When Dave Dombrowski was named Red Sox President of Baseball Operations last August, the prevailing notion was that the administrative change was a step in the right direction. Dombrowski has had a long history of building contending teams as a baseball executive, and there was no reason why he wouldn’t be able to replicate his Florida and Detroit success with a team that had more resources than many, if not all, of its competitors. Yet beneath the surface layer of cheers, there were dissenting whispers bringing up the dark side of a Dombrowski reign. “Oh, you like your prospects and organizational depth?”those whisperers said. “Well don’t get used to them. They don’t call him Dealin’ Dave for nothing”. We were warned. This is what Dombrowski does; he cashes in minor league assets for major league talent (leaving the farm system cupboard completely bare), crafts a playoff team full of All-Stars, forgets about the bullpen, and condemns the team to a cycle of near-misses in October.
So when Dombrowski and GM Mike Hazen relinquished top pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza for newly minted All-Star and former San Diego Padre Drew Pomeranz in a one-for-one trade last night, nobody should have been surprised. We should have been primed for this when the Sox dealt away four well-regarded prospects to San Diego for Craig Kimbrel. In fact, plenty of people like this trade.
I am not one of those people.
Look, I get it. Pomeranz has finally emerged this season, living up to the pedigree and potential that got him drafted fifth overall in the 2010 draft. He developed a cutter during spring training, and has reaped immediate benefits from adding a third pitch. His 2.47 ERA ranks fourth in Major League Baseball, and his 10.15 K/9 is not only a huge jump from his career numbers coming into this season, it’s been enough to put him in the top ten in all of baseball. He’s been one of the 20 best starting pitchers in the majors through the All-Star Break per fWAR. He’s making peanuts, only $1.35 million this year, and is under team control through the 2018 season. He has a terrific curveball, and an excellent changeup, and a fastball that sits in the low 90s. When he’s on (and he’s been on pretty much all season), he’s capable of doing this:
All of that is encouraging, and given that the 2016-17 free agent market for starting pitching is as inspiring as an Andy Dalton pregame speech, I get that this was a serious need that had to be addressed now, with the Red Sox in a fight to make it to October in David Ortiz‘s last season, instead of later. Trust me, I get that having to rely on Steven Wright‘s knuckleball, Clay Buchholz, and Eduardo Rodriguez was destined to be a disaster by September. I get that, at 18 years old, Espinoza is a totally unknown entity who, despite comparisons to Pedro Martinez, had struggled at Low-A Greenville so far. I get that he wouldn’t be the first “can’t miss” prospect to miss, and that even if he doesn’t, he’s at least two or three seasons away from sniffing the majors, let alone performing at an All-Star caliber level.
What I don’t understand, however, is how many people are acting like Pomeranz is a such sure thing himself. The dude has had a sensational half of a season, no doubt, but entering this year he had never thrown more than 96.2 innings (or made more than 22 starts) in a season at the Major League level. In fact, he has never thrown more than 147.1 innings in a season as a professional, and that was FOUR YEARS AGO. At his current pace of six innings per outing, the newest addition to the Red Sox is set to pass that 147.1 innings mark sometime during his eighth start with his new team. In other words, as far as I’m concerned, anything past late August is as impossible to forecast as Espinoza’s 2021 ERA. That’s not even bringing up the part where he’s leaving a last place team, the generally pitcher-friendly lineups of the National league, and the pitcher-friendly confines of the NL West parks (yes, Coors is excluded) to join a playoff race involving Fenway Park, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Baltimore Orioles. There’s a chance that Pomeranz has finally figured things out and he won’t be affected by switching leagues. But there’s a pretty sizable chance that he will be, and betting your top pitching prospect on that outcome, especially when your franchise has struggled to consistently develop quality starting pitching (and hasn’t produced a top-of-the-rotation starter in a decade) is a very risky gamble.
I suppose that, with the official signing of 2016 first round pick Jacob Groome, the Sox had some room to maneuver as far as starting pitching prospects were concerned.They still have Michael Kopech, who just hit 105 mph on the gun during a start on Wednesday, hanging out in Salem. Both of those guys have just as much talent as Espinoza, and if things break right, could become All-Star starting pitchers. The Red Sox clearly felt that they had enough depth to feel comfortable sending off Espinoza, and I suppose that, given the choice between Espinoza, Andrew Benintendi, and Yoan Moncada, I would trade the precocious righthander simply because his timetable doesn’t mesh as well with Boston’s Bogaerts/Betts/Bradley core. However, that doesn’t make it the right move. Trading Manuel Margot and three other prospects for the best closer of the last four years is one thing. Dipping into the Espinoza/Benintendi/Moncada pool for a pitcher whose body of work, while impressive this season, screams small sample size, is another decision entirely. I’ve never been part of the “hoard prospects like they’re Valyrian steel swords and you’re about to face an army of White Walkers” kind of guy, but if you’re going to trade away those assets, especially one of Espinoza’s caliber, you’d better make sure you’re getting the best possible player in return. Dombrowski and company believe they’re making a “win now” move, which is something I can’t fault them for. My only fear is that we’ll look back on this trade in ten years and call it something different: shortsighted.
- I know I’ve been slacking on series recaps, but trust me I’ve been doing you a favor. All you really missed out on was me bitching about how much Buchholz sucks, how much David Price sucks, how much every other pitcher except Steven Wright sucks, how the offense was great at getting hits but not scoring runs, how the bullpen has been a total failure as an institution, and how John Farrell is a menace to society and everything that is good in the world. June was not a fun month. You’re welcome.
- Oh, right, this section is supposed to be good stuff. Anyways, how about Giancarlo Freaking Stanton? In case you missed it, here’s all 61 (!) of the home runs he hit in Tuesday’s home run derby. That guy was made for that competition.
- Red Sox Midseason Report Card, The Good Guys: Leon (A++++) Ortiz (A), Bogaerts (A), Betts (A), Wright (A), Bradley Jr.(A-), Pedroia (A-), Porcello (B+), Barnes (B), Young (B) Shaw (B-)
- Bonus point! I absolutely loved the Aaron Hill trade. Anyone from my 2007 world champion fantasy baseball team can play on my squad any day of the week. Plus it means Shaw doesn’t have to face as many lefties. It’s a win-win for everyone.
- I honestly can’t decide if this tweet makes me feel better or worse.
- Junichi Tazawa is headed to the DL with a right shoulder impingement, another blow to a bullpen that was missing Kimbrel and Carson Smith and already sucked to begin with. Tazawa hadn’t been effective in over a month, having posted a 7.11 ERA in 14 appearances since May 28th.The Red Sox already traded for Brad Ziegler, but if they can’t get their incumbent relievers healthy/consistently effective, it won’t matter how many prospects they trade away. They’ll be in trouble regardless.
- Red Sox Midseason Report Card, The Bad Guys: Price (C-), Uehara (D), Buchholz (F), Rodriguez (F), Red Sox Training Staff (F), Farrell (F), Joe Kelly (lol)