The Runner Sports

Boston Red Sox Active At Winter Meetings, Land Chris Sale

The Boston Red Sox have acquired Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox in a headline deal that has thus far dominated the still young 2016 MLB Winter Meetings.

Active in the true opening day of the event, the Red Sox have bogarted the Washington Nationals, who had thus far been the leading candidates to secure Sale’s services.

The move does come with a hefty price tag, as the ever moving Dave Dombrowski rarely shies away from making a splashy move that helps now, while often times disregarding the future damages.

Swapped in the deal is Yoan Moncada, who has essentially owned most top prospect lists over the last couple of seasons.

Moncada, who had catapulted past Triple-A last September to get his first big league taste, exposed a large missing piece in his game. In 20 at-bats, Moncada struck out a staggering 12 times, including 7 straight plate appearances. Originally called up in hopes of sparking a power bat from the hot corner as result of the up and down Travis Shaw (more on that later), Moncada all but fizzled before taking a permanent seat on the bench for the remainder of the season.  What baffled him the most was any semblance of movement on the ball, and it took major league scouts and pitchers zero time to exploit that weakness.

While not a far-fetched move for pitchers, a batter rarely leapfrogs Triple-A and finds success. And Moncada clearly could have benefited from some extended time finding his place facing respectable pitching.

There was no chance in hell Moncada would discover this missing ability over the course of one offseason, so he was destined to likely crack the Pawtucket (AAA) roster to open next season.

One problem with Moncada is that he wasgiven a $31.5 million signing bonus (a salary the Red Sox will still eat to take the White Sox off the hook) when he took on the minor league deal – not too absurd for the likes of a modern Cuban standout. But with the Red Sox itching to turn cloudy skies into prosperous postseason success, they weren’t overly afforded the blessing of patience in the matter, and it looked as though Moncada still had a ways to go.

While there is plenty of promise to his game –he hit .294 with an OBP of .407 with 15 HRs and 62 RBIs in 106 games spanned across High A and Double-A in 2016– the timetable of getting him to where he needs to be clearly fit better for a team that has a few seasons to burn.

Itching to keep things in high spirits after the exit of beloved David Ortiz, the Red Sox thought best to perhaps cash in the lofty prospect for an immediate return.

Also included in the deal were pitchers Michael Kopech, Victor Diaz, and OF Luis Alexander Basabe.

If Moncada takes the driver seat in this haul, Kopech is certainly riding shotgun with extended navigating duties. It’s been a somewhat rocky road to the limelight for Kopech, but he had just started to show extended signs of his potential.

He spent 50-games back in 2015 suspended for the use of oxilofrine. He also missed the first part of 2016 after fracturing a hand during an altercation with a teammate.

Following the Arizona Fall League, Kopech had shot up most prospect boards, including cracking 2nd overall behind just Gleyber Torres, the New York Yankees’ new prize pony, on Baseball America’s coveted ranking.

When on the mound, Kopech has been capable of doing some sensational things. Kopech has now been reported to have thrown multiple pitches to grace the 105 mark on a radar gun, including as recently as July of 2016. He posted a combined ERA of 2.08 in 12 minor league starts in 2016 –11 of those coming in High A ball, while striking out 86 batters and surrendering a small 1.101 WHIP over the year.

Again, having only played High A ball so far, Kopech was years away from threatening to crack the major league roster, time appearing to be of the essence.

The other parts of the trade remain supplementary pieces until further notice. Diaz is another power strong arm fastballer, but currently looks to slot as a power reliever. Basabe, meanwhile, was a lost fish in the sea considering the Red Sox’s current young outfielders. He cracked High A for just five games in 2016, completing the running theme in this trade, being years away from really knowing what he’d become.

In return, little truly needs to be said about Chris Sale. An annual Cy Young threat, Sale has long been the steady legs (or arm per se) for some rocky years in Chicago. He’s pitched 200 plus innings three times in the last five years, including the last two.

Boston’s top three of the rotation are without a doubt a three-headed monster to fear within the AL East. Where Sale will ultimately slot is as of yet  unknown. An ace on most teams, he could find himself behind David Price in the rotation. Despite a rougher than usual year, Price still collected 17 wins while pitching 230 innings. After a stellar year, Sale could almost even find himself behind Rick Porcello, who claimed the AL Cy Young this season. Realistically, the Sox take the safer route and ceremonially slot Porcello as the third starter to start the season, with Sale as their 2nd. Where things unfold from there will be left to be seen.

Boston will showcase an opening day rotation that features Price, Sale, Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Steven Wright, who was severely missed in the late portion of the season.

In reserve for long relief and spot starts, Boston will still have Clay Buchholz after claiming his $13.5 million option, and Drew Pomeranz, who was acquired in a deadline deal this season.

Acquiring Sale has even made Big Papi contemplate a few things.

 

My god my boy sale to Btown? You guys got me thinking ?

A photo posted by David Ortiz (@davidortiz) on


For what it’s worth, the Red Sox picked up Ortiz’ option, should he have reconsidered his decision. We won’t hold our breath, but I doubt many would turn it down.

