Red Sox

Four potentially undervalued pitchers Red Sox could target this offseason

Four potentially undervalued pitchers Red Sox could target this offseason

It's time for the Red Sox to start thinking like a small-market team, because burning money in the name of their rotation could have dire consequences that stretch well into the 2020s.

With Chris Sale, David Price, and Nathan Eovaldi set to earn $80 million annually through 2022 despite being major injury risks, the Red Sox will need to bargain hunt to fill the rest of their rotation. So where might they turn?

The key will be finding undervalued assets. One way to identify them is to look for pitchers with the biggest disparity between their ERA and FIP.

The latter — fielding independent pitching — is an ERA-like number derived from the events a pitcher can directly control: walks, strikeouts, home runs, and hit by pitches, the idea being that everything else is in the hands of the defense. FIP has its flaws, because it operates on the assumption that a pitcher can't impact balls in play, which means hurlers aren't credited for the majority of their outs, but it can still be a useful tool.

A wide spread between a pitcher's ERA and FIP can suggest bad luck or bad defense that mask some underlying strengths. The Red Sox, interestingly enough, looked a lot better as a staff via FIP than ERA, led by Chris Sale (4.40 ERA vs. 3.39 FIP), David Price (4.28 vs. 3.62), and even Rick Porcello (5.52 vs. 4.76).

Their staff ERA of 4.70 surpassed their 4.28 FIP by the widest margin of any team in baseball. Defensive metrics are notoriously spotty, but Fangraphs ranked Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts dead last at his position in defensive runs saved, saying he cost the Red Sox 19 runs. Similarly, center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (minus-2) and third baseman Rafael Devers (minus-13) were considered negatives, too. Bogaerts and Devers aren't going anywhere, but Bradley, a defending Gold Glover, is likely to be traded this winter. The Red Sox could also upgrade their defense at second base.

In any event, we're drifting a little far afield. The point is finding opposing pitchers who significantly underperformed their FIP, which could make them targets this winter. Here are four names to remember.

1. Joe Musgrove, RHP, Pirates

A first-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2011, Musgrove was traded to the Astros a year later before joining Pittsburgh as the centerpiece in the 2018 Gerrit Cole blockbuster. He made a career-high 31 starts this year, going 11-12 with a 4.44 ERA that masked a 3.82 FIP.

Those relatively middling numbers still established the 26-year-old as Pittsburgh's most effective starter, and he remains under team control through 2022.

With the Pirates in what feels like an eternal rebuild, it's hard to imagine they'd consider any player untouchable. Musgrove could make for an intriguing target.

2. Kevin Gausman, RHP, Reds

Gausman is a non-tender candidate, since he's set to make at least $10 million in his final year of arbitration. Chosen fourth overall in the 2012 draft by the Orioles, Gausman was once considered a top-10 prospect.

He has yet to live up to that hype, but he's better than the numbers suggested last year between Atlanta, where he posted a 6.19 ERA (and 4.20 FIP) in 16 starts, and Cincinnati, where he found use as a reliever (4.03 ERA, 3.17 FIP). Gausman struck out a career-high 10 batters per nine innings and is still only 28, so perhaps a flyer is in order, particularly if other teams are viewing him as a reliever and the Red Sox give him an opportunity to start.

3. Spencer Turnbull, RHP, Tigers

How does the AL's loss leader sound? Pitching for a woeful team, Turnbull went just 3-17 with a 4.61 ERA in 30 starts. His 3.99 FIP suggests better stuff than results, however, and he doesn't become a free agent until 2025.

Turnbull throws 95-97 and is considered a piece of Detroit's future, but it never hurts to ask. The 27-year-old went winless in his final 18 starts and is a late bloomer who was still pitching in Double A at age 25.

4. Pablo Lopez, RHP, Marlins

The rookie went 5-8 with a 5.09 ERA in 21 starts, but his 4.28 FIP and low walk rates (2.2 per nine innings) suggest some promise. The 23-year-old hails from Venezuela and can't become a free agent until 2025. He features a low-90s fastball and changeup, and the Marlins like his competitiveness. Being the Marlins means they're in perpetual fire-sale mode, however, and Lopez is worth a look.

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Why the way MLB teams value prospects is limiting Mookie Betts' trade value for Red Sox

Why the way MLB teams value prospects is limiting Mookie Betts' trade value for Red Sox

The Bartolo Colon trade would never happen today. The Mark Teixeira trade would never happen today. Hell, the Ryan Ludwick trade would never happen today.

Ryan Ludwick? Surely you remember the deal that sent Colon from the Indians to the Expos in 2002 for a massive haul of future All-Stars: Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore. You might also recall that five years later, the Braves kickstarted a rebuild in Texas by swapping Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia for 363 days of Teixeira.

What you're less likely to remember is the three-way deal on July 31, 2010 that sent Ludwick, two years removed from 37 homers and his only All-Star appearance, to the Padres. San Diego was clinging to a small lead in the NL West and hoped Ludwick would power them to the postseason. He instead hit just .211 and San Diego finished two games behind the Giants in the division and one behind in the Braves in the wild card. No playoffs for you.

