December 7, 2016
For Sale: Red Sox Prospects
One imagines Dave Dombrowski climbing down to the field level at Fenway Park, lifting his arms in the air and screaming “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED” to the heavens.
Last offseason, Dombrowski didn’t make any franchise-altering moves, and that came as a bit of a surprise. Sure, he traded away Manny Margot and decent secondary prospects for Craig Kimbrel, but Boston’s system was so deep and their need at reliever so great that most people (myself included) forgave that perceived overpay. Dealing Anderson Espinoza to the Padres for Drew Pomeranz at midseason was big too, but not like this. Nothing like this.
In acquiring Chris Sale for three of their remaining top prospects--including one truly elite talent in Moncada--the Red Sox have fundamentally changed their outlook now and well into the future. And while they’ve gutted their farm system in the process--Dombrowski doesn’t care about your prospects, fam--they haven’t meaningfully impacted the young nucleus that led them to the playoffs last season.
We don’t need to spend a lot of time on Sale, because we all know who and what he is, but it’s worth taking a cursory look at his recent numbers. The bad news is his DRA has risen in each of the past four seasons. The good news is it’s risen to 2.69. Sale continues to serve as a workhorse on the mound despite the constant worrying over his slight frame, delivery, and some injuries here and there, and while his fastball has lost some velocity it’s still in the above-average range for a lefty.
Sale is just entering his age-28 season, coming off a dominant year, and is still a capital-A Ace. David Price may have the bigger contract and Rick Porcello the more impressive hardware, but Sale is probably now Boston’s best pitcher. Sale’s dominance aside, what’s perhaps a little overlooked in the early hours after this trade is his insanely team-friendly contract. Sale is under control for the next three seasons for just $38 million, and the Red Sox acquired him during an offseason in which the best free agent starter on the market was Rich Hill, who is 400 years older than Sale and is now more expensive than him, too.
They had to give up a ton of talent to get Sale, of course, but the Red Sox acquired a premium contract (even if they do pay for Moncada, as reported) in addition to a premium player. That’s important given Dombrowski’s recently stated goals (for which he reportedly has no mandate) about staying under the salary cap.
Declaring any team a front-runner on December 6 is foolish, but right now the Red Sox look like the team to beat in the AL. Sale, Price, and Porcello should be joined by Eduardo Rodriguez and one of Drew Pomeranz, Clay Buchholz, and Steven Wright in the rotation. Odds are that one of those last three players is dealt, while another transitions to full-time relief and another remains a swingman to provide depth. Their earlier trade for Tyler Thornburg gives them a potent one-two bullpen punch that will only get stronger when Carson Smith returns.
And the offense? It didn’t get any worse, which is somewhat remarkable when you acquire a player of Sale’s caliber. We heard countless rumors that the Red Sox would need to part with Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi, or at least Blake Swihart in addition to prospects to land Sale. Indeed, that was the asking price as recently as July.
That turns out not to be the case, and while subtracting Moncada hurts Boston’s offensive depth in 2017, he wasn’t going to be ready to play third base every day for at least a few months. Plus, the Red Sox scored 878 runs last season, and that was with black holes in third base, catcher, and to some extent in left field. They have some margin for error on that side of the bar.
Where this really hurts the Red Sox is in terms of organizational depth. Dombrowski inherited a top-five farm system in the summer of 2015, and my relatively uneducated guess is that it’s a bottom-10 system now. Rafael Devers and Jason Groome are elite prospects, but in losing Moncada, Margot, Espinoza, Kopech, Basabe, Dubon, and Javier Guerra in trades--plus graduating Benintendi--it’s thinned out awfully quickly. That might limit the Red Sox as they try to make moves in the future, but as noted above, they have some starting depth to play with, as well as a few interesting relievers short on options (Heath Hembree, Robbie Ross) too.
Dombrowski still has work to do. The loss of David Ortiz’s on-field production has become an afterthought in the midst of the celebration of his career, but his absence leaves a gaping hole in the lineup. They also need some insurance at third base--there’s suddenly a whole lot of pressure on Pablo Sandoval--and will need to do something with their glut of starting pitchers. But too many starters is a good problem to have in this market, as is needing to find complements to a roster led by Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Benintendi, Bradley Jr., Dustin Pedroia, three dominant starters, and three (well, two for now) dominant relievers.
