By Adam Brown
Dave Dombrowski had a habit of producing winning teams in Detroit. He had teams with power and with pitching. He had star players. He had it all, except a bullpen. The Achilles heel of Dombrowski’s tenure with the Tigers was his inability to craft a bullpen that could finish games consistenly. In the end, it was the key ingredient to his teams not bringing home the World Series title.This time around, Dombrowski is leaving nothing to chance.
With his new club, the Boston Red Sox, the ‘President of Baseball Operations’ has dipped into his war-chest of prospects and swung a deal to bring all-star closer Craig Kimbrel to Fenway Park. Kimbrel, the 27 year old reliever, is owed $24 million over the next two seasons with a Club option of $13 million in 2018. With this move, the Red Sox add a dominant closer to the tune of a 233 career ERA+ to pitch alongside Koji Uehara at the back-end of the Boston bullpen.
1) Red Sox land their closer of the present and future.
The 2015 season was a mess for Red Sox relievers. Behind Koji Uehara, who could only muster 40.1 innings before an injury halted his season, the bullpen saw sub-par results. Offseason acquisitions Robbie Ross Jr. and Alexi Ogando failed to solidify themselves as consistent setup men. Junichi Tazawa, who boasted a 1.33 ERA on June 11th, saw his production drop dramatically, with his ERA sitting at 4.14 at seasons end. Edward Mujica and Anthony Varvaro were ‘Designated for Assignment’. Mid-season acquisitions Ryan Cook and Jean Machi were catastrophic whilst farmhands Matt Barnes, Noe Ramirez and Jonathan Aro failed to impress.
Kimbrel is as much of a sure thing as there is in the volatile world of relief pitching, having never seen an ERA north of 2.58, a FIP in excess of 2.68 and a K/9 lower than 13.2. In Kimbrel the Red Sox now have the back of the bullpen in a much healthier state. Having seen the blueprint set forward by the Kansas City Royals, this was a glaring hole that needed filling, and the Red Sox get three years of dominance, as opposed to the 1 year that would have been the case with other trade candidate, Aroldis Chapman.
2) The San Diego Padres got a haul
Last season, the Padres created fireworks by making high profile additions on a regular basis. Clearing the farm system to bring in the likes of Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and yes Kimbrel himself, the Padres firmly put their metaphorical chips all in for an assault on the Postseason. The plan didn’t come to fruition; the Padres finished 74-88, good for 4th in the NL West.
In the trade, the Padres acquired Logan Allen, Carlos Asjuae, Javier Guerra and Manuel Margot. Allen, a left handed pitcher drafted in the 8th round of the 2015 draft is still just 18 years old. Despite his young age, in his first professional season, he pitched briefly for the Lowell Spinners. With as fastball that sits in the low 90’s and a changeup/curveball combo, Allen projects to be a starter, but shouldn’t see the Major Leagues until 2019.
Asuaje, a 24 year old Venezuelan projects as utility outfielder without any discernible skills. With an OPS of .708 OPS in AA with the Portland Seas Dogs last season, Asuaje demonstrated his good vision at the plate seeing a slash line of /.251/.334/.708. Potentially a contributor at some juncture in the 2016 season, the Padres have secured some depth with Asuaje.
In Guerra, the Padres have benefitted from the Red Sox middle infield depth, with Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia, Deven Marerro and Yoan Moncada, Guerra saw himself blocked at either position. A glove first shortstop by trade, Guerra has soared up the Red Sox prospect rankings with a slick glove and some unexpected power (15 HR’s in 2015). At just 20, Guerra is still in A-ball, but sitting at #6 in the rankings at Soxprospects.com, his defence will be his primary skill but the same website summarises by saying Guerra’s “bat will determine ultimate upside, whether it’s more of a utility profile or as an everyday regular”.
Margot is the prize for the Padres, sitting as the number 3 prospect in the deep Red Sox system according MLB.com, Margot possesses an ability to hit, run and field and could be a potential lead-off hitter, especially if he can improve his walk rate. His defence should keep him centre-field and has seen some progression with power, which could potentially see him become a better doubles hitter. In Margot the Padres gained a core piece for the next half decade.
3) Padres are available
As mentioned previously, the Padres attempted to build a winner overnight last season. The plan failed and the team were left with a depleted farm and a sense of missed opportunity. This winter the team have traded Kimbrel, and setup man Joaquin Benoit previous. With bullpen pieces not overly valuable to sub .500 teams, these moves could be seen as rebuilding plot, replenishing the system and stocking it with young players in the hopes of building a more organic path to contention.
Having seen two players leave, there are undoubtedly more players available for interest General Managers. In starting pitcher Tyson Ross they have potentially monstrous trade package waiting if he were made available. At just 28, with two more years of service time, the big righty who posted a 2.98 FIP last year could well be the biggest prize for teams priced out of the sweepstakes for the pitchers in free agency. Elsewhere Andrew Cashner, Shawn Kelley and Kevin Quackenbush could all have appeal to contenders during the off-season.
4) The Red Sox aren’t done.
This may sound obvious and simplistic, but in trading for a bullpen piece instead of signing a free agent and trading for a starter, they have sent a message that they are very much in on the prized starting pitchers on the free agent market.
As a club, owners’ orders have meant past GM’s have acted with caution on pitchers over 30. We’ve seen the mishandling of the Jon Lester scenario, the trades for Rick Porcello and Wade Miley and going low risk/high reward on their one year flier on Justin Masterson. This hasn’t been successful for the last two years, and having depleted their farm system, and claiming top prospects Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi aren’t available only suggests that trading for an “ace” seems like a far- fetched notion. It would be sensible for David Price, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake and Jordan Zimmermann too start looking at house prices in Beantown, because it seems inevitable the Red Sox are going to be adding starting pitching via free agency.
5) Other clubs; Get smart
This is a great trade for the San Diego Padres, not only did they acquire two potential future all-stars in Margot and Guerra, they received a solid depth piece and relatively unknown that could end magnificently or horrendously. They managed to get back a chunk of what they lost last season and are shaped up better for the next five years today than they were yesterday.
Other rebuilding teams should take note and try to manipulate the relief pitching market like the Padres have this past week…twice. It seems inevitable that Aroldis Chapman will be traded at some point in the next 8 months. Yet, whilst waiting until the trade deadline can be beneficial for teams unsure of contention, it seems feasible to assume the Cincinnati Reds as cellar-dwellers in the upcoming season. With this in mind, Chapman has already seen a decrease in value as he has just the one year left before free agency, but trading him now adds more teams into the bidding as off-season is the biggest fuel for faux optimism.
Elsewhere the Phillies are rumoured to be open to trading Ken Giles, a move that would make a few eyebrows raise due to him being just 24 and with five years of team control. Realistically, the Phillies are a mess. They still need a gigantic turnover in talent, and by trading a relief pitcher who will only pitch in 70 innings per season, they could cite the Kimbrel trade and potentially add four future parts and add more depth to their farm system.
Relief pitching has, is and always will be a volatile, fickle profession, and when contending are invaluable to a team’s championship aspirations. When a team loses 95 games, having a pitcher that designed for a specific role in close games is an unnecessary luxury that could, and should be used to help you build for the future.