It's foolish to judge the merits of a trade at the time that it happens. Nonetheless, on the surface, the three-team deal that the Red Sox announced as midnight approached on Tuesday night represented an impressive one, something that hit all the checkboxes that the Sox were looking for in a pitcher at a price point with which the team had tremendous comfort.
That's not to say that it's going to end up being a bad deal for either the White Sox or the Tigers. Both of those clubs got pieces that they value for both the short and long term. However, the Red Sox managed to address three areas of potentially significant weakness in one stroke while preserving their entire inventory of top prospects.
Before diving into some of the particulars, it's worth taking a step back and noting what the Red Sox did *not* give up. They didn't part with shortstop Xander Bogaerts (who now has a clear path to that position in Boston for the next few seasons). They did not give up center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. or left-hander Henry Owens or third baseman Garin Cecchini or Will Middlebrooks. They did not give up their top right-handed pitchers in Allen Webster or Brandon Workman or Matt Barnes or Rubby De La Rosa or Anthony Ranaudo.
In other words, the steepest cost to the Red Sox was Jose Iglesias, a player whose extraordinary run in May and June could well represent the zenith of his career. There is a real chance that he will never again make a big league impact over a 45-game stretch that matches what he did with his bat (hitting over .400 while taking walks and showing some extra-base pop) and his glove this year. Moveover, he may well rank behind all of the players on the aforementioned list in terms of prospect value to the Sox.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox now are considerably better positioned for both this season and next as a result of Peavy's arrival. The 32-year-old represents a solid mid-rotation starter who, in 80 innings this year, was 8-4 with a 4.28 ERA along with an impressive strikeout rate (8.6 per nine innings) and a very modest walk rate (1.9 per nine). That performance follows an 11-12 campaign in which Peavy had a 3.37 ERA with 8.0 strikeouts and 2.0 walks per nine in 219 innings with Chicago.
"We’re really excited to bring Jake here," said GM Ben Cherington. "He’s obviously a proven major league starter. He’s had a ton of success in his career. And I think if there’s one thing we wanted to do if we could pull it off is to add a starting pitcher. As we looked at the next two months, we’re in position to compete for a playoff spot and we just felt like adding a starting pitcher was probably the most important thing we could do to protect our chances to do that. We’ve been on the phone talking to a lot of teams over the last several weeks, but it’s picked up over the last several days about all the starting pitching alternatives out there. It just came together that this was the deal we thought made the most sense."
Peavy, the NL Cy Young Award winner in 2007, is a different pitcher now than he was at that peak. But the 32-year-old still challenges hitters with a quality arsenal in a fashion that makes him a good fit for the AL East.
"He’s got a good assortment of stuff. He’s always had a ton of life on his fastball along with a good slider and changeup. He throws strikes. He attacks hitters and he loves to pitch," said Cherington. "I think he’ll fit in nicely with the group we have, and he’s obviously been very successful in his career. He’s won a Cy Young, All-Star, all those things. And we’re just expecting him to give us a chance to win every time he goes out, and I think he’ll fit in nicely with the rest of the guys in the rotation and the clubhouse."
In landing Peavy, the Red Sox likely achieved a pair of upgrades, since they not only get a starter with an established track record, but they also now have the ability to move right-hander Brandon Workman to the bullpen. In theory, at least, Workman may be able to give the Sox the right-hander who presents a tough matchup for fellow righties.
Workman's willingness to go after opponents with his low- to mid-90s fastball, curve, changeup and cutter suggests a pitcher capable of retiring batters of either handedness. In his three starts, Workman held righties to a .231/.286/.308 line, not far from the .242/.289/.429 against him in the minors.
Perhaps of even greater significance than the fact that Peavy strengthens the rotation and that Workman makes the bullpen deeper is that the Red Sox -- who were on thin ice while hoping their starting five remained healthy -- now have depth prior to the return of Clay Buchholz. The team was in a position where the loss of any of its starting five (John Lackey, Jon Lester, Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront, Workman) would have it scrambling to call up a pitcher whose readiness to start in the big leagues was a considerable question.
The minor league depth considerations represented imperfect options. Both Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa are amidst some woeful command struggles. Knuckleballer Steven Wright is on an outstanding run in July that included 5 2/3 shutout innings in the big leagues against the Mariners, but his year-long inconsistencies made it difficult to know what the Sox would get.
“We recognize that August will be our month of biggest challenge in terms of overall depth, because soon after that we’re still hopeful and optimistic that Clay returns, and that would be as good of an addition as we could make at any deadline,” manager John Farrell suggested on Tuesday afternoon, prior to the trade.
Now, however, that depth equation is reworked, since Workman (2.45 ERA in three strong starts) represents a strong insurance option should any of the five starters go down. Depth, a critical strength for the Red Sox to date this year in so many facets of the club, now extends to the rotation until Buchholz returns.
