If there’s one thing the 2016 Boston Red Sox have always needed, it is starting pitching.
That’s the one thing that Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski went out and acquired over the All-Star break.
Thursday evening, as thunderstorms rolled into the northeast, Dave Dombrowski was shipping the Red Sox top-rated pitching prospect, Anderson Espinoza to the San Diego Padres in exchange for All-Star lefty starter Drew Pomeranz.
Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union Tribune first tweeted news of the impending deal right before 6:00pm ET Thursday evening. Not long after that, Evan Drellich, Red Sox beat writer for the Boston Herald revealed the cost of acquiring Pomeranz, Anderson Espinoza.
Before jumping all over Dombrowski for trading Espinoza, it is important to remember a few things.
Developing starting pitching via the minor leagues is tougher than developing hitting.
The Red Sox have watched hitting prospects Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr and Travis Shaw flourish. Meanwhile former top pitching prospect Clay Buchholz is likely to be the odd man out now that Pomeranz in on board. Eduardo Rodriguez has been injured and inconsistent, and the team’s most recent top-rated arm, Henry Owens continues to struggle in Triple-A.
Drew Pomeranz is neither a rental, nor does he come with a large, long-term contract.
Pomeranz was selected No.5 overall by the Cleveland Indians in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft. The 6’6″ 240 pound lefty was immediately pegged as a top pitching prospect for the Indians. Just over a year after being drafted, Pomeranz was on his way to the Colorado Rockies as the key part of a midseason trade which sent Ubaldo Jimenez to the Indians.
He never found his footing with the Rockies, and in December of 2013 he was dealt the Oakland A’s.
Pomeranz split his time between the rotation and the bullpen in Oakland. He was good, but he wasn’t the pitcher he was projected to be when he was the No.5 overall pick. Last December the A’s dealt him to the Padres in exchange for another under-achieving former top prospect, Yonder Alonso.
This year, thanks to increased use of a devastatingly effective curveball, Pomeranz has become the All-Star caliber starter that he had been projected as back in June of 2010.
The NL All-Star is currently 8-7 with an ERA of 2.47. He’s got 115 strikeouts in 102 innings pitched, and his whip ratio is an impressive 1.059. Even better, he’s allowing just 5.9 hits per nine innings pitched.
Pomeranz is arbitration eligible after this season, but he’s not going to be a free agent until 2019.
Even if Pomeranz isn’t able to replicate the numbers he posted in the offensively inferior National League West, odds are he’s still a very significant upgrade over whatever starting pitching options the Red Sox had in-house.
He wasn’t cheap though.
The Red Sox didn’t need to ship a package of players to the Padres to acquire Pomeranz. All they needed was one very young, very promising, and very talented 18-year-old Venezuelan named Anderson Espinoza.
If you’re heard that name before, there’s a reason for it.
Espinoza is not just a talented 18-year-old.
He’s an extremely talented, and hard-throwing 18-year-old who has sky-high potential.
He’s ranked extraordinarily high by just about every major prospect ranking outlet.
Espinoza is already excelling at Single-A ball. The name “Pedro Martinez” has been mentioned as a potential future comparison, but that’s most likely not fair. Of course if peak-Espinoza is even 75 percent of peak Pedro, then the Padres have gotten themselves a very serious future major league ace.
The Red Sox just don’t have the time to wait for Espinoza. He may have been the organization’s top-rated pitching prospect, but he was not the organization’s only high-rated pitching prospect.
The Red Sox have 2014 first round pick Michael Kopech lighting up radar guns at High-A Salem.
Thursday night, while the Pomeranz trade was being finalized, the Red Sox were putting the finishing touches on signing this year’s first round draft pick, lefty Jason Groome. Groome is likely to be placed among the organization’s top 10 prospects and is probably the franchise’s second highest rated starting pitching prospect after Kopech.
Starting pitching is very tough to develop. As good as Espinoza looks, and as good as he may be, it is a long journey from Single-A ball to the majors. When the prospect in question just turned 18 in March, that path to the majors could end up being one with a lot of bumps along the way.
There’s a 100 percent chance that the 2016 Boston Red Sox needed to add at least one quality starting pitcher to be competitive this October. Espinoza’s future in the majors might be very bright, but it is by no means a 100 percent certainty.
The market for starting pitchers was thin to begin with. There’s no real evidence that aces such as Chris Sale, Zack Greinke or Jose Fernandez are, or will be available. Even if they were put on the market, they’d cost a lot more than just Anderson Espinoza.
This was a costly deal for the Red Sox, but it was a deal that they had to make if the team had any realistic hopes of competing not just to make the postseason, but to succeed once they’ve gotten into the playoffs.