The idea of the Red Sox trading for Taijuan Walker might seem strange, given the facts that the Red Sox have an overabundance of starting pitchers and that the Mariners appear eager to employ Walker as an anchor in their own rotation behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma in 2014 and for years to come. However, the more one looks into the possibility of the Red Sox trading for Taijuan Walker, the more it starts to make perfect sense for both sides.
As has been highlighted often this offseason, the Red Sox have remarkable starting pitching depth at both the major and minor league levels. The current big-league rotation is stacked with six very capable veterans (Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy, and Ryan Dempster), and the farm system is flourishing with six more arms that each have a more than reasonable chance of contributing in the rotation at the highest level sometime between now and 2015 (Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, Rubby De La Rosa, and Henry Owens).
While this impressive stock of minor league pitching talent boasts exceptional depth, essentially none of the experts consider any of the Red Sox pitching prospects as having future No. 1 ace potential. This is not to say in any way that the Red Sox do not have a truly remarkable group of young starting pitchers. The point of this paragraph is merely that the quality of each pitcher, though great, tops off at the label of a No. 2 or No. 3 starter at best.
Now, despite that old adage which says you can never have too much starting pitching, if there ever is a case where a team has too much starting pitching, it is the 2014 Red Sox.
Even beyond 2014, once Peavy, Dempster, and possibly Lester leave via free agency, the Red Sox will still have three spots filled in the rotation. However, it is hard to imagine Lester leaving given the mutual desire to keep him in Boston coupled with the fact that the Red Sox have a ton of money coming off the books next offseason, so let’s assume that the 2015 rotation includes a newly-extended Lester, leaving only one spot open in the rotation with the six aforementioned youngsters competing for it.
Starting pitching depth is great, but there is absolutely no reason that Boston needs 10 people for 5 spots in 2015 and beyond. This is where the Seattle Mariners and Taijuan Walker come into the equation. Since the Red Sox have way more future No. 2 or No. 3 quality starters knocking on the door of the majors than there is room for, why not use a few of them in a trade for Walker?
The Red Sox have a great opportunity to turn two good pitching prospects (along with an expendable veteran in Peavy) into one elite pitching prospect. While Brandon Workman and Matt Barnes are both very good prospects, no one doubts that Taijuan Walker, regarded by nearly everyone as a sure-fire future ace, is better. Boston can sacrifice a little depth (of which there will still be plenty left over) to achieve a great gain in quality.
A trade of Jake Peavy, Brandon Workman, and Matt Barnes for Taijuan Walker would be beneficial for the Red Sox both in the present and the future.
Looking at the present, if the Red Sox make this trade, they will have a very formidable 2014 rotation of Lester, Buchholz, Lackey, Walker, and Doubront. Walker has already had success in the big leagues in a small sample size and appears to be ready for the long haul, so it is reasonable to assume that at worst he will be the same quality pitcher as Peavy would be, but with the potential to be much better if everything comes together for him. Due to Walker’s potential ability to dominate right away (and thus represent an upgrade over Peavy) and the fact that the Red Sox still have Dempster, Webster, and De La Rosa as insurance options, this trade could be very beneficial in the present and come with little risk should injuries, struggles, or other unforeseen events challenge the depth of the rotation.
Looking at 2015 and beyond, this trade could be extremely beneficial as well, should Walker blossom into the ace that he is expected to become. If Lester signs an extension, the 2015 rotation will be the same as it was in 2014 (with the minor exception that Dempster will not be an insurance No. 6 starter).
Furthermore, Lackey is the only pitcher who will see his contract expire at the end of 2015, so the 2016-2017 rotation will only have one opening. At this point, the loss of the depth that Workman and Barnes would have provided will not be felt at all because Webster, De la Rosa, Owens, and Ranaudo will be four very desirable options for that last spot in the rotation. On top of that, Boston’s first pick of the 2013 draft, Trey Ball, along with others such as Teddy Stankiewickz and Brian Johnson, could be knocking on the door by 2017 as well.
