Sometimes, great Red Sox prospects can go home again.
The Sox famously acquired Curt Schilling at the Thanksgiving dinner table in 2003, 15 years after trading him to the Orioles for Mike Boddicker. Schilling needed only one season to help deliver the club's first World Series title in 86 years.
That same club featured Ellis Burks, once Boston's center fielder of the future. He arrived in 1987 and spent six seasons in Boston, making an All-Star team, before reaching even greater heights in Colorado. He returned in 2004 at age 39 to claim his first championship in his final season.
The Red Sox never found a way to reunite with Jeff Bagwell, the future Hall of Famer shipped to the Astros in 1990 for reliever Larry Andersen, but maybe 2021 is the year they cosmically right that wrong.
The Cubs have fallen hopelessly out of contention after a surprising run to first place in June. They just lost 11 in a row to fall a game under .500 and now trail the surging Brewers by 8.5 games in the NL Central.
President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer recently acknowledged that the club must face the prospect of a rebuild, which means blowing up the veteran core of the 2016 World Series champions and starting fresh.
"Life comes at you fast," Hoyer told reporters this week. "Eleven games changes a lot of things. When you're in this moment and your playoff odds get into single digits, at this time of the year, you have to keep one eye on the future. You would be irresponsible not to take those phone calls and think through them."
And that's where a former Red Sox prospect comes in, because there might not be a more perfect fit for the Red Sox than Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Of all the deals that Theo Epstein would like back from his Boston tenure, trading Rizzo might rank No. 1. The Red Sox selected the Parkland, Fla. native in the sixth round out of the 2007 draft and then watched him beat cancer a year later.
He steadily rose through the system until the Red Sox hit an inflection point. Former No. 1 overall pick Adrian Gonzalez, whom Epstein had openly lusted after for years, had become available. Hoyer, Epstein's former lieutenant in Boston, was Padres GM and at the 2010 winter meetings, they struck a deal that sent Gonzalez to Boston for Rizzo, right-hander Casey Kelly, and outfielder Rey Fuentes.
Kelly was supposed to be the centerpiece of the trade, but his career fizzled. Gonzalez was supposed to anchor the Red Sox lineup for a decade, but he proved a bad fit for Boston. Rizzo had an unremarkable debut at age 21 in 2011, and Hoyer lost his job. He rejoined Epstein in Chicago, where they made the real steal, acquiring Rizzo from the Padres for right-hander Andrew Cashner.
All the slugging first baseman has done since is make three All-Star teams, win four Gold Gloves, slam nearly 250 homers, and win one historic World Series as a face of the franchise.
He's in the final year of a $75 million extension and will become a free agent this fall, so he's purely a rental. But with the Red Sox receiving the fifth-worst production in baseball from first base, and with their lineup overly right-handed, Rizzo could solve two problems at once.
The left-handed hitter is batting .247 with 10 home runs, 33 RBIs, and a .775 OPS. That's a significant drop from his typical production, but it's worth noting that the 31-year-old is only two years removed from slamming 27 homers with a .924 OPS. With the Cubs floundering, he's an ideal change-of-scenery candidate, and coming to Boston would put him right back in the middle of a pennant race, where he has excelled.
He'd purely be a rental, because it's hard to envision the Red Sox paying him in free agency with top prospect Triston Casas possibly only a year away and veteran DH J.D. Martinez a better long-term fit if the Red Sox decide to break the bank for a 30-something slugger.
But for 2021, if the prospect cost is right -- ie., no Jarren Duran, Casas, or Gilberto Jimenez -- it's hard to imagine a player making a bigger potential impact. The Red Sox own legitimate World Series aspirations, especially with ace Chris Sale due back in the next month, and Rizzo could put them over the top.
It wouldn't be the first time a former Red Sox prospect has contributed to a title.