Craig Kimbrel

Best of the 2010s: Greatest Red Sox transactions of the decade

Best of the 2010s: Greatest Red Sox transactions of the decade

You can't endure the lofty highs and demoralizing lows of the past decade of Red Sox baseball without making some prominent personnel moves. Contenders need to be built. Pretenders need to be torn to the ground. Stars age. Rookies ascend.

The Red Sox, with their tremendous resources, haven't shied from the free agent or trade markets since 2010, with more hits than misses, on total.

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The whiffs have admittedly been brutal — Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Pablo Sandoval spring to mind, along with trading Jon Lester — but we're here to focus on the moves that worked, because you don't win a pair of World Series titles without a bunch of them.

10. Salty trade

Here's a little-noticed gem. At the 2010 trade deadline, GM Theo Epstein made a move with an eye towards the future, acquiring Jarrod Saltalamacchia from the Rangers for minor leaguer Michael Thomas.

All Salty did thereafter was overcome a throwing problem, earn the full-time catching job, and then backstop the 2013 champions practically through the World Series.

His four seasons in Boston included a 25-homer campaign in 2012 and an .804 OPS in 2013.

9. Brock Holt

When the Red Sox acquired closer Joel Hanrahan in 2012 for Mark Melancon and others, they had no way of knowing that the most impactful player in the deal would also be the easiest to overlook.

Utility man Brock Holt had transformed himself from scrawny high school freshman to nondescript big leaguer, but within two years, he'd earn Rookie of the Year votes and then make an All-Star team while adding two World Series rings to his collection. 

8. Rick Porcello trade

Here's a trade that oscillated between visionary and ill-advised, right to the end of Porcello's Red Sox tenure.

Acquired in December of 2014 for slugger Yoenis Cespedes, Porcello almost immediately signed a four-year, $82.5 million extension that was met with a collective, "Huh?!?" across the game. The deal looked like a disaster when he went 9-15 in his Red Sox debut, but a year later he would earn the Cy Young Award after going 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA.

Though he'd never approach those heights again, he did win 17 games in 2018 and another 14 last year as a dependable, every-fifth-day starter.

7. E-Rod trade

When also-rans trade useful veterans to a contender for prospects, this is how they hope things work out.

The 2014 deal that sent left-hander Andrew Miller to Baltimore was a win for the Orioles, because he went 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA and then didn't allow a run in five postseason appearances.

Still, it paid even greater dividends for the Red Sox, who have watched Rodriguez blossom into a 19-win starter with perhaps the best pure stuff in the rotation.

6. Craig Kimbrel

Dave Dombrowski set the tone for how he'd conduct business by shipping four prospects to the Padres for the former Braves All-Star.

And though Kimbrel contributed some high-profile meltdowns — the entire 2018 postseason was basically a tightrope — he still saved 108 games over three seasons, making All-Star teams each time.

His 2017 rivaled Uehara's 2013 for dominance, as he went 5-0 with a 1.43 ERA and a staggering 126 strikeouts in only 69 innings.

5. Koji Uehara signing

Talk about some agate type that barely registered on the transaction wire.

On Dec. 18, 2012, the Red Sox signed Uehara as a free agent. The rest of baseball barely noticed, still buzzing over the trade a day earlier that had sent Cy Young knuckleballer R.A. Dickey from the Mets to Blue Jays.

Uehara earned $4.25 million with the Red Sox, who had no way of knowing when they signed him that a man with only one save a year earlier would end up closing out the World Series following one of the most dominant bullpen seasons ever: a 1.09 ERA and over 100 strikeouts vs. just nine walks.

4. J.D. Martinez signing

Dombrowski didn't just build his roster through trades.

In addition to spending $217 million on David Price — a transaction that doesn't make this list — he also landed the successor to David Ortiz without overpaying him one cent.

Martinez languished all winter in 2018, finally agreeing to join the Red Sox in spring training. He then proceeded to justify his five-year, $110 million deal practically in Year 1 alone, challenging for a Triple Crown and solidifying the heart of the order.

We thought he'd opt out this winter, but he stayed put after another All-Star season.

3. Chris Sale trade

John Henry hired old friend Dombrowski to be a man of action, and the longtime executive lived up to that billing, striking a trade for one of the best pitchers in baseball before the 2017 season.

The cost — top prospects Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech — was steep, and has since kickstarted a rebuild in Chicago, but it also helped produce a title in 2018.

Sale went 29-12 with a 2.56 ERA in his first two seasons in Boston, starting two All-Star Games and closing one World Series, before injuries struck last season. But that does little to diminish Sale's impact.

2. The 2013 offseason

Rather than single out one particular transaction, let us take that entire winter as a whole.

Fresh off the Dodgers deal, the Red Sox needed to restock without mortgaging the future. Then-GM Ben Cherington made a series of targeted strikes on the veteran market, adding Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, David Ross, and Koji Uehara.

All they did was win 96 games and roll to a shocking "Boston Strong" World Series, still one of the most satisfying titles of Boston's post-2000 renaissance.

1. The Dodgers trade

In many ways, the past two Red Sox titles can be traced to the August, 2012 deal that shipped more than a quarter billion dollars of malcontents (plus Nick Punto!) to the West Coast, allowing the Red Sox space to breathe and begin rebuilding around their farm system.

Gonzalez was the centerpiece, but Crawford and Josh Beckett joined him (plus Nick Punto!). Cherington used the savings to build the 2013 champs, which bought him time to develop the next generation of stars, including Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. 

