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The risks and rewards of the Drew Pomeranz trade

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The Red Sox are betting on Drew Pomeranz to help their struggling rotation, but in a weak market, even one of the best available arms is no sure thing.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

With the trade deadline still two weeks away, the Red Sox made what is likely to be their biggest move of the season Thursday night, sending Anderson Espinoza to the Padres for Drew Pomeranz. And as with any big trade, this one comes with no small amount of potential upside and downside alike.

The positives on this are not too terribly complicated, which is usually the case for any deal from a buyer's perspective, but let's enumerate them anyways:

1. The Red Sox got a good pitcher

It's obvious, but it bears repeating. Pomeranz has been a very good pitcher since he left the Rockies, pitching to a 2.84 ERA with a 9.1 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9, good for a 3.48 FIP. There's a bit of a misconception that all park factors are created equal, but Colorado is a very different beast, with the thin air playing havoc with breaking balls, particularly for curveball pitchers like Pomeranz. Fenway is cramped, yes, but that's not nearly so much of a problem for Pomeranz as the altitude of Coors likely was. More on that later.

While there are certainly questions for Pomeranz in his move to the Red Sox, this is a good player they've acquired, full stop.

2. They actually have a rotation now!

This might seem a bit redundant with number one, but there's a lot to be said for the stability this promises to bring. Two out of five games this season have been likely as not to be a total disaster. Even when their bullpen was healthy that left them under ridiculous amounts of strain, and now they most certainly aren't healthy.

Pomeranz doesn't completely solve the problem, but it makes things a lot more manageable. Now there's just one blank spot in the rotation, and that spot can be worked around some percentage of the time using days off. And, should the Red Sox make the postseason, that's the one spot they get to ignore entirely in October. There's still every possibility that Eduardo Rodriguez comes around and gives them a full five, but getting to four is kind of the minimum for a team that wants to last into October.

3. They dodge free agency

This one is the big hidden plus to the Pomeranz deal. Usually when teams get players for multiple years it's a nice bonus on top of the immediate help to a contender, but only really serves to save them from making an equivalent move in the offseason.

But that assumes there's a move to be made, and this offseason, that's not necessarily the case. If the pitching market looks dire now, it's likely to only get worse as the few options that are available get picked up by contenders in trades. Then the offseason will hit, and the free agent market will contain basically Rich Hill, Jeremy Hellickson, Doug Fister, and yes, Clay Buchholz. Who wants in?

The reality is if the Red Sox didn't make a move now, they would very likely find themselves in the exact same spot come November, with their only hope being that some new teams have decided to go into full-on rebuild mode, making some more pitchers available. Instead, they now get to largely ignore pitching come the offseason, and focus only on replacing the departing David Ortiz.

So those are the obvious positives. There's also some obvious risks that come with any big trade. But let's try to separate the ones worth thinking about from those that aren't.

1. Pomeranz may randomly be awful

There's no such thing as a guarantee in baseball. Yes, Pomeranz' track record isn't all that long as a starter, but in the rotation or the bullpen, he's been quite good for three years now, which should be enough to earn him trust. Sure, maybe he's no good from here-on-in. But the same is true of Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. and Dustin Pedroia and etc. etc. etc.

There's just no conversation to be had when spontaneous combustion is allowed as an argument. If it is, the correct answer for all teams is to stop paying players, stop playing baseball, and go find a dark room to hide in. So if your response to "the Red Sox just got Pomeranz" is simply "well maybe Pomeranz isn't going to be any good," don't be surprised if nobody talks to you.

(You'd think this one wouldn't be necessary to cover, but I've seen it brought up so many damn times in the past 12-or-so hours.)

2. Anderson Espinoza might end up an ace.

This might seem silly, but this one is also not all that worthwhile. The distinction lies in not judging this deal based purely on the outcome. This trade is not made good or bad by the success or failure of Anderson Espinoza. He's simply too far away for any talent evaluator to say with any certainty that he will or will not make good on his considerable talent. Anyone who, 10 years from now, says either team should have known better than to trade/trade for Espinoza is simply wrong.

That basically makes his value to both the Red Sox and Padres some percentage chance of both an MLB pitcher, and an MLB ace. Whether he actually does or does not follow through on that is damn near immaterial to the decision that both sides just made, because expecting anyone to see that far into the future just isn't realistic. You have to treat players like Anderson Espinoza as their expected value rather than looking with hindsight at how good they actually are years down the line.

You can make the argument, if you are so inclined, that Espinoza's expected value was too high a price to pay for Pomeranz. My intention is not to dismiss that idea. Only to suggest that this determination needs to be made now, and is not actually at risk of getting worse over time.

3. Can Pomeranz pitch in the A.L. East?

This one's actually not so bad at all. Pomeranz doesn't exactly project as one of those guys who struggles upon leaving pitchers parks with his high strikeout and ground ball rates. The addition of a cutter, as mentioned by Matt Collins earlier today, has allowed him to come inside on righties (like a certain other big lefty in recent Red Sox history), which should let him survive against them even in Fenway. Yes, the competition will be a bit more fierce, and the Red Sox should not expect him to be quite as good. Regression will come.

But even taking that into account, we're talking about a guy with a 137 ERA+ over these past three seasons, with a lot of room to regress before he stops being a valuable addition. If Pomeranz is not as good as his ERA suggests, the Red Sox didn't pay for that player, either. For all that Anderson Espinoza is a great prospect, one great prospect does not buy 2.5 years of a 2.5 ERA.

4. The innings total

This one, on the other hand, is pretty real, if slightly overstated. Here are Pomeranz' innings totals over the last few years between the majors and minors:

2012 -- 147.1

2013 -- 112.2

2014 -- 115.1

2015 -- 88.0

There's some caveats here. Bullpen innings come with a lot more hidden pitches than starting innings. Relievers are often warming up and then sitting down, never actually coming into the game and thus not actually getting credit for the work they put in. And while Pomeranz' inning totals have been low, it's not because he hasn't managed to stay strong late in the years. The A's just couldn't decide where to put him--the rotation or the bullpen--and had one of his stays as a starter cut short by punching a chair.

Yes, punching a chair is dumb. But it also doesn't make him an injury risk. So long as he's really learned his lesson that punching chairs is not a great idea, that is.

The point here is that this is no death sentence, but if the Pomeranz trade goes wrong for the Red Sox, especially in 2016, this is very likely to be the reason why. It's entirely possible that Pomeranz has plenty left in the tank, and entirely possible that we'll start seeing a decline in velocity and effectiveness before October. And if the Sox do make it into the postseason, there's no guarantee that Pomeranz will be able to keep going once they're there. It's a very real concern.

But it's not like there were perfect options out there. The Sox went with a promising arm that would keep them out of the upcoming free agent market. They've assumed risks in doing so. But we all get to share in the reward of not having to deal with this damn three-man rotation for the foreseeable future. I'll take it.