John Tomase

Holliday, Rafaela, and two franchises in very different places

The Red Sox have a long way to go to match the Orioles' wealth of young talent.

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The juxtaposition only held on the simplest level. On the same day the Red Sox announced they had reached an eight-year, $50 million contract extension with center fielder Ceddanne Rafaela, the Orioles summoned baseball's best prospect, Jackson Holliday, for his big-league debut.

Two young standouts in the news on the same day, two organizations trying to emulate the Dodgers and Braves by riding a homegrown core to championship contention. There's your basic storyline.

But that's where the similarities end, because if the two recent Red Sox extensions – young right-hander Brayan Bello being the other – tell us anything, it's how far the club actually is from meriting a place in that conversation.

The Braves are loaded. The Orioles are loaded. The Red Sox? They've thus far committed roughly $100 million to a promising right-hander who nonetheless doesn't strike anyone out, and a promising outfielder who nonetheless may never hit.

Good for them for signaling a new approach and avoiding the mistakes that led to the departure of Mookie Betts and what looks increasingly like a gross overpay of Rafael Devers. Change has to start somewhere, and if nothing else, chief baseball officer Craig Breslow is stabilizing the future makeup of the roster.

But we need to be clear about how far the Red Sox actually are from becoming the Braves or Orioles, because the talent discrepancy is mammoth.

The Braves are stacked with young superstars on long-term deals, from MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. (8 years, $100 million), to All-Star second baseman Ozzie Albies (7 years, $35 million), to slugging third baseman Austin Riley (10 years, $212 million), to All-Star catcher Sean Murphy (6 years, $73 million), to 20-game winner Spencer Strider (6 years, $75 million), to former Rookie of the Year Michael Harris (8 years, $72 million).

Even with Strider staring at Tommy John surgery, that's still an incredible assortment of young talent, and it doesn't include 30-year-old first baseman Matt Olson, who's signed for eight years and $168 million. Bello and Rafaela don't rate with any of them.

The Orioles, meanwhile, haven't yet tipped their hand as to how they'll approach the long-term future of their core, especially with an ownership change looming, but in the here and now, they're terrifying.

Holliday is the third No. 1 overall prospect in baseball to reach the team in the last three years, joining catcher Adley Rutschman and shortstop Gunnar Henderson. Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez was a top-five prospect himself. The heroes of Wednesday night's 7-5 comeback win over the Red Sox, infielder Jordan Westburg and outfielder Colton Cowser, were first-round picks in 2020 and 2021, respectively. And there's more talent on the way in the form of corner infielder Coby Mayo and outfielder Heston Kjerstad. It's staggering.

The Red Sox can't remotely compete with that. Rutschman, Henderson, and Holliday are can't-miss prospects. We can't be so certain of the vaunted Red Sox trio of Marcelo Mayer, Roman Anthony, and Kyle Teel.

"I think we have to be careful of trying to emulate what other organizations are doing for a number of reasons," Breslow said when asked if the Orioles inspire what the Red Sox are hoping to accomplish. "Boston is unique. It's a unique organization, it's a unique city. It's got a unique fan base.

"I think it's very important that we run our own race. But to the extent that we can identify trends that work and are successful in the industry, we should look to replicate those. But I'm not sure that it's an incredibly novel idea to acquire great young players, to develop them to, to get them to the big leagues. And I think you have to tip your hat to organizations that have done that well here."

The Red Sox hope to be one of those organizations, but they're not close, not yet. To put it another way, no one's talking about any Red Sox prospects the way manager Alex Cora described Holliday's arrival.

"For baseball, this is great," he said. "For the American League East, it sucks."

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