Sometimes I like to think of baseball in Breaking Bad metaphors. If you’ve watched the show, you probably remember Mike Ehrmantraut’s famous “half measures” speech. Essentially a half measure is a temporary fix, a Band-Aid that covers up the problem only until it resurfaces, like a car donut or an extra pair of glasses.
The Red Sox have been very active over the last week, acquiring veteran infielder Aaron Hill in a trade with the Brewers and upgrading the bullpen by landing Diamondbacks closer Brad Ziegler for a pair of prospects. Those were nice trades but they didn’t address Boston’s biggest need: starting pitching. They were, as Mike Ehrmantraut would surely agree, half measures.
Well, so much for half measures. The Red Sox upped the ante Thursday by acquiring All-Star starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz from the Padres for pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza. Before Red Sox fans start planning the ticker tape parade, keep in mind that this will be Pomeranz’s fourth team since 2013. The left-hander was a late bloomer, though he’s still just 27.
Pomeranz may not be an ace per se, but looking at this year’s weak trade market for pitchers, he’s probably the best the Red Sox could have gotten. Rich Hill has been a pleasant surprise for Oakland but he’s 36 and hits free agency this winter. Jake Odorizzi is said to be available but it’s unlikely the Rays would trade him to a division rival. Julio Teheran would have been nice but it seems like the Braves are holding onto him for dear life. Even Francisco Liriano wouldn’t have been that big of an upgrade over guys like Eduardo Rodriguez and Clay Buchholz.
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Thursday’s trade with Boston continues the Padres’ aggressive rebuild. The Red Sox have been a frequent trade partner of the Friars, having worked together on the Craig Kimbrel swap last offseason. The Padres landed four prospects in the Kimbrel deal including outfielder Manuel Margot, who is already knocking on the door for a big league promotion.
This time the Padres chose quality over quantity. It’s not often you see a one-for-one deal with an established big leaguer being traded for an 18-year-old in Low-A, but Espinoza is not your typical prospect. The right-hander offers three potential plus pitches and has already drawn comparisons to Pedro Martinez. He was listed at No. 15 in Baseball America’s latest prospect rankings.
Espinoza could be a foundation piece for the Padres as they look toward the future. Kimbrel, James Shields, Pomeranz and Fernando Rodney have all been traded in the past nine months and the only player who appears to be unavailable is first baseman Wil Myers. GM A.J. Preller seems intent on erasing all the moves that he made two offseasons ago when the Padres tried to shake up the NL West only to fall flat on their faces. Perhaps Melvin Upton, who is threatening for a 30/30 season, will be the next Padre out the door.
Trading Espinoza was a steep price to pay but Boston’s farm system is still well-stocked with the likes of outfield prospect Andrew Benintendi, 19-year-old third baseman Rafael Devers and Double-A infielder Yoan Moncada. All three are listed among the top seven prospects in Keith Law’s latest rankings. Michael Kopech has also been getting some buzz. The 2014 first-round pick reached 105 mph on the radar gun Wednesday night at Salem. He might be the hardest thrower in all of baseball with the possible exception of Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, who threw the fastest pitch ever recorded at 106 mph. Jason Groome, who miraculously slipped to the Red Sox at 12th overall in this year’s draft, received a $3.65 million signing bonus on Thursday. The right-hander pitched to a sensational 0.26 ERA in his final high school season at Barnegat High in central New Jersey.
Deadline deals are always a big risk because they usually involve players nearing the end of their contracts. Rental players are an unpredictable bunch. For example, David Price dominated during his two-month stretch with Toronto last year but it wasn’t enough to win the World Series and now he’s pitching for the Red Sox. On the other end of the spectrum, Johnny Cueto was one and done for the Royals but his postseason contributions propelled Kansas City to its first World Series in 30 years. Another example is Yoenis Cespedes. He was in the last year of his deal when the Tigers shipped him off to the Mets. Cespedes took a liking to New York and later re-signed there.
But that’s the beauty of Pomeranz. He’s not a rental. The left-hander is still under team control through 2018 and is due an extremely affordable $1.35 million salary in 2016. Not that a big salary would have deterred the Sox—they have baseball’s third highest payroll—but at least Pomeranz’s salary won’t be a burden.
