In one of Boston’s quieter trade deadlines in recent years, the Red Sox came out as modest sellers when the deadline expired at 4:00 pm July 31st.
The club’s biggest move – the selling of middle reliever Ramon Ramirez – served more to show the front office’s expectations for the post-season as it was a strategic move.
Though trading a non-descript middle reliever may seem innocuous, it was quite the strong signal from a team that is used to adding – not selling – Major League pieces.
Said Theo Epstein shortly after the deadline passed:
In past years we’ve been able to make trades that immediately impact our big-league team, and that’s a really satisfying feeling. Other years we haven’t been able to and come away with a bit of an empty feeling. So, today is more the latter.
It’s not the end of the story. We have August [and the waiver trading deadline]. But if you ask me, ‘Are we frustrated that we weren’t able to help this team today?’ Yeah, we are.’’
It’s quite an interesting quote.
On the one hand, you have Epstein lamenting the front office’s failed attempts to acquire key pieces for their playoff pursuit; disappointed they could not improve the club’s bullpen and outfield depth.
On the other, you have a front office whose actions were wholly contrary to the stated word. That they traded a reliable bullpen piece and point of need for a minor league reliever shows their confidence in the team’s ability to make the playoffs.
Though not a white flag on the 2010 season, the front office has grown quite pessimistic on the team’s playoff chances – opting to shift their priorities toward 2011. Instead of pushing aggressively for a playoff run, the club has chosen to instead sit back and hope for the best – to straddle the line between competition and concession.
I want to be clear that we still think we have the ability to make the postseason. We have to get really hot. As we get healthier, we start to see the team on the field that can get really hot. We were healthy in April, and didn’t play up to our capabilities. That was a real frustration around here.
Now that we’re getting healthier, we get our team back on the field, there’s a feeling in that clubhouse and in our front office that we have the ability to do what we didn’t do in April, and that’s run off a bunch of wins in a row. . . . We still have a feeling that that has a good chance of happening. That’s why we’re going to continue to be aggressive looking for help in August.
It goes without saying that the Red Sox can still make the playoffs. Trailing the Wild Card by 5.5 games and the division by 6.5, this ground can be made up over the club’s 57 remaining games.
The likelihood is low, however, and – as the team’s action suggest – they are fighting an uphill battle. While one Rays or Yankees cold streak or one Red Sox hot streak has the potential to change the complexion of the race, the idea is wishful thinking. A deficit of 5.5 games with 57 remaining is a sizeable margin – one that grows even more staggering with the level of talent levied by the Rays and Yankees.
For the most part, the front office’s decision not to buy is defensible in light of the dynamics of the race. The team can’t give up on this season, but, as Epstein alluded to, they are too far behind to give up talented pieces in their farm system. This part makes sense.
What is questionable is whether the team should have given up a useful piece of a feeble bullpen for a double-A reliever. Turpen is neither a well-regarded prospect nor one with a great track record of success. Though he may one day become a quality bullpen arm, he doesn’t stand out from the pack, and has just as must a chance to be a non-factor in the Red Sox’ future.
Ramon Ramirez f. Daniel Turpen
As previously stated, the decision to sell off bullpen pieces in the middle of a playoff chase is a very telling event. Though Ramirez’ 4.46 ERA/4.68 xFIP is not Earth-shattering by any means, average to below average relievers are often underrated for their utility – and Ramirez is no exception. A known commodity, the reliever keeps games close and throws enough scoreless innings to secure close wins. Stepping down to a replacement level arm is no small leap – especially for a ‘pen with just two reliable arms remaining.
Though often maligned, Ramirez was a key piece of the Red Sox bullpen and his depth will be missed.
As for the player received in the deal, minor league reliever Daniel Turpen is an interesting, albeit unknown, commodity. Selected in the eighth round of the 2007 June draft, Turpen has had his moments — compiling a 2.5:1 K:BB ratio in four minor league seasons with a 7.34 K/9 rate and 2.94 BB/9 over 220.2 innings.
While these rates don’t suggest future Major League stardom, perhaps Turpen’s most alluring quality is his miniscule home run rate. Having allowed just eight home runs in his minor league career, should Turpen be able to maintain his low home run totals through AAA and the Majors, he could become a quality asset.
Contingent upon this home run rate are Turpen’s groundball tendencies. Through 2009, Turpen has compiled a 1.72:1 ground out to air out ratio — a good, but not spectacular rate. Having pitched just 2.1 career innings above AA, it remains to be seen whether his stuff can translate to Major League caliber hitting.
Aside from acquiring a minor league reliever this past weekend, the Sox also were able to land Jarrod Saltalamacchia — a target who the Boston brass has coveted for some time.
Once ranked among the best catching prospects in the game — even ahead of all-star catcher Brian McCann in the Braves’ system – Saltalamacchia’s star has fallen precipitously in recent seasons.
After an encouraging rookie campaign in 2007, where Salty batted .266/.310/.422 with 11 home runs in 329 plate appearances, he struggled to make contact in subsequent seasons – his strikeout percentage spiking at 37.4 and 34.3 percent in 2008 and 2009 (up from 24.4 percent in ’07).
Including a case of the “yips” this season – an inability to throw the ball back to the mound from behind the plate – Saltalamacchia hit a low in 2010, registering just five plate appearances in the bigs. His .244/.326/.445 line in Triple-A this season isn’t particularly encouraging, as he is still struggling to find his pre-2007 form that had him atop the prospect charts.
In addition, his 8-for-54 caught stealing rate this season in Triple-A gives cause for concern. A poor defensive catcher who struggles with the stick is not an asset to a Major League club – and Saltalamacchia has done little to reestablish himself in the eyes of talent evaluators.
As for the cost, the Sox gave up two quality, but not high-end, prospects in Roman Mendez and Chris McGuiness.
Mendez, ranked the Sox’ 20th best prospect by Soxprospects.com, has a mid-90s fastball that approaches triple digits. His offspeed and breaking balls are still developing, but he flashes a plus slider. He has struck out nearly a batter per inning through A-ball, but his inconsistent command and lack of consistent breaking pitches may pose problems as he rises through the Minor Leagues.
McGuiness, ranked the Sox’ 30th best prospect by Soxprospects.com, has put together a quality season for Greenville – posting a .298/.416/.504 line with 12 homers in 282 at-bats. With a 53 walks and 59 strikeouts on the season, McGuiness possesses a good approach at the plate – an asset that Sox talent evaluators covet. His power potential grades as average, which may hurt his walk totals as he advances through the minor league ranks. As a first baseman without plus power, he will always have his detractors, but McGuiness remains a solid prospect with good on-base skills.
Though there is reason to be bearish on Saltalamacchia’s future prospects – and therefore, the Sox’ decision to acquire him – one must keep in mind that he only came this cheap because of his poor 2010. Despite his drawbacks, he remains a quality “prospect” and could still carve out a quality Major League career. Given the amount of uncertainty the Sox face at catcher for 2011 and beyond, consider the acquisition a small victory for next year’s club.
Still, at 25, it remains to be seen where Saltalamacchia’s career will ultimately end up, as he is running out of time to figure Major League caliber pitching.