With DFA of Jeter Downs, Red Sox admit yet another trade defeat as Mookie Betts deal looks worse


Jeter Downs wasn’t the first, and he probably won’t be the last.

In this Red Sox era of transformation and reconstruction, the team has repeatedly traded expensive, big-league certainty for cheap, hard-to-predict, minor-league upside. Rarely has it paid off in a meaningful way.

The team admitted defeat again on Thursday when it designated for assignment Jeter Downs, the touted young shortstop who was a centerpiece of the Mookie Betts deal. The DFA opened a 40-man spot for new left fielder Masataka Yoshida. Downs had hit just .193 in two Triple-A seasons with the Red Sox, and in his brief big league cameo this summer — when the Red Sox were short-handed and desperate for a capable infielder — he had just six hits and 21 strikeouts. Three years ago, he was a Top 100 prospect in all of baseball. On Thursday, he was a spare part on a last-place team.

Sure, that’s a harsh assessment for a 24-year-old kid who’s at least hit for decent power and shown some improvement during his time with the Red Sox, but it’s also a brutal reality for a Red Sox team that’s been trying to build sustainability while repeatedly coming up short in trades for young talent.

“This was a tough one,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said. “The fact that (Downs) was in a position where we considered him and chose him to be designated, I think, just speaks to some of the struggles we’ve had getting him on track. I still think there’s a lot of physical ability there, but we haven’t been able to unlock it consistently.”

It’s a familiar story.

Under Bloom, the Red Sox have executed 24 trades. In all but eight, prospects were a key piece of the return. Twelve of the trades involved giving up at least one experienced big league player or taking on the salary dump of an opposing big league player. Nine or so — depending on where you draw the prospect line — brought back notable prospects with perceived big-league upside. All told, the Red Sox acquired 25 minor leaguers via trade, and the return has been minimal so far. Of those 25 minor leaguers:

  • Five have since reached the Major Leagues.
  • Four have been designated for assignment.
  • Six currently rank among the system’s top 30 prospects according to SoxProspects.com.
  • None rank in Baseball America’s Top 10.
  • Twelve have been exposed to the Rule 5 draft or else released into minor league free agency.

Those numbers do not include major league trade additions Jackie Bradley Jr., Hoy Park, Franchy Cordero, Austin Davis, Austin Brice and Matt Hall, all of whom were also designated for assignment after underwhelming — or, in the case of Park, nonexistent — stints on the Red Sox roster. According to FanGraphs, the only Red Sox trade additions worth at least 2 WAR the past three years were Alex Verdugo (5.1) and Nick Pivetta (3.9). Next highest on the list were Reese McGuire (1.3), Kyle Schwarber (1.2) and Adam Ottavino (0.6).

Of the 25 minor league additions, only Connor Wong, Franklin German and Josh Winckowski seem to have even modest opportunities to make the big league team this spring. Enmanuel Valdez, at No. 16, is the only one who currently ranks as a top 20 organizational prospect on SoxProspects.com, which calls him a “potential up-and-down, platoon bat.”

Nick Pivetta stands as perhaps the greatest trade success of the Bloom era. (Julio Aguilar / Getty Images)

That’s a lot of action without much to show for it.

Of course, not all trades are created equal. It’s hard to knock the Red Sox for getting no big league impact in return for Sandy Leon, C.J. Chatham, Travis Lakins or Josh Osich. Michael Chavis for Austin Davis proved to be a bust for each side (and at least the Red Sox got some quality impact from Davis down the stretch in 2021). The trades for Park, Brice, Hall, Hansel Robles and Jeffrey Springs cost the Red Sox nothing of big-league value. Some of the lower-level prospects acquired in the Eric Hosmer, Hunter Renfroe and Andrew Benintendi trades have yet to fully develop.

And, frankly, trading for prospects is inherently high risk. Bloom’s predecessor famously took an opposite approach, willingly giving up a series of prospects, including some with tremendous perceived potential at the time. Very few, if any, have reached that tremendous upside since being traded. Even Yoán Moncada, the biggest name dealt away under Dombrowski, has only two particularly good seasons in his six years with the White Sox.

In other words, plenty of teams swing and miss when they trade for prospects. But some of the Red Sox’s swings have been pretty big, and so the whiffs have been notable, especially with the team struggling to keep its head consistently above water.

For Mitch Moreland in 2020, the Red Sox got a center fielder and corner infielder who were seen as solid prospects at the time, but each was designated for assignment without reaching the big leagues.

For Benintendi in 2021, the Red Sox got what seems to be an up-and-down spot starter in Winckowski, but their flyer on Franchy Cordero was a bust, and none of the three younger players in the deal — all seen as high-risk lottery tickets at the time — has done much to distinguish himself in the minors.

For Renfroe last winter, the Red Sox took on Jackie Bradley Jr’s contract (only to release him in a matter of months) and acquired a middle infielder (David Hamilton) and corner infielder (Alex Binelas) who showed speed and power in Double A but hardly dominated the level. Hamilton, at least, was added to the 40-man roster this winter, but SoxProspects has each one outside of its Top 30.

Like everything else about this uneven Red Sox era, though, the conversation inevitably returns to the Betts trade. Even with only one year of team control remaining, Betts was an absurdly valuable trade chip. Rather than pay whatever it took to sign him to a long-term extension, the Red Sox shipped him to the Dodgers for three young players. The Dodgers, of course, quickly signed him to a 12-year, $365-million mega contract, and he’s finished top five in MVP voting two of his three years in L.A.

The Red Sox have finished in last place two of those three years.

In return, they got Verdugo (whose best year was the pandemic-shortened 2020), Downs (who was just designated for assignment), and Wong (who’s played well and put himself in the mix for a roster spot next season). The original version of the trade had the Red Sox getting Brusdar Graterol instead of Downs and Wong, but the Red Sox were spooked by Graterol’s medicals and worked to alter the prospect package. Graterol has, of course, become a very good reliever for the Dodgers, an added bit of salt in the wound, especially now that Downs is available to any team that wants to claim him.

“No doubt he was a big part of a really significant trade,” Bloom said. “And (the fact) that we haven’t gotten him to the level we expected hurts.”

It will keep hurting until the Red Sox start winning again.

(Top photo of Downs: Kim Klement / USA TODAY)


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