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Pomeranz has turned things around in a big way this year, which inevitably leads to questions. It’s easy to cite pitcher-friendly Petco Park as the reason for his success. However, that hasn’t been the case as Pomeranz has pitched slightly better on the road than at home (2.32 ERA on the road, 2.64 at Petco). Opponents have hit a mere .184 against Pomeranz this year, which is actually a tick better than Clayton Kershaw (.185). Pomeranz’s 10.15 K/9 this season is well above his career mark of 8.60. The big difference for Pomeranz has been his pitch selection. He throws a cutter now and has all but abandoned his changeup (throws it on just 0.4 percent of pitches) while throwing more curve balls (39.2 percent versus 30.6 percent last season) and fewer fastballs (career-low 47.6 percent).
The danger with Pomeranz is that he’s closing in on a new career-high in innings. He’s already topped 100 innings for the first time in his big league career and should easily beat his personal best of 147 1/3 innings between the majors and minors in 2012. Pomeranz has been relatively healthy throughout his career but these are uncharted waters. His efficiency is also a concern. Only two hurlers—Jake Odorizzi and Danny Salazar—have averaged more pitches per plate appearance this season. Facing a division with some of the league’s very best hitters, Pomeranz will have to find ways to keep his pitch count down. He’ll make his Sox debut at Fenway Park next Wednesday against the Giants, a team he’s already faced three times this year.
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AL Quick Hits: Kevin Jepsen returned to the Rays on a one-year deal. The Rays traded Jepsen to Minnesota at last year’s trade deadline. He was released by the Twins on Monday … Kevin Kiermaier is set to return on Friday. He missed almost two months with a broken hand … Steve Pearce could begin a minor league rehab assignment this weekend. He hasn’t played since straining his hamstring in late June … Edwin Encarnacion’s agent Paul Kinzer said his client won’t discuss a contract with the Blue Jays until after the season. Meanwhile, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports says the Blue Jays are interested in a “Yoenis Cespedes type deal” for Jose Bautista. Cespedes received a three-year, $75 million contract from the Mets this offseason, though the deal includes an opt-out clause after the first year. Joey Bats is reportedly seeking a $150 million contract … Since I’ve never been to Canada, can somebody explain the concept of milk bags? J.A. Happ doesn’t get it either … Rich Hill was scheduled to start Friday’s game against Toronto but was scratched because of a blister. Rookie Daniel Mengden will start in his place … Speaking of Hill, he’s one of several pitchers the Marlins have been linked to in trade talks. Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi is also on their radar, as was Drew Pomeranz before he went to the Red Sox … Rougned Odor reportedly turned down a six-year, $35 million extension from the Rangers. The 22-year-old won’t become a free agent until 2021, so there’s still plenty of time to hash out a deal … The White Sox have explored trading Austin Jackson. The 29-year-old is still recovering from a torn medial meniscus in his right knee … The White Sox are set to call up top pitching prospect Carson Fulmer on Friday. The No. 8 overall pick in last year’s draft will begin his White Sox career out of the bullpen but projects as a starter long-term … Tim Lincecum could lose his spot in the Angels’ starting rotation when Tyler Skaggs returns from Tommy John surgery. Skaggs looked pretty healthy pitching for Triple-A Salt Lake on Thursday night with 14 strikeouts over seven shutout innings.
NL Quick Hits: The Diamondbacks optioned Shelby Miller to Triple-A Reno on Thursday. The right-hander earned his demotion by going 2-9 with a pitiful 7.14 ERA. Zack Godley is expected to take his spot in the starting rotation … A couple of Giants are on the comeback trail. Hunter Pence (hamstring surgery) is expected to start a minor league rehab assignment on Saturday while Joe Panik (concussion) will begin his on Sunday. Both should be back for the start of the Giants’ next homestand on July 25 … Clayton Kershaw threw a 60-pitch bullpen session on Wednesday and is slated to pitch a simulated game against live hitters Saturday at Dodger Stadium. Manager Dave Roberts doesn’t think Kershaw will need a minor league rehab assignment … Joc Pederson (shoulder) will begin a rehab assignment for Triple-A Oklahoma City on Friday. If all goes well, he’ll be activated in time for Tuesday’s series opener against the Nationals … Francisco Cervelli (broken hand) began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis on Thursday night. He went 2-for-4 with a walk and an RBI … Gerrit Cole (triceps) will return from the disabled list Saturday against the Nationals. With Cole coming back and Tyler Glasnow likely to join the rotation at some point, the Pirates are trying to trade left-handers Jon Niese and Jeff Locke.