Nearly 15 months have passed since the Boston Herald declared the Red Sox the "Best Team Ever." In that time, we've seen a summer of .600 ball, an unprecedented September collapse and a season riddled with injuries, under-performance and decline from a collection of stars that were expected to carry the team back to the World Series.
The problem, from an organizational perspective, is that the Red Sox strayed from their plan to build a "scouting and player development machine," as former General Manager Theo Epstein articulated in November 2002 (Source: Chicago Tribune).
Rather than filling positional holes with affordable, short-term stopgaps like Epstein did in 2003 with Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar and David Ortiz, the Red Sox began to dole out premium contracts to big-name players entering their 30s. In essence, they have shifted to a player-acquisition model that overvalues past, rather than future, performance.
Instead of exhibiting patience with the young, cost-controlled OF Josh Reddick (who broke out this season with the Oakland A's), the Red Sox gave the now 31-year old Carl Crawford a seven-year, $142 million contract. Instead of signing someone like Jon Garland to a short-term deal and waiting for one of its prospects to emerge (or the opportunity to acquire an ace to present itself), Boston opted to ink John Lackey, a pitcher with a documented history of arm damage, to an $85 million deal that lasts through his 36th birthday.
Now, unsurprisingly, the Boston Red Sox find themselves with limited financial flexibility, few trade-able assets, and a bevvy of injuries and under-performance from players with bloated contracts. With this in mind, the Red Sox need to balance their immediate problems (declining ticket sales and fan interest) with their long-term organizational aspirations to remain perennial contenders in an increasingly competitive American League.
There is one thing that can satisfy both of those needs: an infusion of youth.
In order to finally gain some payroll flexibility (and develop trade-able assets), the Red Sox need to give their top prospects a chance to shine in the majors. Let's take a look at five youngsters who belong on the big-league squad next year.