You knew it was coming: Dave Dombrowski was going to trade a prospect (or multiple) that would make Red Sox fans clutch their midsection in pain. While at the helm of the Tigers, Dombrowski was notorious for flipping prospects like they're penny stocks and his name's Jordan Belfort. Plus, he wasn't around for the drafting or signing of any of the heralded Boston prospects, so he's significantly less attached to any of them. And to the surprise of no one, Dombrowski did strike, albeit earlier than the normal rush of trades at the end of July. He dealt highly-regarded pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza for Padres lefty Drew Pomeranz on Thursday.
I'm going to keep the overview on Espinoza short because:
A) I'm not a scout. I've watched video of him, and the delivery looks awesomely compact and fluid to me. I've heard the scouting reports of his pitch repertoire, from the mid- to upper-90s fastball to the hammer curve and the promising change. But I've never seen him in person, and you can find far better sources to analyze for yourself what kind of prospect he is.
B) There isn't exactly a consensus on him anyway. Going into the season, Baseball America had him in the top 20 (and top 15 in the mid-season update), but Baseball Prospectus had him 73rd.
If you're not familiar with Espinoza, he's an 18-year-old in Low-A that has thrown 76 innings this season of 4.38-ERA/3.09-FIP ball with K/BB totals of 72/27. The FIP is low because of his minuscule 0.24 HR/9, but he's also been unlucky with a .343 BABIP and 64.9 percent strand rate. With a pitcher like this, you should be relying much more on scouting reports than performance, but the performance is more than adequate for someone pitching in full-season ball who was born in 1998(!).
As for an analysis of this deal, I'd have to call the Padres the clear winners and the Red Sox the clear losers. Before the Boston fans jump all over me, let me explain.
It makes sense for the Red Sox to target a rotation upgrade this month — it's Big Papi's last season, they have one of the most dangerous lineups (relative to league-average production) that we've seen from any team in recent memory, and the AL looks wide open for the taking without a clear favorite.
Also, if you're going to trade an elite prospect, Espinoza isn't a bad choice. Teams like the Dodgers have been criticized heavily for prospect hoarding, and at some point, not all of your prospects are going to pan out, or even contribute for your own organization. Another way you can extract value from prospects is by using them as trade chips. Yoan Moncada shouldn't go anywhere, and neither should Andrew Benintendi. So the options are between Rafael Devers, Sam Travis, Michael Kopech, and Espinoza. The Red Sox just signed their first-rounder Jason Groome today, and rumors have it that Kopech hit 105 mph in his last start, so Espinoza seems like a fine candidate to move, especially considering that he's an 18-year-old with years of opportunity to flame out.
The real issue here is with the return — Drew Pomeranz was the wrong guy to target. Look past his 2.47 ERA; he's been fortunate to have allowed just a .240 BABIP and strand rate above 80 percent this season. Now, the BABIP isn't as much of an issue as it seems. He's actually been great, or even borderline elite, throughout his career at limiting weak contact. His career BABIP is just .271, which is identical to that of noted-weak-contact-generator Jake Arrieta's career mark. Pomeranz also has changed up his pitch mix this season, adding a cutter, so many of the gains could be realer than margarine. However, he is also moving from a very pitcher-friendly division to a very unfriendly one. So the basic conclusion here is that Pomeranz is a strong candidate to regress, but he should still remain a decent bet to be a quality pitcher going forward.
OK...so what's the bad news? Pomeranz has never thrown 150 innings in any season in his career, whether it be major or minor leagues. He's already eclipsed the 100-inning mark this season, and to expect him to continue his pace into September and/or deep into the playoffs is a fool's errand. Thankfully, he's not that young and therefore past the injury nexus, but it isn't unreasonable to expect him to tire as the season goes on. Basically, even if you assume that his 2016 performance is the new baseline for his talent going forward, and you assume that he'll be free of injuries, it's likely that his lack of recent starting experience renders his body stronger for future seasons than this one.