Even if the Mariners see Barnes and Workman blossom in Seattle, it will not be a sore loss for Red Sox fans because Walker will likely be performing even better in his Boston uniform.
Now that the benefits for the Red Sox of a Taijuan Walker trade have been outlined, one may ask why on earth the Mariners would be willing to part with this prized possession of theirs. However, there are a few factors that point to them doing so.
One reason is that Seattle has not, at least recently, led anyone to believe that Walker is untouchable. Not only has his name been floated around quite frequently in trade rumors for Tampa Bay’s David Price this offseason, but he was even included in a trade that was actually agreed upon for Arizona’s Justin Upton during last year’s offseason. Had Upton not vetoed the trade, Walker would be wearing a Diamondbacks uniform right now.
Another reason why the Mariners would be motivated to make this trade is because they are perfect trade partners for the Red Sox. While Seattle currently has three current or future aces in their rotation in King Felix, Iwakuma, and Walker, they have enormous question marks in the last two spots of their rotation. As it currently stands James Paxton, Danny Hultzen, and Erasmo Ramirez are the leading candidates to take the last two spots.
James Paxton has potential but is risky because he struggled moderately in AAA Tacoma, as his 4.45 ERA at that level points out. Danny Hultzen, regarded a year ago as one of the top prospects in baseball, suffered major shoulder injuries this year and has seen his stock plummet as a result. Lastly, Erasmo Ramirez had a 4.98 ERA in 72.1 innings pitched in the Majors last year, so he does not exactly represent an appealing option either. With such a strong 1-2 punch of Hernandez and Iwakuma, Seattle would be smart to value depth more than a third ace in Walker. Seattle’s rotation would likely be better if Hernandez and Iwakuma were followed by two or three solid starters rather than Walker and two spots to be filled by two of the shaky options of Paxton, Hultzen, and Ramirez. With the Mariners essentially going "all-in" over the next few years with their signing of Robinson Cano to his mammoth contract, they cannot afford to take a risk that their No. 4 and No. 5 spots in the rotation will be disastrous.
The Mariners have three aces but no depth behind them. The Red Sox have 6 good prospects but none with ace potential. Thus, the two teams are perfect trade partners. If the Mariners receive a package of Peavy, Workman, and Barnes for Walker, they will be much better off both in 2014 and beyond.
Looking at 2014, if the Mariners make this trade, they will be able to slot Peavy and Workman nicely into the No. 3 and No. 4 spots, and now Paxton, Hultzen, and Ramirez will be fighting over one spot instead of two. This is a much safer scenario for the Mariners, because it is way more likely that one of this trio will emerge as an effective big league pitcher than it is for two of them to. Furthermore, Barnes could even emerge as a dark horse candidate to fill that fifth spot of the rotation, at least around midseason. The bottom line is that this trade will provide Seattle with much-needed security.
Looking at 2015 and beyond, even if Peavy decides to leave through free agency after one season (possibly netting Seattle a draft pick if he is given a qualifying offer but turns it down), Barnes should be ready to step into the Mariners rotation as an effective pitcher at this time. With Workman and Barnes filling in behind Hernandez and Iwakuma, the rotation is still very solid, and probably more so than it would have been had they not traded away Walker.
A package of Peavy, Workman, and Barnes should be good enough for the Red Sox to land Walker from the Mariners, but even if it isn’t, then a few changes could be made to make the offer a little more enticing without giving up too much. The Mariners could definitely use some help with their outfield offense, so adding Sox power-hitting outfield prospect Bryce Brentz could possibly help seal the deal. Or, the Sox can replace Barnes with Owens in the original offer, but this should be a last resort because even though Walker has greater potential than Owens, if everything goes right then Owens might not end up being too much behind Walker when it is all said and done. However, whether the Sox offer Peavy, Workman, and Barnes (and possibly Brentz too), or Peavy, Workman, and Owens, a trade for Taijuan Walker makes a great deal of sense for both the Red Sox and Mariners, not only for the 2014 season, but well into the future as well.