With their latest signing, the Boston Red Sox have undoubtedly upgraded their future. But as a bonus, it might also lead them to upgrade their present.

Meet Yoan Moncada, and then prepare to meet Boston’s new ace.

We’ll get to that. But first, the news itself, which MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reported Monday morning:

According to Sanchez’s full report, the club is paying the 19-year Cuban super-prospect $31.5 million. But because the Red Sox had already exceeded their international signing bonus pool, the penalties involved will actually bring Moncada‘s price to $63 million, as CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman noted.

That’s far and away the largest investment ever made on an international amateur, but it’s going to a good cause. Boston is getting a special prospect and upgrading an already excellent farm system.

Per Ben Badler of Baseball America, the switch-hitting Moncada already has three plus tools in his speed, raw power and arm strength. Because his hit tool also projects to be plus and he has the goods to stick at one of several positions in the long run, he’s more or less the ideal prospect. 

“He’s electric,” one scout told Badler, adding, “He has tools, he’s athletic and he has a chance to hit for power. It’s bat speed that you don’t see except from the select few. The guy has different bat speed from everyone else, period. It’s a beautiful swing too from the left side, which is better than his righthanded swing.”

Badler has Moncada pegged as MLB’s new No. 10 prospect, as well as the new No. 1 prospect in Boston’s system.

That’s saying a lot in this case, as B/R’s Mike Rosenbaum and ESPN.com’s Keith Law already had the Red Sox farm system ranked among the five best in baseball. With Moncada, MLB.com’s Jim Callis thinks Boston’s farm system is a challenger for the best in baseball:

What the Red Sox can do now is simply sit on their embarrassment of prospect riches and look to graduate the best of the best to the big club in the coming years. 

Or, they could be more proactive and look to use their considerable prospect depth to solve what’s arguably the only weakness on their current major league roster: The need for a No. 1 starting pitcher.

The 2015 Red Sox should be a good team. Both Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs project them to win the AL East. A much-improved offense has a lot to do with that, but starting pitching should also be one of their strengths.

In fact, FanGraphs projects Boston’s starters to produce more wins above replacement than all but four others teams’ starters in 2015. If Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson and Clay Buchholz pitch as well as they can, that’s absolutely doable.

But when you look at that list of names, you don’t see a true No. 1. More than anything, that’s what’s keeping Boston on the fringe of the conversation about baseball’s best teams rather than right in the middle of it.

For their part, the Red Sox are acting like they’re not concerned about their lack of a true No. 1. Their activity on the rumor mill, however, suggests otherwise.

It’s no secret the Red Sox have been heavily linked to Philadelphia Phillies ace left-hander Cole Hamels. And to this point, it sounds like the only reason he’s not already on the Red Sox is because they think Philadelphia’s asking price is too high.

As Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe notes, the addition of Moncada may change Boston’s tune:

The Phillies have been insistent on getting either of Boston’s two best young players, outfielder Mookie Betts or catcher Blake Swihart, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports  Though it’s doubtful the Red Sox will be any more willing to give up Swihart now that they have Moncada, they could be more willing to give up Betts.

Red Sox manager John Farrell recently told the media Shane Victorino is the favorite to start in right field. With Hanley Ramirez slated to start in left field and $72.5 million man Rusney Castillo a natural fit in center, Betts may be the odd man out in the Red Sox’s outfield.

That’s a decent enough excuse to part with him to get Hamels, and the addition of Moncada works as an additional excuse. Because he could be groomed as an outfielder and is likely only a year or two away from the majors, he could effectively take Betts’ place in Boston’s plans for the future.

But this is just one possibility. Though a Betts-for-Hamels deal may be the easiest outcome to anticipate, the Red Sox now have more leeway to build a package around one of their other top prospects.

Most likely, that would mean either left-hander Henry Owens or fellow left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, combined with any or several of the following: third basemen Rafael Devers and Garin Cecchini, center fielder Manuel Margot, right-hander Matt Barnes or shortstop Deven Marrero.

If the Phillies are still resistant to do a deal, the Red Sox could make it their loss by choosing to shop elsewhere.

They could turn to the Washington Nationals and ask about Jordan Zimmermann or Stephen Strasburg. Or they could turn to the Cincinnati Reds and inquire about 2014 National League Cy Young runner-up Johnny Cueto. Now that the San Diego Padres have James Shields, it’s possible they could be open to dealing Tyson Ross or Andrew Cashner.

It’s names like these that immediately come to mind, but the reality is that there are a lot of aces out there these days. With Moncada in tow, the Red Sox now have the prospect depth to barter for pretty much any ace they desire.

Though their options are admittedly limited now with so many teams in win-now mode for 2015, things could very well be different later this summer. There’s bound to be an ace or two available at the trade deadline, and few teams will be capable of matching up with Boston in a bidding war.

In short, the Red Sox really couldn’t be in a more enviable position. Beneath a loaded major league roster is a farm system that’s arguably baseball’s best after the addition of Moncada. Even if that’s the last blockbuster they make for a while, both Boston’s present and future are worth being excited about.

A trade for an ace starter, however, would be the Red Sox going straight for the jugular. And now that they have Moncada, the question is not whether they can make it happen.

More likely, it’s how soon they will make it happen.


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