Trade or hold? How Red Sox should proceed with top prospects originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Chaim Bloom has taken the anti-Dave Dombrowski approach to leading the Boston Red Sox front office: replenish the farm system and bargain shop for the big-league roster.
That strategy has propelled Boston from the worst farm system in the league in 2019 to the 11th-ranked farm system in 2022, per Baseball America. While that’s encouraging for the future of the franchise, Bloom and Co. find themselves at a crossroads with their prized prospects this offseason.
After two last-place American League East finishes in the last three years, the Red Sox need to find a way to contend in 2023. Considering how underwhelming this free-agent class is, the best course of action might be to explore a blockbuster trade or two. Bloom has made that much easier since his arrival by stocking the farm system with talented players. The question is whether he can stomach the thought of using his top prospects as trade chips.
The hesitancy to part ways with blue-chippers like Marcelo Mayer, Triston Casas, Brayan Bello and Miguel Bleis is understandable. They have the potential to be generational MLB talents. Unless Boston is blown away by an offer involving a certified star, those are prospects they should hold onto. After that, it should be open season.
Here are a few of the top Red Sox prospects who could be used as trade chips in a blockbuster deal this offseason (all rankings via SoxProspects.com):
Ceddanne Rafaela, UTIL
Prospect ranking: No. 4
There’s no doubt parting ways with Rafaela would sting. The 5-foot-8, 152-pound super-utility man was the Red Sox’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2022. The Mookie Betts comparisons are over the top, but all signs point to Rafaela developing into a perennial Gold Glover and a potential All-Star.
As high as Rafaela’s ceiling is, now is the time to capitalize on his stock. The 22-year-old is coming off a season in which he slashed .299/.342/.539 with 21 homers, 86 RBI and 28 stolen bases between High-A Greenville and Double-A Portland. Previously, he hadn’t posted an OPS above .729 in his pro career.
Rafaela should only be moved for a proven positional player with team control or a true ace. If an offer like that is on the table, Bloom shouldn’t hesitate.
Nick Yorke, 2B
Prospect ranking: No. 5
Yorke was in Rafaela’s position this time last year. The 2020 first-round draft pick was the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2021 with Low-A Salem and High-A Greenville. He had a .325/.412/.516 slash line with 14 homers and 62 RBI in 97 games.
His production fell off a cliff in 2022. In 80 games at High-A, Yorke saw his numbers plummet to .232/.303/.365 with 11 homers and 45 RBI.
Despite the lackluster season, Yorke should still yield a star player in the right trade package. He seems like a prime candidate to be moved this offseason if Bloom gets serious about building a “win now” roster.
Bryan Mata, RHP
Prospect ranking: No. 6
Mata returned from Tommy John rehab in 2022, posting a 7-3 record with a 2.49 ERA in 19 appearances (18 starts) between each of the Red Sox’ minor league affiliates. If all goes well health-wise this offseason, the 23-year-old could find himself on a big-league roster in 2023.
With a triple-digit fastball combined with a wicked slider, Mata should be an attractive option for rebuilding teams. He probably could already crack the mid-to-back of a starting rotation on some MLB clubs. He’s Boston’s top pitching prospect trade chip outside of Bello.
Brandon Walter, LHP
Prospect ranking: No. 8
Walter is entering his age 26 season, so he may not have the same appeal as some of the young guns on this list. Still, he’s a promising left-hander who’s done nothing but impress in his professional career.
In each of the last two seasons, Walter posted a WHIP under 1.00. He struck out 68 batters and walked only three last year in nine starts with Double-A Portland.
Like Mata, Walter is one of Boston’s top trade chips when discussing pitchers, and every team is looking for capable arms.
Chris Murphy, LHP
Prospect ranking: No. 12
Murphy, like Mata, should make his big-league debut in 2023. The 24-year-old southpaw was added to the 40-man roster earlier this month (along with Walter) and is likely to make some spot starts next season.
A sixth-round pick in 2019, Murphy has shown off his filthy stuff at each minor league level over the last couple of years. He has a mid-90s fastball to go with a nasty curveball, devastating changeup, and a slider. While he isn’t overpowering, he has enough in his repertoire to tie hitters in knots. Murphy joins Mata and Walter as the arms outside of Bello who will fetch the biggest return on the trade market.
Blaze Jordan, 3B/1B
Prospect ranking: No. 16
Jordan still is at least a couple of years away from sniffing the major leagues. He’s a raw prospect who does serious damage at the plate but still has a ways to go defensively. And while the power is undeniable, his plate discipline will be under the microscope as he rises through the minor-league ranks.
All of that being said, Jordan’s potential to be a big-league slugger should make him a valuable trade chip. The 19-year-old, who made a name for himself by raking at his high school Home Run Derbys, draws comparisons to former Mark Trumbo and Matt Holliday. The Red Sox might want to capitalize on that hype while they can.