Wow, what a day for Boston sports.
The Patriots’ camp is in session and early reports speak very highly of the rapport that Tom Brady and Randy Moss are developing, as well as Adalius Thomas’ seamless blend into the Belichick scheme of versatility.
The Celtics just completed a massive reboot trade to acquire Kevin Garnett, pairing him with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to complete a formidable trio. My KG number 5 jersey is already preordered.
And all of this contributes to the most present, visceral excitement in Boston: the trade deadline, how it has affected our team, how it has affected our rivals, and what it will mean in both the short and long term.
First of all, the Red Sox: I want to commend Evan’s obsessive tracking of the Gagne and Dye rumors throughout the day, and share in his excitement that one went through and one did not. Before discussing Gagne, I’d like to acknowledge the fine job that Kason Gabbard and Joel Pineiro did in their stints in the crimson hose, and bid a fond farewell and wish the best of luck to David Murphy and Engel Beltre.
Gabbard exceeded expectations by leaps and bounds this year. The preseason Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list had four Red Sox pitchers included, of which he was not one. His Baseball Prospectus historical comparisons included players with such indistinguished names as Lance Caraccioli, Zane Smith, Phil Norton and Mike MacDougal. What we got from him was superlative, however. After going 7-2 with a 3.34 ERA in fourteen starts at Pawtucket, he was called up to the Red Sox and immediately flourished. In seven starts, he posted a 4-0 record while limiting opposing hitters to a .196 batting average. He will perhaps be best remembered for his 4-0 complete game shutout victory over the Royals on July 16th; in the game he allowed only four baserunners and struck out eight. His Bill James game score of 88 for the gem was the second-highest of any Sox start this year behind only Curt Schilling’s near no-hitter in Oakland on June 7th.
However, it is far more common for players who exceed expectations to regress to their mean projections rather than to defy forecasting tools and become an unpredicted star. Baseball Prospectus’ Delta-H measure suggests that Gabbard was the beneficiary of about seven baserunners’ worth of good luck in keeping his OBA so low, and following a string of solid performances his trade value is currently at an absolute maximum. While he performed admirably during Curt Schilling’s absence, I think moving him is the right thing to do.
As for David Murphy, he was our third-best outfield prospect behind Jacoby Ellsbury and Brandon Moss. Engel Beltre, the young Dominican, has generated some great buzz but is completely unproven even at lower minor league levels. This is a comfortable price to pay for a pitcher with the track record and stuff of Eric Gagne, particularly when due to Brendan Donnelly’s surgery and Mike Timlin’s transition into more of a middle-innings role Gagne exactly fills a bullpen need. We had the best bullpen in the American League prior to the trade, and the Gagne trade simply shores up this deep staff. While he is an injury risk, we have the luxury of having the depth to use him exactly as heavily as his health dictates should he run into additional shoulder problems.
As for competitors, the big winner at the trade deadline is off in the National League away from our current sphere of concern: the Atlanta Braves. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, while a great prospect and the proud contributor of the longest surname in MLB history, was stuck in a logjam behind the Braves’ other young stud catcher, Brian McCann. While the Braves are high on Elvis Andrus, Mark Teixeira is such a significant upgrade over Scott Thorman at first base and will be such a reliable cog in the middle of their lineup that again it was a price worth paying. Kudos also to the Braves for acquiring Octavio Dotel, a move that many predicted would precede a deal involving Bob Wickman, but at the end of the day simply contributed an always-needed bullpen arm to aid the Braves’ playoffs push.
The Yankees had a fairly quiet deadline, only trading RP Scott Proctor to the Dodgers for IF Wilson Betemit. While this unfortunately makes it no longer possible to refer to the Yankees’ bullpen as “Proctor and gamble,” it does rid the Yankees of one of their most reliable bullpen arms and their go-to long relief guy. The Tigers, Indians and Angels were silent as the deadline passed, and the Mariners’ only move was to send P Julio Mateo to the Phillies for minor-league SS Jesus Merchan.
Everyone is, it seems, fairly content to do battle with the rosters they have.
So, how will Gagne fit into the Red Sox’ staff? We will not get a chance to see him in action tonight, as the Orioles just finished off a 5-3 defeat. In waving his no-trade clause with the full knowledge that the Red Sox expect to use him in a setup role, though, Gagne seems to reject the Scott Boras me-first negotiation style in favor of contributing to a championship-caliber team. ESPN quotes Terry Francona as saying, “We actually love our bullpen, I just think it got a little better. Papelbon, Okajima, Gagne – these are guys that you don’t match up. You just let them pitch really good baseball.” One of the great mysteries of the season to me was the underutilization of Brendan Donnelly prior to his injury, and I hope that the same fate does not befall Gagne. This is to take nothing away from Okajima, as he has been lights out in his appearances, but a good right-handed setup man to complement a lefty simply strengthens an already strong eighth-inning game plan.
A deep bullpen also greatly facilitates a four-man playoff rotation. In the marathon of the postseason, having arms you can trust is of such great benefit because you can hard-cap pitch counts and use Schilling, Beckett and Dice as often as possible.
Of course, the only person who can show us how this new bullpen will work is Francona. Perhaps he will show us Gagne tomorrow night as the Sox try to take the second game of our three-game set with the Orioles. Tomorrow will also be the first of my game threads, and I will try to transition smoothly from the great work that Evan and Zach Hayes have done over the past few weeks.