The price they paid ended up being far steeper. The Indians joined the trade by sending promising right-hander Jake Westbrook to the Cardinals. The Padres completed the swap by shipping a Double-A pitching prospect to Cleveland. Perhaps you've heard of him. His name is Corey Kluber.

A decade later, it's hard to imagine a team parting with any one of the prospects listed above, let alone the many-for-one swaps that characterized the first two deals. A player like Ludwick would never command a prospect like Kluber.

And that's a problem, because with the Red Sox debating whether to make Mookie Betts available this winter, they'll be constrained by the fact that teams value prospects more than ever.

"Teams understand the value of their young players and want to find a way to build around them, not necessarily always trade them away," said Twins GM Derek Falvey. "That's why you don't see as many of those players moving anymore."

There was a time when farm systems, especially in big markets, existed primarily to produce prospects to be fed into the trade chipper for established stars. Those days are gone for a variety of factors. For one, teams recognize the importance of building around young, cost-controlled players. For another, the diminished influence of performance-enhancing drugs has restored more traditional aging curves, meaning fewer players remain productive into their late 30s. And for another, teams have become risk-averse, recognizing that if they really want a top-level talent, they can sign him in free agency without surrendering more than a draft pick.

Where this leaves the Red Sox is murky, but it's worth considering the response of White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, who never mentioned Betts by name when discussing why his club is unlikely to dip into its considerable well of prospects for a rental, but also didn't make it hard to read between the lines.

Three years ago, the White Sox began discussions with the Red Sox on the deal that would send Chris Sale to Boston for mega-prospect Yoan Moncada and flamethrower Michael Kopech. The White Sox were a mess and effectively starting over. Sale, with three years affordable years remaining on his contract, represented one of the most desirable assets in the game, and the Red Sox weren't the only team to step up.

The Nationals also got involved, and were willing to part with some serious talent, including speedy outfielder Victor Robles and pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. At that point, the White Sox made a pact.

"We made a commitment, starting with Jerry Reinsdorf, Kenny Williams, and all of us in the baseball department, that once we got ourselves in the position to be on the opposite end of these trades, where you were giving up talent for short-term gain, that it was going to be important for us to still try and remain committed to the long-term," Hahn said. "We were excited to get this process started, where we got the Bostons and the Nationals and the teams talking about acquiring premium talent and using premium prospects to get it. But when we got there, we wanted to do the same thing, but not at the expense of multiple years."

How does this relate to Betts? Let Hahn continue.

"When there's a guy like Chris Sale available who had multiple years of control and you're ready to win, making that push makes all the sense in the world," he said. "If you're talking about a guy on a one-year basis, we're not to that point yet. And if we do get to that point, that's going to be a tough trigger to pull, because we're trying to build something sustainable for an extended period of time. Quick hits don't necessarily do that. After three years of rebuilding, we've gotten ourselves in a very good position, but not in one where we're going to do something just for an immediate bang in 2020 if we feel it compromises us in the long term. We've paid too big of a price to get to where we're at to compromise long-term."

The White Sox have built a consensus top-three farm system replete with both pitching and position prospects who will soon join young breakout stars like Moncada and AL batting champ Tim Anderson in Chicago. There once was a time when an MVP like Betts would've been too tough to ignore on the open market, even if he represented a risk to fly the coop after a year.

But now? The White Sox see little point in engaging, because acquiring him will just short-circuit the rebuild that is close to bearing fruit.

That kind of patience didn't necessarily exist when teams were willing to trade their best prospects for one shot at the postseason. Now they hoard their prospects because the alternative is trading a future Cy Young Award winner for an outfielder who fails to put you over the top.

Mookie Betts is no Ryan Ludwick, but teams have come to view them similarly for this reason: neither is worth mortgaging the future over anymore.

What type of package could Sox get in return for Betts?>>>>> 

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Pedro Martinez tweets his thanks for the trade that brought him to the Red Sox - 22 years ago today

Pedro Martinez tweets his thanks for the trade that brought him to the Red Sox - 22 years ago today

Twenty-two years ago, the Red Sox were coming off a disappointing season where they were an AL East also-ran and big offseason moves were being contemplated for the franchise.

Sound familiar?

Only general manager Dan Duquette, whose team had finished 78-84 and in fourth place in the division, wasn't looking to shed payroll, but add to either the bullpen or starting rotation.

They chose to target the rotation and specifically, to go after the Montreal Expos' Cy Young Award-winning, 26-year-old ace in a trade - rather than Marlins closer Robb Nen, who had just helped that franchise win its first World Series. 

The result was a franchise-altering trade for Pedro Martinez, who tweeted his thanks for the move Monday, the 22nd anniversary of the deal - some would say "steal" - that brought him to Boston.

The Sox traded pitching prospect Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. to the Expos for Martinez, then signed him to a six-year, $75 million contract. Duquette had traded for Martinez once before, four years earlier, when, as GM of the Expos, he acquired Martinez from the Dodgers.

Martinez, of course, would go on to go 117-37 with a 2.52 ERA in seven seasons in Boston, some of which were the most dominant ever for a pitcher. His final season culminated with the first Red Sox World Series title since 1918.

So, all new Red Sox baseball boss Chaim Bloom has to do is pull off a deal like that. Simple, right?

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