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Scattered thoughts on the Brandon Workman trade

The Red Sox made the first big deal of the trade deadline season.

Boston Red Sox v New York Mets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

In case you missed it, the Red Sox were part of the league’s first “real” trade of this deadline season, sending Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree to the bullpen-needy Phillies in exchange for a pair of right-handed pitchers in Nick Pivetta and Connor Seabold. As has become tradition here at OTM, rather than trying to focus on one or two parts of this we’re going to do the scattered thoughts format and try to quick-hit tackle every aspect of the move.

  • The obvious place to start is simply with feelings on how the Red Sox did in this deal, which I would argue is...fine. I said it on the ol’ Twitter Machine last night, but it feels like anyone who has a strong reaction in either direction on this one is simply trying too hard. The Red Sox traded a very good reliever and another one who can be good at times for a pitcher with some potential if you squint but also a track record that suggests he can’t harness it along with a prospect who was maybe a top 20 prospect in one of the worst farms in the league. It’s not a steal by the Red Sox, and it’s also not a bad deal. I give it a solid B-, which still gets you on the honor roll where I come from!
  • At least by my perception Workman has never really seemed like a core member of this Red Sox team for a few reasons, but this still marks the end of an era in a way. He was one of two players on this roster (not including Dustin Pedroia) who was around for that 2013 World Series run. Injuries obviously sucked the momentum of his career away for a few years after that, but his 2019 was one of the few bright spots of that miserable season. I won’t speak for anyone else, but I think I underappreciated the righty’s contributions to the organization over the last decade or so.
  • Let’s talk a little more about that 2013, shall we? At the time, it looked like Workman was set to be a big part of the future. After coming up as a rookie in the regular season he was fine — the peripherals were good, the results were not — but he was a big piece in the postseason. The righty didn’t allow an earned run in seven October appearances including three in the World Series. They don’t win without him, plain and simple. He also got an at bat in that series because of hilarious mismanagement from John Farrell. It’s entirely unfair to Workman, who clearly had great moments on the mound, but I think in 25 years when someone brings up his name that at bat will be the first thing I remember.
Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
  • I’ve mentioned it a lot over the last year or so, but Workman was one of my favorite pitchers to watch work on this team. His stuff wasn’t overpowering, but the threat of his big, loopy curveball made his middling fastball one of the best heaters in the league last year. It was a clinic in sequencing.
  • As for Hembree, well, the memories aren’t quite as fond. I think we (and I certainly include myself in this) talked about him like he was worse than he actually was. That said, it always seemed like right when you were ready to give him another chance he’d allow four homers over two appearances. So, I wish him luck but also I’m looking forward to not getting sucked into believing in him for a month every season.
  • Shifting to the return for a minute, Pivetta is the piece we are going to see first. The righty burst onto the scene in 2018 with big-time peripherals that had a lot of people looking for a big breakout in 2019. Instead, he got kicked out of the Phillies rotation. Ask anyone from Philly about him and you will get exasperated frustration. There is some reason to believe his repertoire would work better in the bullpen, but A) that hasn’t been the reality over the last year-plus since he’s pitched out of the bullpen with poor results, and B) the Red Sox are too desperate for starters right now. He’ll certainly be a starter the rest of the way.
  • Clearly the Red Sox are hoping to unlock something from Pivetta that the Phillies were not able to. On the one hand, Boston obviously is not known for their work with pitchers. On the other hand, they have done alright with pitchers they acquire from other teams, with Eduardo Rodriguez being the most obvious recent example. The first possible solution to getting more out of Pivetta would seem to be using his fastball less. He throws the pitch 50 percent of the time despite the fact that he has two effective breaking balls.
  • Connor Seabold seems to be the player Phillies fans are more upset about losing. We’ll have more on him later this morning so I won’t spend too much time here, but he’s been a riser since later last season. His 2019 got off to a late start due to an oblique injury but he pitched well in Double-A in the second half and then impressed in the Arizona Fall League. He also got a spot on the Team USA Premier12 roster.
  • The proponents of this deal will point to the years of control the Red Sox got in this deal in exchange for Workman, a free agent after this season, and Hembree, who has one more year of arbitration. It’s not an unfair point, to be clear, but I do think we go too far with this sometimes. Years of control only matter if the player is good. Matt Hall, for example, is under control through 2025. Does anyone care about that? If Pivetta stayed in Philadelphia he was a potential non-tender candidate this winter, which would obviously negate his years of control. Again, I like the deal fine, but I wish we’d judge moves less on years of control and focus basically entirely on just the quality of player coming back.
  • The critics of this deal will point to the fact that the Red Sox had arguably the best reliever available on the market and they made this move over a week before they had to. Again, I get it, but I think that’s a point that’s overblown. There’s always a chance a team gets more desperate over the next ten days, but maybe the Phillies play themselves out of contention over the next week and then this deal comes off the table and no one else comes close to matching. At the end of the day, when you get a deal you like you take it no matter what the date is.
  • The Red Sox aren’t in contention this year, of course, but they still need to play the rest of the year with two relievers who had been big parts of their plan. Matt Barnes will jump into the closer role now, and I’d expect Josh Taylor, Austin Brice, Ryan Brasier and Darwinzon Hernandez to handle set up duties. Of course, many of those guys — possibly everyone besides Hernandez — could be on the table in trade talks as well.
  • Speaking of which, don’t expect this to be the final deal made this summer. Other names who could be brought up in talks beyond those relievers are: Jackie Bradley Jr., Kevin Pillar, Mitch Moreland, J.D. Martinez and Christian Vázquez. But really, almost everyone is probably on the table at this point.