By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — In the Red Sox’s quest to add a high-end starter to the rotation, you may view major league stars like Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts and top prospects like Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi as non-starters for a deal. You may use the U-word: “untouchable,” that is.
But with Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski at the helm, you can erase that word from your vocabulary.
Yes, Bogaerts may be as close to “untouchable” as any player in the major leagues. At age 23 and leading the American League with a .347 batting average, Bogaerts has emerged as one of the best all-around players in baseball and would largely be a deal-breaker for any team looking to acquire him from Boston.
However, Dombrowski has already acknowledged that he wouldn’t rule anyone out in trade possibilities.
“I’ve never really felt that any player is untouchable, prospect- or player-wise,” said Dombrowski, according to Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald. “Some players you prefer not to trade more than others, but I really never use the word ‘untradeable’ with really anybody.”
Whatever U-word you may use, Bogaerts is not completely exempt from trade talks. However unlikely a Bogaerts (or even Betts or Bradley or Swihart) trade would be, it’s not impossible. If I may dust off my straw man for a minute, what if the Giants offered Madison Bumgarner or the Dodgers offered Clayton Kershaw for Bogaerts straight-up? Is that a definitive no?
Dombrowski has a long, deep history of trading big-name players, whether they were established stars or considered top prospects at the time. He doesn’t always get it right, but he is certainly not afraid to make a foundation-shaking kind of move. Fans of ’90s and 2000s baseball should recognize some of these names:
– In 1989, as GM of the Montreal Expos, Dombrowski traded pitching prospect Randy Johnson and two other players to the Seattle Mariners for Mark Langston, who at the time was a solid former All-Star starter, and Mike Campbell, who barely sniffed the major leagues. Johnson was a high-ceiling but imperfect prospect at the time, and of course eventually became a five-time Cy Young award winner and one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball history.
– In 1993, as GM of the then-Florida Marlins, Dombrowski traded pitcher Trevor Hoffman and two others to the San Diego Padres for Gary Sheffield and one other prospect. Sheffield was coming off a 33-homer, 100-RBI season for San Diego and ended up with 509 career home runs, while Hoffman went on to be one of the greatest closers in the history of the game.
– In 1997, Dombrowski traded pitcher Kevin Brown as part of the team’s massive firesale following their 1997 World Series win. Brown was coming off a season in which he led the National League (by far) with a 1.89 ERA.
– In 1998, Dombrowski traded Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, and three other players to the Dodgers for Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile. Eight days later, he traded Piazza to the Mets for Preston Wilson and two other players. Piazza, of course, now has a bust being prepared in Cooperstown.
– In 1999, Dombrowski traded pitcher Johan Santana to the Minnesota Twins for Jared Camp, who never reached the major leagues. Santana, meanwhile, went on to win two Cy Young Awards and from 2003-2008 was arguably the most dominant pitcher in baseball.
These are just some of the dozens of moves Dombrowski made with the Expos and Marlins. The more likely move for Dombrowski with the Red Sox’s current situation, however, is to trade a top prospect or two as part of a package to acquire a high-end starting pitcher to be No. 1 or 2 in the rotation. Names like the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez, the Mets’ Matt Harvey, and the Athletics’ Sonny Gray are a few of the names that have popped up in such a scenario.
Two of the most-talked-about prospects in the organization, second baseman Yoan Moncada and outfielder Andrew Benintendi, entered the 2016 season as the No. 5 and No. 21 prospects in baseball, respectively, according to MLBPipeline.com. Third baseman Rafael Devers is ranked 14th on that list and could also factor in to trade talks.
These prospects have been described as “untouchable” in the past, but with Dombrowski there is a precedent for trading such assets to bring in elite players. The clearest comparison is the Miguel Cabrera trade that Dombrowski made as GM of the Detroit Tigers in 2007. As part of the deal, Dombrowski sent outfielder Cameron Maybin and pitcher Andrew Miller to the Marlins. Maybin and Miller entered the 2007 season at No. 6 and 10, respectively, on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects.
Dombrowski in 2012 traded pitcher Jacob Turner, who entered that season as Baseball America’s No. 22 prospect, as part of a package to the Marlins for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante, who helped lead the Tigers to the AL Pennant. And of course, you’re probably quite familiar with Dombrowski’s fleecing of the Red Sox in 2014 as he shipped Rick Porcello for Yoenis Cespedes and two low-level prospects.
With the Red Sox likely set to be buyers rather than sellers at the 2016 trade deadline, and the team in need of a high-end (read: expensive) starting pitcher, a trade the magnitude of the Cabrera blockbuster should not be ruled out. A trade involving one or more out of Moncada, Benintendi, Devers, or perhaps even a player on the major-league roster may shock you, but shouldn’t surprise you. Trading one of those players could come back to bite him, but it could also net the Red Sox the front-line talent they need on the pitching staff for years to come.
One thing Dombrowski will not be is afraid to make a big move. And one thing that no Red Sox player should not be considered is “untouchable.”
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.