Three deals that illustrate where Dave Dombrowski ultimately went wrong in eyes of Red Sox ownership

Three deals that illustrate where Dave Dombrowski ultimately went wrong in eyes of Red Sox ownership

Here's the thing about Dave Dombrowski's "worst" deals -- they almost always landed impact players.

When he overpaid for closer Craig Kimbrel, in his first major acquisition as Red Sox president of baseball operations, he still landed an All-Star. When he took the David Price bidding into the stratosphere in what became the highest contract ever given to a pitcher, he still landed the de facto 2018 postseason MVP. When he surrendered promising left-hander Jalen Beeks to the Rays, he still landed eventual playoff hero Nathan Eovaldi.

But those deals still took a toll on the long-term health of the organization, and it's worth exploring how they came to be viewed by ownership as signals that Dombrowski wasn't the right man to lead the baseball operation moving forward, which is why he was fired on Sunday night.

Start with Kimbrel. Dombrowski acquired the All-Star closer from the Padres on Nov. 13, 2015, by making what became his signature -- the offer you can't refuse. The trade created a ripple of uneasiness across a front office that had grown accustomed to the hoarding of prospects by predecessor Ben Cherington, even as it recognized the need to ease up on the reins.

At issue: the centerpieces of the trade -- outfielder Manuel Margot and infielder Javier Guerra -- represented a fair price on their own to acquire the disgruntled closer, who hadn't thrived in San Diego after five years of dominance in Atlanta. Each was a consensus top-60 prospect, with Baseball Prospectus ranking Margot 14th following the 2015 season.
Dombrowski is a man of action, however, and he wanted the deal done, so he sweetened the pot with left-hander Logan Allen, a teenager who had just posted a 1.11 ERA in his pro debut while walking only one batter in 24.1 innings.

While Kimbrel certainly produced in Boston, making three All-Star teams and saving more than 100 games, the loss of Allen proved costly this July when the Indians made him a central figure in the three-way trade that sent right-hander Trevor Bauer to Cincinnati, top prospect Taylor Trammell to the Padres, and Allen and slugger Franmil Reyes to the Tribe.

Allen debuted this season at 22 and is exactly the kind of cost-controlled piece the Red Sox could use to augment a rotation that's underperforming and overpaid.

Speaking of the rotation, Dombrowski has committed more than $400 million to three giant question marks -- Price, Chris Sale, and Eovaldi. When the Red Sox signed Price for a record $217 million a month after acquiring Kimbrel, they didn't just surpass the next-highest offer, they obliterated it. The runner-up Cardinals reportedly offered Price a seven-year deal in the $175 million range. The Red Sox blew that number out of the water to overcome whatever misgivings Price may have harbored about pitching in Boston, which probably should've been a red flag. As the Globe's Alex Speier noted, they effectively bid against themselves. Now his contract looks unmovable.

Then there's Eovaldi. This was an under-the-radar moment, but many in the organization felt he could be acquired without surrendering Beeks, a hard-throwing left-hander who had impressed in an emergency start against Team USA before the 2017 World Baseball Classic, when he struck out Christian Yelich and Adam Jones in two scoreless innings.

Beeks had a number of advocates on the player development side who recognized his potential to develop into a big league starter, especially after he overhauled his arsenal to feature a 95 mph four-seam fastball and cutter.

It's easy to look at that deal and say, "Eovaldi was instrumental in winning a World Series. Who cares that you gave up Jalen Beeks?" But what if the Red Sox could've acquired Eovaldi for a lesser prospect -- and with Eovaldi coming off yet another arm surgery, his market wasn't exactly robust -- and kept Beeks?

He'd be another depth option in an organization that badly needs it. Instead, he has emerged as a key multi-inning arm in Kevin Cash's bullpen, with an 11-3 record since arriving in Tampa.

The same can be said of Giants right-hander Shaun Anderson, a 2016 third-round pick shipped to San Francisco in 2017 for Eduardo Nunez. Anderson has made 16 starts in the big leagues (albeit with a 5.22 ERA) and owns a higher ceiling than the pitchers the Red Sox were forced to throw in the 4-5 spots of the rotation this season.

Meanwhile, how much could the bullpen use someone like Ty Buttrey? The 6-foot-6 right-hander had some command issues early in his minor league career, but since going to the Angels last July for second baseman Ian Kinsler, has averaged nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings while posting a 3.90 ERA. That's a solid setup man in exchange for a second-base rental.

In each case, there was apprehension within the organization that Dombrowski was overpaying. That's tolerable when the farm system is loaded, but it's not sustainable, which is why the Red Sox suddenly find themselves in the market for a new GM.

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Cubs place Craig Kimbrel on injured list with elbow inflammation

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Cubs place Craig Kimbrel on injured list with elbow inflammation

Think Craig Kimbrel would have been the answer for the Red Sox' bullpen woes this season? Think again.

The ex-Sox closer, who the Cubs signed to a three-year, $43 million deal in June, was placed on the injured list with right elbow inflammation on Thursday.

Kimbrel had just recently returned from the IL after missing time due to knee inflammation.

It's rough timing for a Cubs team looking to clinch a playoff spot, but the truth is Kimbrel hasn't been effective when he's been healthy enough to take the mound. The 31-year-old has a 5.68 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 21 appearances this year and has converted 13 of his 15 save opportunities.

As for the Red Sox, there's no doubt they could have used a reliable arm for the ninth inning this season. But considering Kimbrel's struggles, Boston has to be feeling relieved it passed on shelling out a mega-contract to the 2018 World Series champion.

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