Why the Red Sox’ long-term plan for the future isn’t fair to anyone

Red Sox

“The reality is that it’s going to require a step forward from the young position players.”

Kyle Teel, Roman Anthony and Marcelo Mayer have plenty of pressure on them in 2024. . Ken McGagh for The Boston Globe

COMMENTARY

With less than a month to go until pitchers and catchers report, the Red Sox finally showed their hand.

After sparking hope for a weary fanbase with talks of a “full throttle” offseason back in November, the Red Sox top brass snuffed out such optimism with their words in January regarding the team’s payroll and relative inaction this winter. 

The 2024 Red Sox — as currently constituted — would have to spend at least $36 million to reach MLB’s first competitive tax threshold of $237 million.

But it doesn’t seem as though Boston is willing to come close to that ceiling, with team president Sam Kennedy telling the media at Winter Weekend that the payroll for this season will “probably be lower” than it was in 2023. 

The payroll last year was $225 million.

In a conversation with The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham just days earlier, new Red Sox chief baseball officer Craig Breslow stressed that Boston was playing the long game, especially in regards to the team’s trio of blue-chip prospects in shortstop Marcelo Mayer, outfielder Roman Anthony, and catcher Kyle Teel. 

“I think the reality is that it’s going to require a step forward from the young position players,” Breslow told Abraham. “It’s going to require the build-out of a talent pipeline of arms that we can acquire, we draft, and we can develop internally.

“And it’s going to require aggressive player development in the minor leagues and the major leagues so guys that we think are the next wave — Mayer and Anthony and Teel, that group — are not just big leaguers but impact big leaguers. The convergence of all those pieces is the fastest path to a World Series team.”

Granted, Breslow is not wrong in prioritizing those three as key cogs in Boston’s hopes for a sustainable future filled with winning.

Mayer, Anthony, and Teel stand as three of the four Red Sox prospects who landed on MLB.com’s Top 100 list earlier this week. Baseball America’s latest Top 100 Prospects list also holds Mayer (No. 14 overall), Anthony (No. 21), and Teel (No. 62) in high regard.

Considering the dearth of positive returns on the diamond for years now, it should come as little surprise that the Red Sox have stressed their importance.

But Boston’s long-term plan that hinges so heavily on three players currently in Double-A ball is a flawed strategy — one that invites far too much risk, and way too much pressure on a trio boasting an average age of 20.

There’s no question that there’s plenty to like about the current state of Boston’s farm system, with Mayer, Anthony, and Teel carving a swath through the lower levels of the team’s minor-league clubs in 2023.

“I guess it was probably Mookie [Betts], Xander [Bogaerts], that kind of group of players I guess,” Red Sox Director of Player Development Brian Abraham said of the last top group of prospects in Boston. I was working for the Blue Jays when it was Dustin [Pedroia], when it was Jacoby [Ellsbury], when it was [Jon] Lester, that group. … I think that would be the closest [comparison].

“Still obviously a lot to be told for these guys’ careers. But in terms of what they’ve done so far, the types of people they are, the type of work they put, in their willingness to be great — we’re really excited.”

Mayer, drafted by the Red Sox with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, has all the makings of a franchise shortstop.

Anthony became the first teenaged Red Sox prospect to make it to Double-A ball since Bogaerts last summer. 

And Teel — the 14th overall pick of the 2023 MLB Draft — played just 17 total games of pro ball before landing with Portland. He batted .323 and slugged a home run over his nine Double-A games to close out the year.

Still, for Boston to try and counter its tight spending and inactivity this offseason by propping up these three as viable franchise saviors isn’t really helping anyone.

Not only will it do little to assuage the anger (and frankly, apathy) brewing for a fanbase staring at another inconsequential summer in 2024, it puts far too much pressure on a set of prospects already trying to brace themselves for a market like Boston.

For every Betts, Bogaerts, or Lester, there are dozens of Lars Andersons, Craig Hansens, Henry Owens, and Blake Swiharts.

All were promising prospects. All were unable to live up to expectations due to injuries, elevated competition, and other hurdles that all young players need to clear to thrive in the big leagues.

And considering that Mayer, Anthony, and Teel have logged a combined 273 plate appearances at the Double-A level, perhaps it’s best to let those three marinate properly — rather than fixate them as the lone bright spot amid a sustained stretch of mediocrity.

But even if all three of Mayer, Anthony, and Teel thrive against MLB competition in the coming years, the job is far from finished.

Because let’s face it, the Red Sox are going to need more than a star shortstop, corner outfielder, and catcher to right the ship.

Where are the pitching prospects (an enduring achilles heel of this franchise)? How about the ace capable of anchoring the rotation for years to come as Mayer, Anthony, and Teel arrive in 2025 and beyond? Maybe even an innings-eating No. 2 option on the mound? Jordan Montgomery? No?

As Chad Finn noted over the weekend, the 2007 Red Sox — and many other successful MLB rosters — were crafted with a mix of established stars, savvy veterans and cheap, promising young talent that often pushes a club over the top. 

The new Red Sox are attempting to reverse engineer such a formula, hoping that a cheery forecast for three youngsters signals the green light for the team to begin pursuing top talent (especially pitching) on the open market.

I can tell you which avenue I’d prefer. If it ain’t broke…