I was called a flip-flopper on the latest episode of the Bleacher Brawls podcast, a two-on-one brawl/kangaroo court that was designed to make a fool of me, but merely ended with me tearing through Pat and Joey like Palpatine carving up Mace Windu’s Jedi henchmen.

Their basis for my alleged “flip-flopping” was weaker than Joey’s glass chin.

As regular readers know, I supported the Red Sox rebuild from the moment that Chaim Bloom was hired, even throughout the universally hated trades of Mookie Betts and Hunter Renfroe. Given my track record, Joey insisted that the only possible explanation for my newfound vitriol toward Fenway Sports Group some sudden revelation on my part that the Red Sox’ choice to rebuild in the wake of Dave Dombrowski’s disastrous exit was an ill-conceived failure from the beginning.

This could not be further from the truth. As I’ve said and written countless times over the past few years, I was fully onboard with the rebuild that began in 2020. I understood that when a team has $300 million committed to three ineffective and/or chronically injured starting pitchers with no signs of improvement and nothing of value in the high minor leagues, the only potential solution is taking a step back and prioritizing an aggressive multi-year plan to build up your farm system.

That’s multi-year plan. Multi as in multiple … meaning more than one. Not the better part of a decade.

The long-term future of the Red Sox came into focus beginning in early 2023. Rafael Devers was locked in for 11 years. Triston Casas and Brayan Bello cemented themselves as crucial starters. Connor Wong and Jarren Duran established themselves as permanent big leaguers. Cedanne Rafaela, Wilyer Abreu, and Enmanuel Valdez were fast-tracked to follow in their footsteps. For 12 solid months, I felt that 2024 was the year. 

The year to shift the organizational focus from building up the farm to harvesting the crops.

The year to invest some serious capital in the MLB team, either via free agency or trading from their deep and talented prospect pool.

The year to go from plucky “underdogs” to legitimate competitors.

I was energized when the book closed on a dismal 2023 and opened on an offseason full of promise. I was invigorated even more when Chris Sale’s brittle bag of bones was cast aside for Vaughn Grissom, a talented middle infielder who projects to be a solid top-of-the-order bat for years to come. The addition of Lucas Giolito gave me even more hope that Fenway Sports Group understood that the pitching staff needed more stability.

Aside from securing a righthanded bat (presumably a re-signed Adam Duvall once all is said and done), all that remained was to fill the most important role of all: a frontline starting pitcher to anchor the staff.

Even after Yoshinobu Yamamoto came off the free agent board, some interesting options remained. Would the reborn Red Sox juggernaut pony up for one of Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery, two heavily flawed free agents demanding big paydays? Or would they proceed with my preference of trading a package of minor leaguers to obtain a young hotshot pitcher with a couple years of team control?

And then came the brutal, nad-crunching confessions from executives Craig Breslow, Sam Kennedy, and foot-in-mouth specialist Tom Werner.

The Red Sox would be reducing payroll in 2024. They would depend on big steps forward from the players already on the roster, while the organizational focus remained keyed on the progression of existing and future minor leaguers — particularly the holy triumvirate of saviors who have still not even sniffed the home dugout at Polar Park — Marcelo Mayer, Roman Anthony, and 2023 draftee Kyle Teel. The only prospects valuable enough to highlight a package that could net the kind of starting pitcher they need were not going anywhere.

The message was crystal clear.

2024 is not the year after all. In fact, the year will not arrive until Mayer, Anthony, and Teel complete their development and are deemed to be ready for The Show. These three children, none of whom have advanced past Double-A Portland as of yet, will be critical key pieces of the core that Fenway Sports Group will eventually extend themselves to build around.

Get pumped, Boston. Them Sox are gonna be nasty in 2026!

It just doesn’t add up for me.

Virtually everything is in place for the Red Sox to take that long-awaited leap forward in 2024. They have two middle-of-the-order powerhouses (Devers, Casas) to lead the offense for the next five years. They have a couple talented contact hitters to compliment them (Yoshida, Grissom). They have great athletes to secure the defense up the middle and wreak havoc on the basepaths (Story, Rafaela, Duran). They have good-to-decent starting pitchers to fill out the middle and backend of the rotation (Bello, Giolito, Crawford, Pivetta, Houck). They have an outstanding bullpen (Jansen, Martin, Schreiber, Whitlock, Winckowski).

Despite what Pat says, the Boston Red Sox are not permanently scaling back to become a mid-market team. Not while the Boston Red Sox are the flagship brand of Fenway Sports Group, a conglomerate that is piling up franchises the way Taylor Swift piles up exes.

This is an ownership group that has changed course numerous times in the past due to public outcry, and John Henry is getting richer by the month. No billionaire who is concerned enough with public perception to storm a radio station and confront a pair of sports talk hacks for saying mean things about him would ever consciously relegate the franchise whose stadium bears the name of his portfolio to mediocrity.

As frustrating as this journey has been for all of us, I have no doubt that it’s still a temporary refrain from the big market ways of the past. For the past few years, I thought the Red Sox were trying to rebuild for a few years before putting their vast war chest back to use and resuming the big market ways of decades past. Apparently, I was wrong.

