful in determining what the Sox could not do.
Beyond that, it may have been a matter of timing. Dombrowski said the Red Sox made Kimbrel one of their priorities during organizational meetings last month. Once the Padres made him available, it was time to move or risk seeing him go to another team.
Beyond that, Dombrowski did not empty the shelves. The Red Sox still have second baseman Yoan Moncada, third baseman Rafael Devers, righthander Anderson Espinoza, outfielder Andrew Benintendi, and righthander Michael Kopech. They also have the No. 12 pick in the June draft.
The Red Sox farm system was rated among the top five in the game before the trade and it still is. The idea that Dombrowski mortgaged the future isn't true.
But he did improve the present. Obtaining Kimbrel should help fix what was a discouragingly awful bullpen for the final two months of last season. Now he's the closer with Koji Uehara sliding into the eighth inning and Junichi Tazawa into the seventh.
Robbie Ross and Tommy Layne are the lefties and maybe Matt Barnes can help. Dombrowski suggested some tweaks would be made too.
It's not Kansas City's bullpen, but it's a good one. At a time when late-inning relievers have increased in value, the Sox went out and obtained one of the best.
Kimbrel was otherworldly during his five seasons with the Braves, striking out an average of 14.8 batters per nine innings while posting a 1.43 earned run average. His WHIP was a ridiculous 0.90.
By that lofty standard, last season in San Diego was a letdown. But Kimbrel still had a 2.58 ERA, maintained a 13.2 K/9 rate, and his WHIP was 1.04. His velocity was unchanged, sitting at 96-97 and peaking at 99.
At 27, Kimbrel is very much in his prime. Dombrowski loves power arms and this is a power arm. Among relievers, only Aroldis Chapman of the Reds (99.4) and Arquimedes Caminero of the Pirates (97.9) had average fastballs with more velocity than Kimbrel (97.3) last season.
Kimbrel was traded to the Padres the day before the season started and it took him some time to settle in. He had a 5.00 ERA in his first 20 games. After that it was 1.52 and opponents hit .150.
On Friday, Kimbrel mentioned he was relieved to know he would have a full spring training to adjust to a new team this time.
The Red Sox also know him well, or at least senior vice president of baseball operations Frank Wren certainly does. As general manager of the Braves, Wren drafted and developed Kimbrel and signed him to a long-term contract.
Prospects were the currency for bullpen repairs. Now actual currency will be needed for the rotation. The Red Sox appear sure to sign a high-profile starter rather than trade for one.
Forget the idea of trading Betts or Bogaerts to the Mets for one of their young starters.
"Going into the winter time and with conversations we've had with clubs over the last month, my thought process is most likely any acquisition we'd make in the starting pitching would first happen as far as the free-agent field is concerned," Dombrowski said. "You never know, but that would be my guess."
Obviously it would be better to retain their draft pick by signing a free agent not attached to a qualifying offer. That makes David Price and Johnny Cueto prime candidates. Mike Leake and Scott Kazmir are in the same category.
There are no three-year plans in Boston. Dombrowski was hired to act decisively and get this team out of last place. This is acting decisively.
A few other Red Sox observations:
■ Uehara distinguished himself on Friday night, responding to the trade with a series of positive comments via Twitter. His willingness to take on a lesser role is a big part of this deal.
■ The Red Sox will have $20 million tied up for their closer and their set-up man. In 2013, Uehara, Tazawa, and Craig Breslow cost $6.57 million.
■ Dombrowski has been consistent in saying he has no intention of trading Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. or Rusney Castillo. But a key addition this winter could be the fourth outfielder. The Red Sox need a player capable of being a starter given that Bradley and Castillo cannot yet be considered established major leaguers.
■ Margot homered for Toros del Este in the Dominican League right around the time the trade was being announced. Wonder if he knew he had been dealt?
■ Zack Greinke will probably end up back with the Dodgers; that would seem to make a lot of sense. But the Red Sox could be an intriguing team for him.
Greinke came to the majors in 2004 with Kansas City. Allard Baird, now a Red Sox executive, was the GM of the Royals at the time. Greinke also played five years in Kansas City with Brian Bannister, who is now director of pitcher analysis and development for the Red Sox.
At 32, Greinke is unlikely to command a six-year deal. But the Red Sox may be willing to overpay for four years, perhaps dramatically so, and give up that draft pick. Just something to keep in mind.