By Sterling Pingree
It was two years ago today, that the Red Sox hired Dave Dombrowski to be the president of baseball operations (POBO). Some will look at it was the two year anniversary of Ben Cherington being tossed off the back of John Henry’s yacht like he was Big Puss on The Sopranos. Dombrowski has made a litany of trades since coming to Boston and has used prospects as currency like an 18-year old with dad’s credit card. Even so, looking at the two years as a whole, things have turned out pretty good but is that because Dombrowski has made the right decisions or were those decisions made for him?
Even with David Price in the fold in Boston, or with Price folding in Boston, Chris Sale was the white whale of major league baseball. (Or the White Sox whale, it depends who you ask.) Rumors had swirled for a couple of years that he would be dealt and the Red Sox were always in the mix. The decision to push the chips, of one of the best farm systems in baseball, to the center of the table to get another ace in the hole was so tempting, but if you’re the Red Sox who do you move to get him? A year ago, Moncada and Benintendi looked untouchable. Benintendi with that swing and that hair was reminding Sox fans of Freddie Lynn or Carl Yastrzemski. Moncada is built like Hershel Walker with tons of power, off the charts athleticism and the number one prospect ranking in Baseball America.
Then there was Rafael Devers, who at the time of last year’s trade deadline was in a-ball, hitting for a good average but that was about it. Just 19-years old, I have to admit that I would’ve traded Devers in a Sale trade if the White Sox would have accepted him. Devers was only in single-a, wasn’t showing a lot of power and for some reason reminded me of Delmon Young, the former Rays prospect who ravaged the minor leagues and flamed out in the majors. I thought at best that Devers could become a rawer version of Xander Bogaerts who may or may not ever develop into a major leaguer. If you had asked me a year ago, I would’ve bet the farm on Moncada and dealt Devers without thinking twice.
Now credit is a tricky thing and it’s easy to say that Dombrowski made the right deal because he kept Benintendi and Devers, who are leading the Red Sox offense lately, but there is another reality at play. Perhaps Dombrowski would have preferred a year ago to trade Devers instead of Moncada but the White Sox wouldn’t do the deal with Devers as the centerpiece, in which case Chicago saved Dombrowski from himself. Seems pretty likely, right? Devers and Michael Kopech as the cornerstones probably don’t get a Chris Sale trade done. Moncada has always had more sizzle, but at this point, Devers has more steak.
I called the Chris Sale trade Dave Dombrowski’s white whale and it is, because that trade alone could make or break his career in Boston. If Moncada becomes the infield version of Mike Trout and Sale doesn’t replicate his performance thus far this season, the POBO is going to catch the blame. But if things continue the way they are now, Dombrowski will look like the smartest man in the room, even if the answers were provided for him. In trades, we evaluate them by comparing what you get with what you gave up. Suddenly however, there is a third direction and that has been provided by Devers because we now have somebody else to measure Moncada against and that is his replacement. It’s lost in the terrific season that Travis Shaw is having in Milwaukee, but a year ago his average had fallen off a cliff in Boston and talk revolved around moving Moncada from second base to third base to try and fill the void. Moncada can be good, and he should be, the guy was the number one prospect in baseball, but he has competition now, because Devers really is a third baseman and is actually producing at the big league level. Moncada has already been given the chance to showcase his talents in Chicago, but if he’s not better than Devers, the trade is probably still going to be viewed by Red Sox fans pretty favorably.
Moncada hasn’t looked comfortable at times in the majors, he certainly didn’t in his cup of coffee last season in Boston. He seems to be getting his feet under him a little bit in Chicago, but it’s been a lot of more of a process than many thought it would be. If the comparisons start early, Devers has looked like a 10-year vet since his debut and I will contend that his home run Sunday night off of Aroldis Chapman was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen a rookie do. Aaron Judge hitting 37 home runs is great, but a 20-year old, turning around a 103mph fastball with a 1-2 count, in the 9th inning, trailing by a run, in Yankee Stadium, on Sunday Night Baseball and taking it out to the big part of the ball park, opposite field and hitting the mute button on a crowd like he did is awe inspiring.
A story came out shortly after the trade deadline that said Red Sox ownership didn’t allow Dave Dombrowski to trade any of their higher rated prospects. I agree with this edict, but I had to ask, who could they have traded? Double-A third baseman Michael Chavis? 18-year old hurler Jay Groome? 2017 draft choice Tanner Houck? Maybe the team thought they were good enough as is, or maybe, just maybe, someone was saving Dombrowski from himself again. With the equity that he has quickly built up this season, like the Red Sox young talent, I’d sit back and watch it mature.
Sterling Pingree is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and ‘Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.