BOSTON — The Red Sox wanted to acquire a reliever, but the cost was simply too high, Dave Dombrowski repeated again and again during Wednesday's trade deadline post-mortem.
"I don't know that there was a player out there that was traded that we couldn't have acquired," Dombrowski said. "It's just that we didn't like the price that was asked."
That statement prompts an obvious question: Which relievers were moved, and just how much did they cost? An examination of 18 viable arms who swapped teams in July suggests that more than a few were available for reasonable costs.
First a couple of caveats. We're relying on industry observers like Baseball America, MLB.com, and Fangraphs for prospect evaluations. Teams often rank prospects very differently internally.
For another, we don't know which of these relievers the Red Sox tried to acquire and what the dealing clubs wanted in return. Maybe the ask was prohibitively higher for Boston than their eventual destinations.
But based on the pitchers who did change uniforms, it's hard to believe the Red Sox couldn't have managed a significant upgrade for a reasonable cost.
Take Sam Dyson. The Giants right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.47 ERA. He owns a 47-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio and has been one of the better relievers in baseball over the last two years. The Twins acquired him for a trio of minor leaguers — Prelander Berroa, Jaylin Davis, Kai-Wei Teng. None ranked among Minnesota's top 30 prospects, according to both Baseball America and MLB.com.
The 31-year-old Dyson is making $5 million and has another year of arbitration eligibility remaining, so he's not a pure rental. What he is, with a lifetime ERA of 3.29 over eight seasons, is a proven commodity. He'll help the Twins. He could've helped the Red Sox.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the other reliever the Twins acquired. They nabbed Marlins closer Sergio Romo, but at the cost of their No. 10 prospect, slugging first baseman Lewin Diaz, who has 19 home runs at two levels. (Miami sweetened the deal by sending its own 27th-ranked prospect back). Romo is a rental who doesn't strike anyone out anymore, so there's real risk Minnesota will lose this deal. Those are the kind of swaps Dombrowski was smart to avoid.
Sticking with the Giants, what about three-time All-Star Mark Melancon? The 34-year-old went to Atlanta for mediocre right-hander Dan Winkler and borderline prospect Tristan Beck, who had posted a 5.65 ERA at High A and was the organization's 30th-ranked prospect, per Baseball America's midseason rankings. The Braves have a loaded system, so their No. 30 prospect could be Boston's No. 15, but still — not a massive price to pay for an experienced big leaguer with a 3.50 ERA.
The Braves didn't just land Melancon. They also got Tigers closer Shane Greene for their No. 9 prospect (left-hander Joey Wentz) and unranked outfielder Travis Demeritte, who has 20 homers at Triple A. Wentz is a legit arm who'd easily have been the best pitching prospect in the Red Sox system, but it's still not a monster haul for an All-Star with one more year of team control.
A truly head-scratching deal involved the Blue Jays, who seemed to make a bunch of them. While many focus on the relatively meager return from the Mets for ace Marcus Stroman, consider their swap with the Astros. In exchange for solid veteran reliever Joe Biagini (3-1, 3.78), reclamation project Aaron Sanchez (3 years removed from finishing 7th in the Cy Young vote) , AND promising outfielder Cal Stevenson (Toronto's No. 16 prospect), the Astros only surrendered non-prospect Derek Fisher, a power bat in the minors who has nonetheless hit only .201 in parts of three big-league seasons and is on the verge of becoming a 26-year-old in Triple A. Perhaps the Jays didn't want to trade with Boston, but that's not much of a return.
The Jays also shipped right-hander Daniel Hudson (6-3, 3.00) to the Nationals for fringe prospect Kyle Johnston, who had fallen out of Washington's top 30, per Baseball America. Hudson is a pure rental, but Johnston is a 2017 college pick spending his second straight season at High-A.
Another respectable arm shipped out for non-prospects was Kansas City left-hander Jake Diekman, who went to the A's for right-hander Ismael Aquino and outfielder Dairon Blanco. Aquino doesn't appear on any of Oakland's top-30 lists, while Blanco cracked just one, checking in at No. 26 on Baseball America's midseason rankings. Diekman posted huge strikeout numbers in Kansas City, with a 3.37 FIP that suggests his 4.75 ERA might be inflated.
Of the 18 relievers NBC Sports Boston examined, only five were traded for top-15 prospects: Romo, Greene, Texas's Chris Martin (to the Braves), Seattle's Roenis Elias (to the Nats), and Miami's Nick Anderson (to the Rays). The biggest outlay was Tampa surrendering its No. 4 prospect, outfielder Jesus Sanchez, for Anderson, a 29-year-old rookie with five more years of team control who's in the midst of an outstanding season, striking out over 14 batters per nine.
Any one of these relievers could've helped the Red Sox. Most of them were traded for relatively modest prospect hauls. It certainly looks like there were deals to be made without pillaging the farm, but Dombrowski apparently thought differently.
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