Red Sox Pay Up for Drew Pomeranz’s Breakout and Risk

The All-Star break is often just that — a much-needed break, for players and executives alike. You might’ve heard this before, but the regular season is something of a grind. Yet the break also comes just in advance of the trade deadline, so one can never get too comfortable. And as trades go, today there’s been a big one: Drew Pomeranz is going from the Padres to the Red Sox, and Anderson Espinoza is reportedly going from the Red Sox to the Padres.

Let’s get this out of the way now: The A’s look really silly. They looked silly even before this — Pomeranz was an All-Star! — but Espinoza is a major return, and quite preferable to Yonder Alonso and Marc Rzepczynski. This is a move I’m sure Oakland regrets. There’s another move I’m sure they regret more.

The Oakland part of this is funny. But the Boston and San Diego parts are also interesting, and obviously more relevant. For the Padres, this moves the rebuild forward, getting another boost from the Red Sox farm system. Perhaps the team learned a lesson from last summer’s inactivity. And for the Red Sox, they’ve now picked up one of the only quality starters known to be out there. Pomeranz’s sudden breakout appears to be legitimate. In question is how much he has left in the tank.

I think we all knew Boston was going to do something. Something bigger than getting Aaron Hill and Brad Ziegler, I mean. They were long connected to Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino, and that connection always made sense, if the Braves were willing to play along. Dave Dombrowski is an aggressive adder. That’s his history, and the Red Sox organization knew that when they hired him. It was easy to see the Red Sox dipping into the prospect resources, and while one would figure Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi would be untouchable, that still left, say, Rafael Devers and Espinoza. Espinoza’s gone now. Dombrowski has bigger priorities than 2021.

Pomeranz is a quality starter, and the Red Sox have needed a quality starter. That’s been no secret. They might still need another arm, depending, but Pomeranz at least rounds out the top four. He strengthens the Red Sox by, say, a game or three, and they currently occupy a wild-card position. Again, it’s been a breakout season, but the numbers are pretty — out of 143 starters with at least 50 innings, Pomeranz ranks eighth in ERA-. He’s 13th in FIP-, and 21st in K-BB%. Put more simply: For a while, Drew Pomeranz was supposed to be good. Now he is good.

Better yet, he’s young, and he’s under team control another two seasons after this one. So Pomeranz is affordable, and while he was long dogged by the two-pitch-pitcher label, now he’s throwing a quality cutter, which has made him tougher to square up. To any hitter, he has three pitches he’ll throw in any count, and so the reliever profile is looking like a thing of the past. It’s been a quick rise, as evidenced by the trade from the A’s in the first place, but pitchers can move their baselines awfully fast.

By the results, Pomeranz looks good. To the eye, Pomeranz looks good. In terms of what he’ll cost, Pomeranz looks good. This isn’t just some short-term rental. As I see it, there’s one big question. The Red Sox wanted Pomeranz now because they’re thinking about the 2016 playoffs. Not exclusively, but most importantly. Pomeranz has thrown 102 innings. Last year, in the majors and minors, he threw 88 innings. He’s peaked just shy of 150 innings, back in 2012. There’s no questioning what Pomeranz has accomplished. But how many bullets might he have left come September and October?

I don’t ask that as a way of setting up an answer paragraph. I really don’t know. And I doubt the Red Sox know, either. Pomeranz has certainly looked good lately. And, you know, all players are worn down to some extent by the end. Adrenaline does kick in. But Pomeranz is going to enter uncharted territory. If he frays, it wouldn’t be a shock. There’s just real uncertainty here, which is one thing Julio Teheran has going in his own favor. Even if Pomeranz does wear down, he still looks like a good investment for the following two years, but this is firstly a 2016 move.

And it’s a pricey one. You don’t get a Drew Pomeranz for cheap. You don’t get this version of Drew Pomeranz for cheap. Espinoza is 18 years old, and a long ways off. He’s a pitcher with a 4+ ERA in the South Atlantic League. He’s somewhat slight of build, so there have been those general concerns. Yet there’s big-league velocity, and feel, and Espinoza handles three different pitches. He’s 18 years old. Baseball America just ranked him 15th in their midseason top-100. Keith Law had him 14th. Just for reference, in that BA list, Espinoza was slotted just after Orlando Arcia. He’s someone you dream on, but odds are he’s the best prospect moved this month.

Espinoza is a player, but he’s also a type. By which I mean, how you feel about this trade depends on how you feel about highly-rated low-level pitching prospects in general. Espinoza’s polish scores him some points, but there’s no denying the level of risk here. This is an upside return, not a safety return. It’s like the opposite of every prospect trade made lately by the Reds. For the Padres, Espinoza is a significant blue-chipper. He definitely fits the two organizational timelines here — the Red Sox want to be good now, and the Padres figure maybe they’ll be good again in 2019. In a big way the Padres made their own mess, but they’ve done a fine job of starting to clean it up.

Just last summer, the Padres decided to hold on to Tyson Ross, even though the organizational outlook was grim. Ross and Pomeranz weren’t in identical situations, but they were similar, and the Padres have watched Ross’ trade value dwindle almost to nothing. With Pomeranz, they weren’t going to make the same mistake. You can’t wait too patiently with pitchers. Espinoza has plenty of his own risk, but Pomeranz was sold almost as high as he conceivably could be. A.J. Preller was smart to pull the trigger, even if it hurts in the short-term. The short-term in San Diego was always going to hurt.

Are the Red Sox finished? As big moves go, they’re probably finished. And in a pitching-thin market, they’ve taken from the top. It cost them, and it’s unclear just how good Pomeranz might be by the later weeks. But the market hasn’t offered many better choices. The Padres have done well to advance their own rebuild, again drawing from Dombrowski’s aggressiveness. Turning Alonso and Rzepczynski into Espinoza over a matter of months is a hell of a magic trick. They can thank Drew Pomeranz for that, and now Pomeranz has officially been valued as a quality starter. It only took him six years.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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” A.J. Preller was smart to pull the trigger, even if it hurts in the short-term. The short-term in San Diego was always going to hurt.”

In the long term in San Diego, it fades to a dull ache. Incidentally, Tyson Ross was also gotten from Oakland for not much.