The biggest Red Sox trade since Babe Ruth headed to the Yankees has been in the books for a couple days now. The Red Sox have moved on from the drama surrounding the club over the last calendar year, shedding almost a quarter-billion dollars and repositioning the team to contend under Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester.
It was obvious that Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford were no longer fits in Boston, but they appeared to be stuck. Beckett needed out of the AL East and out of an environment that had become toxic both for himself and fans, and Crawford just never belonged. It remains to be seen how effective Beckett can be in Los Angeles, but don’t overlook Crawford. Many have glossed over his inclusion in the trade, but while he will never be worth his contract, he can remain a quality player for the Dodgers as his brief time in Boston this year showed, when he cranked extra-base hits like they were going out of style.
And Gonzalez, who was really more part of the solution than the he was the problem, was what it took to rid the team from those two onerous contracts. Gonzalez is a quality player who is signed to a reasonable trade, and it will be difficult for Boston to replace his production, but when you can shed that much money and acquire two strong pitching prospects plus two other role players you can dream on a bit, you have to do it. (Punto won’t be missed, but will fit in nicely in Dodgertown while Boston won’t have trouble replacing him.)
Speaking of what Boston acquired, let’s take a look at who will be donning Sox red…
The prize of the deal, de la Rosa is a hard-throwing pitcher who just returned to the mound after Tommy John surgery. He will contend for a rotation spot next year, but if the team brings in another starting pitcher, he’s ticketed for Triple-A — and might be even if they don’t add a starter. de la Rosa should have a long future with the club. Provided he stays healthy, he could be the best right-handed pitcher the Sox have had since Josh Beckett before he gorged on fried chicken and beer. He does need to develop his secondary pitches and control (see below) to have a shot at being a top-of-the-rotation starter, but that should come with increased repetition now that he is pitching frequently.
In 2011, de la Rosa spent 40 innings in Double-A and 60 2/3 innings in the bigs. In both instances, he delivered a K/9 in the high 8s, but also a walk rate in the low 4s. A live arm with erratic control is nothing new, but it’s also what’s holding de la Rosa back from his ceiling right now. It’s great that Boston got someone who could morph into a top-of-the-rotation starter, but it’s important to remember that it’s a ceiling, not a likely outcome. He still has a ways to go. The fact that he’s bouncing back from Tommy John surgery, which complicates control, means we probably won’t know what kind of pitcher we have until at minimum, a year post-surgery. That means around this time next year.
There’s a lot to like about Webster, who should combine to give Boston some very intriguing arms starting in 2013 and integrating into the rotation over the next couple of years. We may not see Webster in a Sox uniform until 2014, but he has the potential to pitch at the top of the rotation. It’s more likely he settles in as a quality mid-rotation starter which still has a lot of value. If he can’t boost his secondary offerings, he’ll head to the bullpen, but that won’t happen for a few years at least. The Red Sox did great to get two quality, hard-throwing righties for fans to dream on, but Webster has to turn talent into results. He’ll finish the year at Double-A Portland but will likely be part of a strong Pawtucket rotation next season.
Webster has actually been unlucky this year in Double-A with a .336 BABIP and stranding just 68 percent of runners. A good rule of thumb is that a pitcher sans good or bad luck has a .300 BABIP and a strand rate in the mid-70s, so he’s pitching better than his 3.55 ERA might indicate. That said, while his 21.4 percent strikeout rate (8.7 K/9) looks good, his 10.4 percent walk rate (4.2 BB/9) does not, and represents an increase from his previous two seasons. Corralling his control will be paramount to achieving his status as a top prospect.
Let’s be realistic here. Loney is nothing more than a placeholder with an opportunity to be more. While Tom Werner was dramatically overstating the case that Loney was untouchable a few years ago as a way to justify the trade to the pink hats, he does have a lot more potential in that bat of his that he hasn’t displayed for quite a few years now. He’ll get a chance in a new environment to turn his career around, and if he can show decent production, stands a chance of returning to Boston. There just aren’t many first baseman hitting the market over the next year or two, so the Sox don’t have a ton of options here unless they like Sands as a starting first baseman or believe they can get one in trade. They could also just let Loney go regardless of production and see how the market shakes down.
Loney doesn’t strike out much, which is one of the few things in his favor, but he also has non-existent power after surprising everyone in the majors with 15 homers in just 375 plate appearances in 2007 as a 23-year-old. Since then, he’s tried to hang on as a doubles hitter, but even that has gone away. Add in below-average to average plate discipline and a lack of batting average despite putting the ball in play often, and it’s no wonder why he’s one of the worst first basemen in the game. Again, maybe things will change in Boston. But probably not, and he’ll start on a second-division team somewhere next year, wondering where all his potential went.
Sands has some intriguing potential, even if his numbers are a bit inflated by his hitter-happy park and league. He has intriguing pop, but is exposed with a long swing that racks up strikeouts. Unless he can close down some holes and speed up his bat (which, granted, is possible), he won’t be anything more than a role player. He might serve an intriguing role next year as a backup first baseman and corner outfielder, offering home run potential. Sands might actually better fit as a trade chip, someone for a rebuilding team to dream on. The Sox will be hunting for players getting expensive in a hurry for their current teams, and Sands makes a lot of sense as being part of such a trade.
Ivan DeJesus, Jr.
DeJesus is a little bit of an afterthought in this deal. He has a solid glove and a bat with some pop in it. Really, he’s essentially Pedro Ciriaco except with a better chance of sticking long-term due to his ability to work the count and take walks. While Ciriaco doesn’t need to walk a ton to have value, right now he’s simply not walking anywhere near enough to have any expectation he can keep up his current level of production. DeJesus could be the utility infielder as early as next year, pairing up with Ciriaco, although he does have an option left.
Both Ciriaco and De Jesus received a similar number of at-bats in Triple-A for the Red Sox and Dodgers, respectively. Taking a look at how the two stack up show just exactly what kind of player De Jesus is in relation to Ciriaco. First off, Ciriaco had a skimpy 2.1 walk rate in all his plate appearances while striking out 17 percent of that time. Add 0.7 percent to his whiff rate, and he’s got the same rate in the majors with Boston. Meanwhile, De Jesus struck out 21.8 percent of the time and walked 5.8 percent of the time. De Jesus has also shown a little bit of a better power stick than Ciriaco, but on the flip side, Ciriaco runs better. I mentioned earlier, the two players are quite similar, and you could take your pick as to which one you prefer. The Sox have stockpiled quite a few options for starting and bench depth, so I have to imagine one of them will be used as a trade chip. Ciriaco makes the most sense to cash in on his hot season.