Why Didn't Theo Give Up Bowden or Buchholz for Montero or Saltalamacchia?

Evan Brunell@evanbrunellFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2009

FT. MYERS, FL - MARCH 4:  Manager Terry Francona and Theo Epstein of the Boston Red Sox have a conversation prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on March 4, 2008 at City of Palms Park in Ft. Myers, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

On Monday, I discussed Jason Varitek's seeming inability to field given The Fielding Bible Vol. II's insights.

Today, I want to tackle why Theo Epstein didn't pull the trigger on acquiring Miguel Montero and/or Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Don't kid yourself: the ability was there for Theo to do just that. Far too many news reports have reported that a Montero for Michael Bowden or Saltalamacchia for Clay Buchholz deal would have occurred had Theo said yes. A sampling:

The Diamondbacks, who would like another starting pitcher, continue to insist on Michael Bowden for Miguel Montero, and Boston GM Theo Epstein still won't trade Bowden. (Peter Gammons)

Boston's Clay Buchholz has been much more aggressive with his fastball and looks much improved from last year. The Red Sox remain uninterested in the Rangers' proposal from a few months ago of Jarrod Saltalamacchia for Buchholz. (Jon Heyman)

A commenter in the Jason Varitek article left this comment by Theo Epstein, intimating that this quote precludes one from believing that the Sox will not trade Bowden or Buchholz:

"It's something we always have our eyes out, see if we can bring in someone who represents an upgrade," he said. "But we've also been saying all along we're happy with the young guys.

But (the media) tend not to believe us all the time. Maybe this move will emphasize it a little bit more. No, we're not in any active talks. There's nothing imminent at all." (Worcester Telegram & Gazette)

Where in that does it intimate that a Bowden/Montero or Buchholz/Saltalamacchia trade won't happen?

Answer: it doesn't.

Montero, 25, has been a lifelong Arizona Diamondback with a career line of .239/.309/.411 in 414 at-bats. He was considered the Diamondbacks' catcher of the future until Chris Snyder suddenly emerged as a power threat and more importantly, a catcher pitchers loved to throw to. Now Montero is available.

A scouting report of Montero courtesy of Sportsnet.ca:

A good athlete for a catcher, he has a very live bat. Also shows solid mobility behind the plate. His home-run potential is major for a backstop. Makes a lot of mistakes behind the dish. Needs to work on anticipating base-stealers. As a hitter, he could stand to shorten his swing.

Saltalamacchia, entering his age 24 season, is fighting with Taylor Teagarden for playing time in Texas and looks to be on the short end of the stick, especially with Max Ramirez in Triple-A. He holds a career .261/.317/.399 line. Scouting report again courtesy of Sportsnet.ca:

The switch-hitter boasts good plate discipline, big-time power and a consistent stroke. Is a catcher first but can also play first base. There's still some rough edges that need sharpening in his all-around catching game. Tends to have less power as a lefty batter.

With such a need for a catcher and a willingness for either team to ship one of the catchers to Boston in return for a young, cost-controllable pitcher (which each team needs), what's the hold up?

First, let's look at each pitcher.

Buchholz, as we all know, threw a no-hitter shortly after being promoted in 2007. His talent is undeniable, but mental and fastball command problems derailed him in 2008. The 24-year-old is back—and whiffing batters like crazy in spring training. His career line is 5-10 with a 5.56 ERA in 98.2 innings. Scouting report:

A power pitcher with a live arm. Throws a mid-90's fastball and a hard-breaking curve, along with a slider and change. Goes after hitters and piles up the K's. Has a slight build that leaves his durability somewhat in question. Needs to avoid the free pass a little more often.

Michael Bowden, at the tender age of 21, debuted for the Red Sox last year, starting one game and going five innings, giving up two runs while whiffing three and walking just one. Courtesy of SoxProspects.com comes his scouting report:

Bowden is a big righty starter with a top-of-the-rotation ceiling, presently projecting as a solid third starter at the major league level.  He is an advanced pitcher for his age, but there's some room for improvement.  Overall, Bowden has an excellent command of the zone.  One aspect that should come with more experience is improved pitchability against advanced hitters.

So we have two potential ace-starters versus two potential All-Star catchers.

The question then begs: what's more valuable? A great hitter or a great pitcher?

The case for the hitter is simple math: Having someone in your lineup who can impact the game every single day over 162 games should be more valuable. Pitchers only get 32 turns.

The case for the hitter is less-simple math, but straightforward: one great pitcher out of five pitchers impacts more than one great hitter out of nine.

On the Baltimore Sun's forums, a poster summarized Victor Wang's work on this very subject:

Victor Wang did a short piece for THT a day or so back pitting Matt Wieters and David Price against each other. Based on his work, he states that a top ten hitting prospect is worth about twice as much as a top ten pitching prospect.

In older articles he had written, he has determined that elite hitting prospects are worth significantly more than elite pitching prospects. That this difference narrows, but stays throughout the top 100 listed prospects (i.e. BA; not draft position).

He has mentioned that his most recent work, in the THT annual, that he now finds a shift in the 50-100 range in that pitchers are now favored.

This jives with everything I've heard in my career as a baseball pundit: excellent hitters are more valuable.

What, then, is preventing these trades?

That's up for debate, but here are my two cents.

Buchholz has already thrown a no-hitter and has ace stuff. That's undeniable, and you would be hard pressed to find anyone outside the New York region that doesn't think a 20-win, sub-3.50 ERA season is within grasp for Buchholz.

As for Bowden, hitting the majors at age 21 means you're pretty special. He may not be as lights-out as Buchholz, but is considered at worst a No. 3. At worst. We haven't even gotten to at best. That's pretty good.

As for Saltalamacchia and Montero, the two are 25 and 24, respectively, and have yet to nail down consistent playing time and solid numbers.

The quality of Buchholz and Bowden seems to be so superior to Montero and Saltalamacchia presently, that even if the catchers develop into All-Star catchers, it doesn't make sense to trade the superior commodity.

If Montero and Saltalamacchia end up raking and demand to be a starter by the time the All-Star Break comes around, then maybe it makes sense to trade one of the pitchers.

But for now, you're trading certainties in young pitchers (or at least, as certain as you can get for a pitcher) for catchers where the jury is still out on said catchers.

It's just a theory, but it sounds plausible to me. I also can completely understand why the GMs of the Rangers and Diamondbacks wouldn't add additional pieces to get a deal done. They'd rather trust in their catchers to boost their value and swing the trade one-for-one.

Another big question: is the inactivity on the trade front worth Jason Varitek as the starting catcher?

Varitek can't hit and according to the Fielding Bible, can't field (work with me on this). The possibility exists he could rebound to hit for higher than a .240 average and could continue the trend of being at least an average fielder the previous three years (not six, as the Bible reviews).

The worth that Varitek brings in with his "intangibles" and possible pay-off in Buchholz and Bowden morphing into front-of-the-rotation starters as opposed to one of the pitchers and a rookie catcher delineates that the club has deemed the risk/reward factor in those trades to be too imbalanced.

After all, I would take two ace pitchers and a no-hit catcher over one ace pitcher and one catcher that might hammer it.

Make no mistake: if Russell Martin or Joe Mauer—proven, offensive and defensive catchers—were available, Bowden and/or Buchholz would not be in Ft. Myers currently.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours? Why did Theo not pull the trigger on the trades? And is Varitek worth said trigger not being pulled? What's the more valuable commodity at the moment?


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