When the Boston Red Sox traded Tavis Shaw (and some minor leaguers) to the Milwaukee Brewers for Tyler Thornburg in the winter of 2016, the reaction was mixed. In the months after the deal, the evaluation of the deal was closer to unanimous, just not in a good way for the Sox, as most saw the move as a misstep.The backlash became even harsher when Thornburg had to undergo surgery and miss all of 2017. When that news came around in June of last season, Shaw was slashing .302/.355/.533 with 11 home runs. So, yeah, it looked like the Sox would be regretting the transaction, especially as they struggled to find a solution at third base.
What a difference a year can make. While Thornburg has still yet to throw a pitch for the Red Sox, he is going to be back soon. The Red Sox are wisely being cautious in bringing him back, but as he rehabs with Pawtucket, the reviews have been largely stellar. In three appearances, he has struck out five batters in 2 2⁄3 innings while allowing only two hits and as many walks. While you’d be hard-pressed to find a smaller sample size than that, if he’s hitting his velocity and getting movement with his breaking pitches like it appears, then he’s got a shot to really come in and be a big part of the bullpen. Craig Kimbrel is obviously the closer and nobody is taking that job from him, while Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes have both been very good as well. But there are plenty of opportunities for another arm, especially as Carson Smith has been up and down and Heath Hembree allows 9.2 hits per nine innings.
Let’s not forget that Thornburg had a 2.87 ERA (141 ERA+, 3.83 FIP) in 219 2⁄3 career innings, although most of that is colored by his 2016 campaign. All that’s to say he has been very, very good in the past. Coming back from a nearly two-year absence and overcoming the rehab from surgery are large roadblocks, but if Thornburg can find the magic again, the Red Sox can still win this trade. Shaw was worth 3.4 wins above replacement last year according to FanGraphs, but he has not had as much success this season. While his walk percentage is up and his strikeout percentage is down, he is slashing just .230./.319/.451 for a wRC+ of 106. That has factored into his pedestrian 0.9 fWAR. Shaw had been worth 1.5 and 1.3 fWAR, respectively, in the two seasons before last year’s breakout with Milwaukee. Perhaps that is more indicative of his actual skill level. Thornburg was worth 2.0 fWAR in 2016 when he was at the peak of his powers. Could that be indicative of a what we expect from a healthy version?
Whether or not Thornburg can get back to that level is unclear and probably unlikely. Additionally, Shaw may not have an elite batting average right now but he’s still been a slightly above average batter. Plus, even though it would be nice to see the Red Sox get the better end of a deal, it would be better for everyone if both players succeeded. I, for one, am still rooting for Shaw. Taking that out of the equation, Thornburg would need to be lights out for more than a few Pawtucket outings to really make us do a 180 on a seemingly etched-in-stone verdict about the deal that brought him to Boston.
Sit down, folks, and I’ll tell you the legend of Joe Kelly. (Christopher Smith; MassLive)
Mookie Betts is already baseball royalty, but apparently he has connection to soon-to-be British royalty. (Peter Abraham; Boston Globe)
It has been pretty clear during the first month of the season. The Red Sox are taking a more aggressive approach. (Jared Diamond; Wall Street Journal)
As the Red Sox get set to face the Yankees, Alex Cora has to figure out what to do with players that are not performing at the plate. (Peter Abraham; Boston Globe)