My hopes for an abbreviated rebuild/reload hybrid have been dashed. The Red Sox are now committed to a wholesale, long-haul rebuild. They are going full Astros/Braves/Orioles on us. The big market Boston Red Sox are planning to endure a full six-to-seven year holiday in Mid-Marketville before they decide to go all in and compete with the big dogs again for marquee players.

And it is completely unacceptable.

What’s even more unacceptable is the reason that this rebuild has been extended. With a young, talented team already in place that’s only a star pitcher and a decent righthanded bat away from playoff contention, I can think of only one reason why this ownership would willingly decide to linger in irrelevance for another couple years.

That reason is Roman Anthony.

And no, it’s not a good reason. It’s a shortsighted, irresponsible reason and everyone involved with it should be lashed with a kendo stick.

Don’t get me wrong, Roman Anthony appears to be a good player. He leapt to the top of the Red Sox prospect rankings in 2023, putting up very good stats in A (96 games) and Double-A (10 games) ball, though none of those stats really jump off the page. His advanced stats, the stats I know very little about but Derrik could (and has) pontificate about for hours, are evidently even more impressive. There is a strong possibility that the 19-year-old could turn out to be an impact MLB player.

My problem is that the kid is only 19 years old. He was drafted less than two years ago. He has played a total of 126 games as a professional. He was barely a top-10 Red Sox prospect before last season, and he only ascended to the top of the list after Mayer’s season was derailed by a shoulder injury in early May. Yet Anthony has now joined Mayer and Teel in the realm of untouchable assets who have been etched in stone as future Red Sox lynchpins.

Mayer was a fourth overall pick (who many thought would be drafted first) who plays shortstop and has a great bat. Teel was a 14th overall pick who plays catcher and has a great bat. Anthony was a 79th overall pick who plays outfield and has a great bat.

Which one of these is not like the other?

Do I think Anthony will definitely be a bust simply because he was picked 79th? Of course not. But he’s a low second-round pick who has had one good season and does not play a premium defensive position. Shortstops and catchers who can hit are way tougher to find than outfielders who can hit. Mayer was anointed as the golden boy ever since miraculously falling to Boston in the draft, and he was electric up until his shoulder injury, which is now fully healed. Teel is a catcher who rakes, which is baseball’s version of a 7-footer who can drain threes.

I have no problem with an organization having three great prospects they want to hold onto. Not unless that organization loads of young positional talent but zero hope of spending on or developing a frontline starting pitcher any time soon. 

No talented team that is bereft of an ace should be allowed to say they have three “untouchable” position players in the low minors. Roman Anthony shot to the top of the Red Sox prospect hierarchy after a surprisingly great year. He had the most under-the-radar surge of the organization’s three top minor leaguers, yet his value is currently the highest of the three. His unremarkable pedigree and his inability to play a premium position tell me that he is the most likely of the trio to regress in 2024, which would plummet his value right back down the totem pole. 

Making Roman Anthony the centerpiece of a trade to acquire a frontline starting pitcher with multiple years of team control was the best way to potentially fill the enormous void at the top of the Red Sox starting rotation. I believe that a package featuring Anthony and a few mid-range prospects (let’s say Nick Yorke, Blaze Jordan, and Wikelman Gonzalez) along with an MLB-ready player like Jarren Duran or Enmanuel Valdez could have landed a young pitcher like George Kirby, Logan Gilbert, or Jesus Lazardo. Any of those three options could anchor Boston’s starting rotation while remaining under team control for at least the next two seasons.

Alas, dubbing Anthony a sacred cow along with Mayer and Teel (the real sacred cows), has pretty much removed Boston from playoff competition this season. If you disagree with that assessment, I suggest you reconsider the effect that having an ace to depend on can mean to a team. 

Even if Trevor Story and Lucas Giolito bounce back to their old selves (as I expect them to), Brayan Bello and Kutter Crawford continue to develop as effective starting pitchers, Cedanne Rafaela and Wilyer Abreu become reliable outfielders, and Vaughn Grissom makes a run at Rookie of the Year, the 2024 Boston Red Sox have little chance at reaching the playoffs without a stopper who can hurl 150+ innings with an ERA around 3.50. Snell (walks) and Montgomery (history) don’t fit the “ace” bill in my estimation, so that stopper can’t be acquired simply by throwing money at the problem the way Joey seems to think it would.

Of course, Joey also tried to float the preposterous notion that my proposal was a one-for-one trade of Kirby for Anthony. So we already knew the kind of swashbuckling snake-oil misinformation to expect from the Confucious of Contradictions. 

This team would need to be blessed with good health and a little luck to make a run even if they did add an ace, and they’d have precious little room for error in that regard. But I foresee this roster being an exciting team that will build a great rapport and surprise a lot of doubters this season.

Why not buy in and supply them with the final crucial piece that they need to make an honest run? 

Because a 79th pick had a good year in Salem and Greenville? 

 

 

By Luke

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