But doesn't that run counter to the logic we used about why the Red Sox should trade for a starting pitcher to contend this season? While it's nice that Pomeranz comes with two more years of control, that fact also helped inflate his value. Rich Hill projects to be at least as good, if not better, than Pomeranz for just this season, and he'd likely come at a third of the cost. What's worse, the value of a prospect is exponential, so three top-15 organizational prospects does not equal one top 5 prospect.
Pomeranz was just traded for Yonder Alonso and Mark Rzepczynski this offseason. The Red Sox not only targeted arguably the most obvious sell-high candidate in baseball, but they also slightly overpaid for that asset's optimistic outlook. Now, I don't get to sit into the Red Sox front office meetings, and I have no idea what other options they discussed, what else was available, and what the current trade market looks like for starting pitchers. I trust that there are many smart people in that front office, but Dombrowski has always struck me as a straightforward thinker, almost always targeting players that everyone knew was available or that other teams also had interest in. This deal strikes me as very Dombrowski-esque, and in my view, that isn't necessarily a good thing.
Obviously, every team will value Espinoza differently. This isn't the GM meetings, and the Red Sox don't have time to call all 29 teams to find out who wants Espinoza the most. However, it's obvious that many teams like him. Pomeranz probably isn't a needle-moving acquisition for them, and he therefore should require more in terms of prospect quantity than quality. If you're going to move a prospect as highly regarded as Espinoza, fine, but find out the team that likes him more than most and go for a player that may not be widely-known to be available. That player probably isn't available because no team expected another team to offer a prospect like an Anderson Espinoza.
I have no idea who is and isn't gettable for a package headlined by Espinoza, but ask around. Ask about Chris Archer. Ask about Chris Sale or Gerrit Cole or Starling Marte or Nolan Arenado or Jacob deGrom. Maybe one of them says yes, or maybe it'll cost you something like an Andrew Benintendi, whom you'd prefer to keep over Espinoza. But it's a question of trading away value X for value Y, or trading value 1.5X for value 3Y, and the second deal is preferable in almost every scenario.
Now, Espinoza could flame out (easily possible) and/or Pomeranz could be the hero in leading Boston to another title (also possible, but much less likely). However, deals should always be assessed based on process rather than results, and the Red Sox just gave up an arguably upper-echelon prospect for someone that has a decent chance of not starting a playoff game for them.
My take from the Padres' perspective is short and sweet: I love it. I've been critical of A.J. Preller's moves with San Diego, from the Matt Kemp trade, to all of the other trades for major league players in the foolish hope of contending, to the Justin Upton non-trade(s), and so has the rest of the Internet. However, there have been little to no counter-articles since then about how brilliant his moves have been after that point.
The emergence of Wil Myers has made us eat our collective words on that deal, and his breakout probably moves that deal to somewhere close to even, if not possibly even in the favor of San Diego. Also, Preller used Kimbrel as a tool to massively upgrade assets, all while also managing to extract a year of service out of Kimbrel. All four of those prospects in return for Kimbrel look outstanding, and, uh, Padres fans — you can thank Dombrowski for that as well. Lastly, the Fernando Rodney-for-Chris Paddack was yet another outstanding move for Preller, joining this trade in what's amounted to a great month for San Diego.
The Padres managed to turn essentially nothing into Espinoza, who probably immediately slots in as their best prospect. Maybe Espinoza never turns into anything, and maybe neither does Paddack, but the time that the Friars sold Rodney and Pomeranz was exactly the perfect time to do so.
As for the rest of the league, this deal has more ramifications than you might think. This was the first major trade for a starting pitcher* in this market, and it may "set" the market for the rest of the month.
*Sorry, Bud Norris. Also, James Shields' contract rendered him essentially valueless.
If this is the new price for starting pitching, then teams with excess should be salivating, and they should think hard about dealing arms even if they didn't originally plan to do so. I'm looking at you, Rays, Dodgers, and Pirates. Hell, the Dodgers and Pirates are contending, and it still might make sense. Here's an Erasmo Ramirez for you! And a Scott Kazmir for you! And how about a Jon Niese for you! With an Espinoza-level prospect potentially coming in return, who wouldn't want to sell?
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Austin Yamada is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score.