Bradford: The importance of Triston Casas to this Red Sox rebuild

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The Red Sox’ front office was full of energy and excitement. That’s what happens when trades are made.

In this case, on July 22, 2003 it was Theo Epstein’s group who felt the adrenaline that came with consummating a trade with the Pirates that netted them relief pitchers Mike Gonzalez and Scott Sauerbeck in exchange for Brandon Lyon and a prospect named Anastacio Martinez.

While then-assistant general manager Josh Byrnes and fellow Sox’ front office man Jed Hoyer completed the procedures that come with finalizing any deal (in an office just big enough for both their desks), Epstein crossed paths with then-farm director Ben Cherington in the adjacent hallway.

“Sorry about Martinez,” he said.

Cherington told his boss that he understood this was at least part of a prospect’s purpose. Either you get to the majors with your organization, or you help get someone else to the majors with that team.

Martinez — who ended up returning to the Red Sox after the trade blew up — is a distant memory for Red Sox fans. But that exchange between Epstein and Cherington should serve as a reminder. Parting ways for any prospect — especially one of the Top 10 variety (Martinez was SoxProspects.com’s No. 10 guy heading into 2003) — isn’t easy.

You scout them. You draft or sign them. You develop them. You get to know them. You see the absolute best in them. And, in the end, you desperately try not to overvalue them.

This brings us to Triston Casas.

According to Sox Prospects’ latest rankings he is the Red Sox’ No. 1 prospect. According to most baseball evaluators, he is also the Red Sox’ most valuable minor-league trade chip. What these two things lead to is an understanding of how important Casas is to the future of this organization.

If the Red Sox do believe this is a foundation guy, one who will be able to play All-Star caliber first base for years upon years, then the conversation is over. You don’t allow his name to be brought up in any trade talks. Sure, it will eliminate the possibilities of Blake Snell-type discussions, but so be it. In Dec. 2016, the Red Sox could afford to part ways with what were no-doubt-about-it prospects Yoan Moncada (No. 1 on Sox Prospects’ list) and Michael Kopech (No. 5).

Now? There really isn’t the same sort of luxury. The likes of Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers aren’t exactly sitting behind Casas.

But there can’t be any room for interpretation. The Red Sox better be sure when it comes to the power-hitting first baseman. It’s not as if they desperately need a first baseman of the future considering the promise showed by Bobby Dalbec, Michael Chavis and perhaps even Rafael Devers. So if there is any doubt, Casas represents Chaim Bloom’s ticket to finding a high-end talent that could raise expectations to 2018 levels.

The examples of locking in on the right guys helped win that last world championship, with Ben Cherington and Dave Dombrowski fending off inquiries on Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Eduardo Rodriguez and Rafael Devers.

But remember some of the other names that have sat atop the Red Sox’ prospect list? Lars Anderson. Ryan Kalish. Henry Owens. Blake Swihart. There are others who the Red Sox’ prioritized keeping over locking up a win-now sort of proposition.

Make no mistake about it, this is not an easy exercise.

There have been some general managers who have pegged the prospects better than others, such as former Braves GM John Schuerholz. (Remember the late Andy Marte? The Braves had managed to convince most of baseball he was the best prospect around while realizing that he really wasn’t. Next thing you know he was being dealt to the Red Sox for Edgar Renteria.)

But pretty much all executives are slapped in the face with the reality that this is far from an exact science.

For instance, back in 2007 the Red Sox and Mets were both trying to pry Johan Santana away from the Twins. Minnesota had locked in on Red Sox youngsters Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Epstein wasn’t willing to give put lump so much talent in one trade. He was right, and so was then Twins-GM Terry Ryan for asking. But then Ryan turned around and settled on four names — Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber, Deolis Guerra and Kevin Mulvey — who really didn’t help Minnesota win much of anything.

And make not mistake about it, this time around is even more difficult. For instance, there was no 2020 minor league season to see how a guy like Casas is going to react during his first big Double-A slump. In an equation that is already filled with too much guesswork, we just got another heaping helping.

Nobody said this rebuild was going to be easy. Consider this a reminder of just how hard such a thing can be.