We can’t count out Dombrowski doing something else to shake up the roster, but even if his most dramatic offseason addition from this point onward rhymes with Pitch Poreland, he’s transformed the Red Sox from also-rans to contenders to favorites in very little time. He owes Ben Cherington a gift basket, that’s for sure, but Red Sox ownership brought Dombrowski in to make deals like this, and made them he has. —Ben Carsley
When you’re talking about elite players context becomes less important than it otherwise would be. That doesn’t make it wholly unimportant, however, and the move to Boston is strong for Sale. Most notably, Boston scored the most runs in baseball last year, while logging the sixth-best team TAv and seventh-best VORP. The White Sox were 20th, 24th, and 23rd, respectively. Yes, Sale won 17 games, but he also posted a quality start in nine other turns in which he failed to earn a “W.” Just one of his 17 wins came when he surrendered more than three earned runs. Boston’s pre-Thornburgian, sans-Carson-Smithian bullpen managed top-10 performances in both ERA and DRA, while the White Sox were a marginally below-average outfit on both counts. By any measure of supporting qualities, the jump is a net positive.
The other main advantage to this jump? The batterymate(s) he figures to work with. Oh, the sweet, sweet relief of leaving Chicago. Sale’s starts last year were reasonably split between Dioner Navarro and Alex Avila, who combined to cost their pitchers 11.6 runs with poor framing efforts. Sale was hurt by six runs, which was a particularly jarring total just a year removed from being helped by 10 runs via the soft hand of Tyler Flowers. Sandy Leon is no champion of the effort, but he’s not as bad as those two. And a healthier Christian Vazquez is kind of the bee’s knees, so there’s opportunity for considerable upside on this front. The ballpark jump largely comes out in the wash. Boston is a worse place to pitch in general, but a better place to pitch if one is interested in avoiding home run allowance. That’s good for Sale, as the occasional dinger is one of his few vices on the mound. —Wilson Karaman
Acquired INF-B Yoan Moncada, RHP Michael Kopech, OF-B Luis Alexander Basabe, and RHP Victor Diaz from Boston Red Sox in exchange for LHP Chris Sale. [12/6]
Moncada—who will turn 22 in May—has been one of the minors’ most recognizable prospects since signing from Cuba in February of 2015. He introduced himself on a national stage in July, hitting a home run in the Futures Game en route to being named MVP in San Diego. A potential star talent with impact tools, he’s the only type of prospect who can realistically headline a deal for a true front-rotation arm with a team-friendly contract. There are only a few prospects you’ll hear evaluators prefer over Moncada, and some have him ranked as the best prospect in baseball. Either way, almost all agree that his explosive blend of athleticism, power, and speed are unmatched by any position prospect in the game.
At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Moncada’s frame as a second baseman elicits comparisons to Robinson Cano for his unusual physicality and fluidity for the position. He’s the good kind of switch-hitter, with more production batting left-handed against the more common right-handed pitchers. Seeing him in both Portland (Double-A) and Salem (High-A) last season, I was impressed by Moncada's consistent swing mechanics from both sides of the plate. His swing starts fairly upright, with average width to his hitting base. His trigger has some noise before getting to the swing’s final launch position, with a low toe-tap and slight downward hitch as he moves his hands back. His hands work with such speed and strength through the hitting zone that Moncada overcomes a few mechanical imperfections.
He generates explosive contact that shows the loft for over-the-fence power, especially as a left-handed hitter (13 of 15 home runs this season). He might be prone to strikeouts throughout his career given the bigger swing and a fairly lengthy, uphill swing path, but when Moncada’s timing is on, there's an ease to his swing’s finish rarely seen in a young hitter. Even if there's a consistent element of swing-and-miss throughout his career, Moncada shows the pure hitting ability, power, and patience to compensate for it. He’s able to drive the gaps for hits from both sides of the plate, and he gets up the line very well for a hitter with a big swing, which should allow his plus speed to tack on some extra hits.
Though all of his MLB debut was spent at third base, I saw Moncada play exclusively second base in my looks at him. He actually never recorded any time at third base during any point in his minor-league career. At the keystone, he has the ease and first step to range well up the middle. He’s probably a bit too thick in the lower half to profile as a true shortstop, with an arm that's also closer to average than above. While he showed a consistent penchant for the routine play, he sped the game up defensively at times, especially early in the season.