Action didn’t end there either. The morning began with an aggressive move acquiring Tyler Thornburg from the Milwaukee Brewers. Thornburg had a showcase year stepping in as reliever following the trade of Jeremy Jeffress and Jonathan Lucroy. With Craig Kimbrel well under contract and firmly in control of closing duties, Thornburg will slot in as the set-up man.

The Red Sox send Travis Shaw, Mauricio Dubon, Josh Pennington, and a player to be named later or cash.

A solid price tag for a reliever not expected to close, a new importance on having a lockdown three relievers has swept through baseball. In non-closing situations, Thornburg posted a clean 0.70 ERA, allowing batters to hit just .157 off of him in 25.2 innings of work. Not afraid of the high leverage situation, Thornburg also held his own as closer, posting a 3.05 ERA with a .164 BAA in save situations.

Most notable of this trade, Travis Shaw had crashed into the major league scene after a rampage of power during a September call up in 2015. Despite a massive contract to Pablo Sandoval on the table, the two sides entered Spring Training in 2016 in open competition for the hot corner; one in which Shaw emerged victoriously.

Shaw failed to launch with regularity, however. He still mashed 16 HRs, but had mighty woes against lefties, posting a triple slash of .187/.235/.364 against. Although he was swinging upwards in the late portion of the season, management had seemingly lost faith.

The move will no doubt set up the big panda to take over his role. Sadly, without open competition, it might have a negative impact on the remainder of the winter for the third baseman. With David Ortiz out of the picture, Sandoval could see extended games at DH, a move that would protect a growing vulnerability in his defense at third.

Some reports have come out that Sandoval looks to be slimmer than where he was, but those same reports had surfaced at this time last year as well. So, tread carefully.

Mauricio Dubon was the most advanced prospect seen shipped out today. The shortstop spent 62 games in Portland (AA) in 2016 where he posted respectable numbers. Further progressed, more so than others, Dubon’s immediate future was blocked by Xander Bogaerts. Without a move to third, Dubon stood no chance to crack the pros by his projected 2018 timeframe.

Josh Pennington, meanwhile, is the lowest of the prospects offered up today. Pennington spent his full 2016 season at Low A Lowell. A previous Tommy John surgery has many concerned about the longevity of this arm, but does project as a solid late inning arm should he remain healthy.

Thornburg’s acquisition preceded the news that Boston would no longer pursue free agent Koji Uehara as things progress.

It wasn’t all trades Tuesday, however. The later portion of the afternoon was swirled with rumors around addressing the DH. By the day’s end, the Red Sox had signed free agent Mitch Moreland to a one-year deal worth a roughly reported value of $5 million.

Moreland hit .233/.298/.422 last season for the Texas Rangers while also clubbing 22 HRs and 60 RBIs. He’s managed to hit 20+ HRs in three of the past four seasons. Not exactly a bit for bit replacement for Ortiz, but still a respectable fill considering the money spent. Keeping it a short-term deal also allows the team to reevaluate next season, where more bats should be available.

Moreland is capable of playing first base and the outfield in an extreme emergency. He even pitched a complete inning without giving up a hit in 2014. He’ll likely be as near a full-time DH the team will see this season.

With Hanley Ramirez playing remarkably at first base, it might be in the organization’s best interest to keep him engaged and remain at first for the bulk of the time. Without a full-time DH, the team can more tactically utilize the spot, keeping hot bats in the lineup while giving partial days off.

All of these moves bode for a very aggressive approach to 2017, a sentiment Dave Dombrowski lives and dies by. Not here to maintain or rebuild, Dombrowski continues to roll the dice.

But what’s the rush? Sure the Red Sox lost a significant offensive input with the loss of David Ortiz, but in a single day we’ve seen six of the organization’s top 50 prospects sent packing, including a proven MLB bat. A more desperate all or nothing approach.

Realistically, the Red Sox need to keep their young core engaged and happy with where they are. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, and Jackie Bradley Jr. have all seen the highs and lows of the organization first hand. They’ve also seen just how much the current regime is willing to throw at outside help. Getting a hometown discount only works when you’re also providing a returned value. And while yes, most of these players have agents that are eager to cash in the big bucks, we’ve seen just how great a market Boston can be to a fan favorite as well. You can also get eaten up and spit back out in the blink of an eye.

Keeping the Red Sox at the constant threat of both a shot at the division and realistic World Series aspirations will keep these players looking to stick around.

Most deals aren’t anywhere near ready to be fully discussed at this point in their young careers, but for as much as we talk about contract seasons being a “show me” moment for players, everything leading up to that plays into decisions from the other side.

Dombrowski burnt through an entire farm in Detroit without ever cashing in on a World Series, so we can only hope things pan out a little better this time around.

Tyler Arnold

Tyler Arnold

I am the editor-in-chief of The Runner Sports. I watch more sports than is probably determined healthy and enjoy talking about them all. I am a firm believer in there being a "dropped peanut surcharge" at the ballpark when it's a good throw. Thanks for the read.
Tyler Arnold