Outside of the Shane Victorino signing, most of the vets that the team acquired this winter should give Boston a deeper squad.
That being said, looking at the Red Sox this spring, I wonder in retrospect if they would have been better served to truly commit to a youth movement and their farm system this year.
The Red Sox spent $100 million to import Jonny Gomes, Victorino, Stephen Drew, Ryan Dempster, Mike Napoli and David Ross. Boston is improved and deeper than the past couple of seasons, but these players have blocked the path of some of the organization’s top prospects.
It seems to be the way that Boston is going to treat its top prospects right now; the team is hedging its bets.
At different points last year, the Red Sox brought up Ryan Lavarnway and Jose Iglesias to see if they could stick at the major league level. Both players struggled. Given the atmosphere around the team, it shouldn't have come as a shock.
Instead, the Red Sox went out and signed Ross to a two-year contract, further blocking Lavarnway’s path to the majors. The problem was two-fold: Lavarnway struggled enough to make the Red Sox concerned, and incumbent Jarrod Saltalamacchia struggled to provide anything besides power behind the plate.
In the case of Iglesias, he simply looked like a player who couldn’t hit. But if the Red Sox believed that he was ready enough to promote him, then they needed to give him more than a snapshot view before making the decision to bring in Stephen Drew.
Now, Boston has a shortstop making $9.5 million. No matter how well Iglesias plays this spring, he is going back to Pawtucket.
Jackie Bradley Jr. looks to be right on the brink of helping the major league roster. However, given the way the Red Sox have constructed their outfield, that will be difficult to do without putting a player making millions on the bench.
Victorino looks like a shell of the player he used to be. Yet the Red Sox signed him to a three-year contract for $39 million—a contract that was extremely questionable at the time and only looks worse at the moment.
Gomes was signed for two years under the pretense of giving him a shot at a full-time job, even with a history of struggling against right-handed pitching.
On the other side is Bradley. The 22-year-old outfielder looks like he is ready and would add a youthful boost of energy to the veteran roster.
Do you want to jump your prospects from Double-A to the majors very often? No. But the Red Sox haven’t left themselves any flexibility to promote him without ruffling the feathers of the vets they just signed.
Looking at the pitching staff, newcomer Ryan Dempster has looked very good, but so have young prospects Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa.
The Red Sox invested $30 million into Dempster and have $31 million remaining to John Lackey, and yet, it is possible that, by the end of this season, both Webster and De La Rosa may be better options for the Red Sox rotation. No matter how well Webster pitches this spring, he is ticketed back to Triple-A.
It may turn out that Dempster was a good signing, just an unnecessary one, given the Red Sox's pitching prospects at the minor league level.
Part of the reason the Red Sox might be reluctant to go with younger players is the fact that the team hasn’t won a playoff game in four years and hasn’t qualified for the playoffs in the last three. Not much to show for spending north of $600 million. I’m sure that Red Sox ownership expected more return on its investment.
It is easy to understand why Boston general manager Ben Cherington made the moves, but I can’t help but wonder what the Sox would look like with younger players given the opportunity to play.
The only real bright spot from last season was the impact that prospects Will Middlebrooks, Junichi Tazawa and Felix Doubront had on the Boston roster.
At some point, the Red Sox need to trust their scouts, their prospects and their evaluations, or the commitment to the player development is going to seem half-hearted.