Why Red Sox completed a trade swapping minor league players

PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 14: A Rawlings leather baseball glove and a hat sit on the bench in the dugout before a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on August 14, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Red Sox won 2-1. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 14: A Rawlings leather baseball glove and a hat sit on the bench in the dugout before a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on August 14, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Red Sox won 2-1. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images) /
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The Red Sox made a trade with the Rockies to swap prospects

The Boston Red Sox have announced that they acquired minor league infielder Christian Koss from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for minor league left-handed pitcher Yoan Aybar.

It’s fairly uncommon to see a deal made involving only minor league players. In most cases, one team is trading away a veteran MLB player to bolster their farm system, cut payroll or extract value from an asset nearing free agency. One team is aiming to upgrade their current roster while the other is building for the future.

That’s not the case here where neither player involved in the deal is anywhere close to major league ready. So, what was the point?

Aybar was initially signed as an outfielder out of the Dominican Republic in 2013 but the Red Sox converted him into a relief pitcher after four underwhelming minor league seasons at the plate. He essentially hit the reset button on his career by going back to Rookie ball to learn his new role and he’s never pitched above the High-A level. However, since he’s been in the system since 2014, the Red Sox needed to add Aybar to their 40-man roster last year to protect him from being selected in the Rule 5 Draft.

Koss, a 12th round pick in the 2019 draft, wasn’t on Colorado’s 40-man roster and there’s no rush for Boston to add him to theirs since he’s only had a brief taste of Rookie ball since leaving college.

This opens a spot on Boston’s 40-man roster, which currently sits at 39 players. Clearing a roster spot might foreshadow another move the team is planning. The timing suggests that the Red Sox intend to select a player from another organization in this month’s Rule 5 Draft.

Free agency is also starting to heat up and the Red Sox would need to clear a roster spot before they could sign anyone. Boston had an opportunity to cut bait with several non-tender candidates at this week’s deadline but they ended up offering a contract to all eligible players. They presumably wouldn’t have done so if they were planning on letting any of them go in the near future.

The Red Sox added seven prospects to their 40-man roster last month, none of whom are likely to be removed prior to the Rule 5 Draft.

With limited other viable paths to opening a roster spot, Aybar was on the chopping block. Outrighting him off the 40-man roster would expose him to waivers where he could be claimed by another team or he could have been left vulnerable to the Rule 5 Draft. The Red Sox traded him rather than risk losing him for nothing.

Aybar has enticing upside with a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and an above-average slider. He posted an elite 11.1 K/9 in 2019 but he’s still extremely raw and struggles with his control, posting a troubling 6.5 BB/9. His ceiling is capped by being a reliever but he has the potential to thrive in that role if he ever learns to harness his talent.

Koss hit .332/.447/.605 with 11 home runs, 51 RBI, and 10 steals in 53 games in Rookie ball. He started games at second, shortstop and third during his abbreviated 2019 season. If he proves capable of handling each of those positions as he ascends through the farm system, the versatility will open more paths to the big leagues.

Baseball America ranked Koss as the No. 29 prospect in Colorado’s system. He projects as a utility infielder with modest upside at the plate and about average ability to cover multiple positions.

Koss appears to have the safer floor of a player who will eventually have value as an MLB player even if it’s not in an everyday role. Aybar’s elite traits are clear but he also comes with greater risk of being a bust who never makes it to the majors if he doesn’t improve his command.

Next. Non-tendered outfielders to target in free agency. dark

The greater long-term upside of Aybar gives the impression that the Rockies “won” the trade but it’s not quite that simple. Boston might have lost Aybar for nothing if they removed him from their 40-man roster to clear a spot for a more immediate upgrade, in which case trading him was a sensible decision.