Meanwhile, in Peavy the Sox also managed to avoid mortgaging prospects for a rental. Peavy is signed through 2014 (for $14.5 million), putting the Sox in strong shape not just for the rest of this year but also next, given that Lester, Buchholz, Lackey, Dempster and Doubront (not to mention Workman, Webster, De La Rosa, Wright and Ranaudo -- who will be added to the 40-man roster) all will remain under team control. Indeed, the Sox are in a position where they could consider dealing in the offseason from what could be a surplus inventory, with Dempster and Lester (as pitchers with one year of control remaining) being perhaps the most likely candidates if the Sox wish to explore their markets.
Moreover, in contrast to a rental for two months, who would not be eligible for a qualifying offer (one year at approximately $14 million-$15 million) that would entitle the Sox to a draft pick should he leave in free agency, there is at least a chance that the Sox could make such an offer to Peavy after next year. So, the extra year of control for Peavy means that the Sox have a number of avenues by which they can recover the prospect cost of their deal for the right-hander.
"You never say no to a pure two-month rental," explained Cherington. "There are some that do make sense, but it was important if we were giving up a long-term asset obviously in Iglesias, a guy we would have controlled long term, that we were getting something we could control past this year. When it came to the starting pitching marker we were more focused on guys we could have past this year rather than just rentals."
It's worth contrasting the cost of Peavy with that of Matt Garza, a two-month rental whom the Cubs dealt to the Rangers just last week for a potential everyday big league corner infielder (Mike Olt), a big league-ready back-of-the-rotation starter (Justin Grimm), a high-ceiling pitcher in the lower levels (right-hander C.J. Edwards) and one or two players to be named. The prospect cost to the Sox of Peavy certainly was less than that.
There is a very good chance that Iglesias will never recapture the lightning in a bottle that he represented in May and June. No shame in that, of course, since few hitters will ever enjoy a seven-week stretch in which they hit .400.
His contributions to the Sox were enormous during that stretch. But in July, his offense cratered, as he hit .205/.247/.217. He concluded his Red Sox career with a stretch of 18 straight starts without a walk or an extra-base hit -- the longest such stretch by any Red Sox player since at least 2000.
Despite his surpassingly impressive stretch in the big leagues this year, the questions about his offense weren't going to go away based on a lengthy minor league track record of offensive struggles. It's now apparent that he is capable of hitting enough to justify a big league starting job -- but it remains unclear whether he will do so sustainably.
With Xander Bogaerts destroying the ball in Triple-A Pawtucket and nearly major league-ready, and Deven Marrero (the 2012 first-rounder who is in High-A Salem) and Tzu-Wei Lin (a 19-year-old who signed out of Taiwan last summer for $2.05 million) in short-season Single-A Lowell, the Sox have players who won't be able to match Iglesias' defense -- who can? -- but who represent more promising all-around players for the position.
Shortstop, in other words, represented an area of long-term surplus from which the Sox could deal.
"We certainly didn’t go into this July looking or expecting to trade Jose," said Cherington, "but we felt given the strength of that position in the organization -- with Stephen Drew obviously our everyday shortstop right now and the guys we have coming behind him in the minor leagues -- it was a relative area of strength to deal from, and if we could get the starting pitcher we really wanted, ultimately we thought it made sense to do the deal."
As for the other three players whom the Sox gave up -- Lowell middle infielder Cleuluis Rondon and Greenville right-handers Francellis Montas and J.B. Wendelken -- each represents a prospect of relatively modest profile.
Montas, 20, is a bit of a wild card, a pitcher who can touch 100 mph with a swing-and-miss slider as a starter but whose command issues and lack of a third pitch give him a likely projection as a big league reliever. He's 2-9 with a 5.70 ERA, 10.1 strikeouts per nine and 3.4 walks per nine along with 10 homers allowed in 85 1/3 innings for Greenville. He entered the year as Baseball America's No. 22-ranked prospect in the Sox system, but that standing likely had fallen with his performance in Greenville.
Rondon, 19, is an athletic middle infielder (he was playing both short and second in Lowell) with tremendous hands, but his offensive limitations and aggressive approach suggest a likely best case of a big league utility player. He was hitting .276/.326/.350 with seven walks and 26 strikeouts in 37 games with Lowell.
Wendelken, 20, is an interesting wild card. He was a nice find for the Sox in the 13th round of the 2012 draft out of Georgia's South Effingham High School and Middle Georgia College (the same high school and junior college attended by Josh Reddick). He was 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA, 7.5 strikeouts per nine and 2.8 walks per nine this year in 27 appearances out of the Greenville bullpen. However, some team officials believe that he has the three-pitch mix and fastball command to have a shot at starting. Still, in an organization flush with upper-levels arms, parting with Wendelken was a relative no-brainer.
Overall, then, the Sox got the pitcher they wanted -- one who helps them this year and beyond, and who gives them a chance of recouping the prospect cost of the deal -- who not only strengthens the rotation but also, thanks to Workman, strengthens both their overall starting depth and their bullpen, while dealing from positions of strength/surplus inventory. It was a deal consistent with the organization's stated goal of putting itself in better position for this year without fundamentally compromising its future.