He could struggle with routine plays, occasionally being a bit too flashy and sailing the first baseman with needlessly complex footwork. Those mental errors are things that a player with Moncada’s talent can overcome with maturity and focus; even by my later-season looks at Double-A he appeared more poised and focused at second base. Seeing him at third base this September was interesting; he has positional versatility, and his bat likely will produce enough pop to profile fine at the hot corner. With two seasons of more than 40 steals on his professional resume, Moncada’s ceiling is that of a 20-homer infielder with a chance to crack 40 stolen bases in his physical prime.
His scuffles in a short big-league call-up might hint that he needs slightly more seasoning in the high minors to begin 2017. With Brett Lawrie and Todd Frazier currently penciled in next season at second and third base, respectively, Chicago has even more rationale to keep Moncada’s service time controlled during the early months. Both Lawrie and Frazier are free agents after this year, however, and there shouldn’t be anything long term preventing Moncada from occupying a steadfast role in Chicago’s lineup of the future. —Adam McInturff
Kopech was drafted at the end of 2014’s first round, turning from a lanky “thrower” with a big fastball to the game’s highest-velocity starter prospect. I saw him the summer before his senior year of high school, and numerous times this season with High-A Salem. In the last three years, he’s added a lot of strength across his upper-half and core, now looking the part of a long-levered power pitcher with lean strength throughout. He pitches from a semi-windup, with a tall leg lift that turns away from hitters just slightly at the top of his balance point.
Though he’s still a little twisted through his delivery, the “uncoiling” down the mound is far less dramatic than his amateur days. Accordingly, he stays more online to targets as he finishes his delivery, allowing improved ability to find the strike zone and develop a more consistent secondary pitch. Though his arm slot is south of over-top, Kopech still works pretty high through his release; a very forceful and strong arm stroke that produces his 80-grade heat also features recoil after letting go of the pitch.
Kopech has the raw stuff of a front-line starter, but the question is how much he can refine his pitchability and control to challenge big-league hitters with raw power that's about as good as it gets. His fiery and competitive demeanor could serve him well if he winds up pitching in a late-inning role, where his two pitches could be dominant, closer-like offerings. —Adam McInturff
Luis Alexander Basabe is the second Luis A. Basabe the Red Sox have dealt this year; his twin brother, infielder Luis Alejandro Basabe, was dealt to Arizona in the midseason Brad Ziegler trade. Often confused with his twin, this Basabe is a significantly better prospect, having ranked sixth in last week’s Boston top 10. He's an athletic switch-hitter with plus speed and good raw power. Notably, he's got a much better idea of what he's doing in center field than most at the Low-A level, and with his physicality has every chance to stay there all the way up the chain. The question is whether he can hit upper-level pitching, and we're a few years from beginning to answer that one, but there's real impact potential here if things develop. —Jarrett Seidler
As Single-A relievers go, Diaz is an interesting prospect, although you'll go broke betting on them as a group. Diaz throws very, very hard, with multiple reports of triple digits on a fastball that shows a lot of life. He pairs it with a slider and changeup, with the slider showing more promise as the future primary secondary offering. His maximum-effort delivery is what confines him to the bullpen, complete with head whack and violent landing, and like every other prospect with this profile he needs a lot of work on his command. But as fourth pieces in a deal go, Diaz is a pretty good one. —Jarrett Seidler
Despite floundering during his brief Red Sox debut, Moncada remains the top dynasty prospect in the game. His potential ceiling remains intact as a rare five-category switch-hitting monster who not only hits for both average and power, but also possesses the speed and the swagger to make a substantial impact in stolen bases. The most important fantasy element of this trade concerns his future defensive home. A natural second basemen, this deal ensures that he moves back to the position and becomes the long-term centerpiece of the White Sox's lineup. Both outcomes were unlikely to occur in Boston. Fantasy owners should temper their expectations for 2017 because Moncada would certainly benefit from additional minor-league seasoning, but his future remains exceptionally bright. It’s not entirely unreasonable to project him to hit for a .280-plus average, with upwards of 20 home runs and 30 steals annually. This is what a potential franchise cornerstone looks like in the current fantasy landscape. —George Bissell
Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @bencarsley