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Miley trade demonstrates Red Sox commitment to depth over stars

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The Red Sox eschewed signing Jon Lester, instead opting for starting rotation depth. Here's a glimpse at why the Boston / Arizona deal is a win for both teams, even if the DBacks plan seems a little strange.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox lost out on the Jon Lester sweepstakes, but spent little time licking their wounds, immediately trading for both Rick Porcello and Wade Miley. The status of the Red Sox current rotation is described here but what I wish to deal with here is the Miley trade specifically, and how it fits into the Red Sox' strategy more broadly.

Ben Cherington and company's offer to Jon Lester was not particularly close to that of Chicago's, which continued the out of market offers they had prepared since the low-ball offer last spring. This isn't to imply that Boston's brass didn't want Lester back, but it shows a somewhat unconventional view that Wins (above replacement) are a commodity, and there are a myriad of ways to get a team into playoff territory. Boston's subsequent trades for less talented, cost controlled starting pitchers demonstrate a move towards depth rather than stars, and the Miley deal is a perfect example.

Depth is a seemingly undervalued commodity in Major League Baseball, and one that the Red Sox seem to value more than other big-market  teams. The 2013 Red Sox were light on superstars, and heavy on slightly above average players who managed to put together a run to the championship. Take Detroit for instance, who in 2014 lost Jose Iglesias for the season in June, and did not have a backup plan befitting an annual contender. While Iglesias is not a superstar, the Tigers have shown a propensity to spend on star players rather than have an all-around deep team, which was exposed when Iglesias got hurt. Similarly, the Yankees lack of depth (especially risky when a team's roster is aged) in both the starting rotation and infield played a major factor in them missing the playoffs for the second straight season; we need not spend time talking about the players on which New York has concentrated most of its budget.

The Miley trade made sense from an asset perspective, because in many respects, Boston had come to a crossroads with Rubby de la Rosa, whom they received (along with Allen Webster) as part of the compensation package in the blockbuster Boston / Los Angeles trade. Though cost-controlled and only 25 years old, de la Rosa was out of minor league options, so the Red Sox would have had to either stick with him in the majors all season, or risk losing him. Though he has good raw stuff (his heat rated ‘Best Fastball' in the Midwest League in 2010) he has not generated the strikeouts befitting of a fastball pitcher (6.55 K/9 in 2014). Combining the low strikeout rate with a walk rate of over three per innings, and one can appreciate why the Red Sox were uncomfortable committing a spot to Rubby in either the rotation or the bullpen. The Diamondbacks are looking to get younger, clearly are not trying to compete in 2015, and have the ‘luxury' of being able to weather the stormy innings de la Rosa will inevitably throw, so a medium-term timeline makes far more sense in the desert than it does in Boston.

Another product of the Dodgers draft room, Allen Webster, (he also came over in the LAD/BOS trade) is also a young cost-controlled asset the Diamondbacks were more than happy to take off the Red Sox's hands and further develop. Unlike Rubby, Webster relies more on deception than a plus fastball — Webster's offspeed was rated ‘Best Changeup' in the International League this past season. In the limited sample size of 59 MLB innings however, he did not take the step forward Boston would have hoped. Similar to de la Rosa, Webster showed significant commend problems, walking over four batters per nine innings. With a 4.35 FIP and 4.97 xFIP, the major league results were not encouraging, and with the bevy of arms behind him in the Red Sox' system (Henry Owens / Eduardo Rodriguez / Brian Johnson / Matt Barnes / Trey Ball), it made sense that Webster would be part of a package for major league pitching depth. Again, decent upside.

Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster are both unrefined assets that need more time harnessing their potential. de la Rosa needs to figure out how to harness his plus fastball into more swings-and-misses, and Webster needs more seasoning to work on his control. Though the numbers suggest Webster could use more innings in the high minors, General Manager Dave Stewart currently has both pitchers penciled into the rotation. This would be a curious 'sink-or-swim' strategy (especially considering Arizona is one of the most hitter friendly park in baseball behind on Coors Field) but there is time for the DBacks to reconsider this approach.  Irrespective of Arizona's tactics, from a strategic perspective, it makes far more sense for de la Rosa and Webster to further develop as part of a team looking towards the medium-longer term instead of 2015 rather than a Boston team that is looking to make another run to the postseason in the upcoming season.

The Diamondbacks did well to buy relatively low on both pitchers, and in addition, they also receive Dominican shortstop Raymel Flores. Flores is a small (5'9") 19 year old middle infielder. It seems he was nothing more than an add-on in this trade. Flores' plus-plus speed does not mitigate the lack of strength.  Scouts also do not project him to stick at shortstop. He's young, he's raw, and he was never a highly rated prospect in the Red Sox loaded system.

On the other side of the ledger, the Red Sox received Wade Miley — a league average innings eater who is coming off his worst season (by fWAR) in three years. Miley is exactly the type of player who fits the mold discussed above, an impact, inexpensive innings eater who is cost controlled and under team control for another three years.

In August, Ryan Romano wrote an in-depth piece on Wade Miley's progression, and there's a decent amount to like going forward. I won't go too much into the details already addressed in Ryan's piece (it is worth the time to read), but he points out many of the favorable trends we've seen from Miley due to change in his offspeed usage. On the other hand, it is curious that although the swing and and strikeout rate has increased, Miley's overall value has dropped off significantly from his 2012 rookie campaign (when he came very close to winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award).

It seems premature to celebrate this trade as a clear win for Boston considering that Miley's ERA-, FIP, and walk rate have all been trending in the wrong direction since 2012. The Steamer projection system projects Miley for a lower strikeout rate and a lower walk rate than 2014.

On the other hand, Miley is a ground ball pitcher, who will be playing in front of a defense that ranked fourth in baseball in 2014 — even with the hodgepodge of third basemen the Red Sox used, which has been replaced by an above average defender in Pablo Sandoval. Alternatively, the Dbacks ranked 18th, and sported Mark Trumbo in left field prior to his injury (a disservice to us all from a comedic perspective).

Wade MileySince 2012

Year IP ERA ERA- FIP xFIP BB% K% GB% FB% fWAR
2012 194.2 3.33 81 3.15 3.75 4.6 17.8 43.3 33.7 4.4
2013 202.2 3.55 91 3.98 3.77 7.8 17.4 52 27.2 1.9
2014 201.1 4.34 114 3.98 3.50 8.7 21.1 51.1 28 1.7
2015 (Projected) 182 4.23 --- 3.98 --- 7.9 18 --- ---- 2.1

This trade makes sense for both teams given each franchises' respective timelines, and as with everything else in life, there is inherent risk for both teams. The Diamondbacks traded a steady innings-eater for two unproven pitchers, hoping that one of them can be a decent rotation addition in the next two to three years. This trade will not be viewed favorably if both de la Rosa and Webster top out as fringy relievers. The Red Sox are hoping for a durable starter who can give them 180-220 above league average innings, but with an increase in the use of his slider, Miley's health risk edges up a tick. Advanced metrics-driven teams tend to value xFIP pretty heavily (see the Yankees and Dodgers and fellow former DBacker, Brandon McCarthy), and in that respect, the Red Sox are hoping for progression that equals the value of another 2012 performance. It's unlikely given the trend in Miley's control, but considering Boston traded two players that did not fit into their 2015-2016 roster construction plan, even if Miley ends up tossing 200 league average  innings, Boston should be pretty happy with the return.

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All statistics and information courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball America.

Steven Martano is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano.