The Boston Red Sox are one of baseball's most active teams this offseason. In the last eight weeks, they added high-priced All-Stars to bolster their lineup and made several moves to strengthen their depleted starting rotation. Boston also re-signed arms for its bullpen and recently completed a trade for a new backup catcher.
But of everything the Red Sox have done so far, which deal brought them the most bang for their buck in return? Which transaction qualifies as the biggest steal to this point?
The answer is the acquisition of Rick Porcello.
The Red Sox traded Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Wilson and Gabe Speier to the Detroit Tigers for Porcello. Wilson and Speier are a pair of young pitching prospects that Boston was not concerned about letting go of. In his analysis of their value in the trade, Ian Cundall of SoxProspects.com wrote:
[Wilson] doesn't have back of the bullpen potential, but could comfortably slot into a sixth inning or maybe even seventh inning role on some nights, especially against right-handed dominant lineups. The Red Sox, however, have a surplus of potential relievers who have a similar profile in the high minors, thus in dealing him they move from a position of strength. ...
Speier is a long way from the majors and already has Tommy John surgery on his resume, making him a lottery ticket at this point. ... Speier doesn't have much physical projection, but could develop an average three-pitch mix with some upside potential.
The meat of the deal was clearly Porcello for Cespedes.
Both players are in line to become free agents after the 2015 season. The Red Sox can extend a qualifying offer to Porcello that would result in a compensatory draft pick should he decline it. As noted by WEEI.com's Alex Speier, Cespedes' contract does not include that provision, which was likely the impetus for the inclusion of the two minor leaguers in the trade.
Cespedes was an All-Star in 2014 who hit 22 home runs along with 100 RBI. But he also batted .260 with an on-base percentage of just .301. After adding free-agent Hanley Ramirez earlier this offseason, the Red Sox have a new slugger who can play left field and replace Cespedes' bat in the lineup. Boston also owns more than enough outfield depth in Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Daniel Nava.
In late October, a New York Daily News report from Bill Madden stated that Cespedes and the Red Sox were unlikely to agree on a new contract after Cespedes fired his previous agent and hired Jay-Z's Roc Nation:
Roc Nation, which — like it did with Robinson Cano — is expected to seek a much larger, long-term contract and make a big splash about it. Two other reasons the Red Sox are open to dealing Cespedes are his open disenchantment with Boston and his refusal to pay any heed to their coaches. "He marches to his own drum and the coaches all hate him," said a Red Sox insider.
Clearly, Boston was happy to move Cespedes. Receiving Porcello in return has the potential to provide enormous dividends for the Red Sox in 2015.
In a rotation that currently includes Clay Buchholz, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson and Joe Kelly, Porcello is the one who appears most likely to grab the reigns as the No. 1 starter. Even though he has six full seasons as a major leaguer under his belt, Porcello is still just 26 years old. In 2014, he threw a career-high 204.2 innings with a career-low ERA of 3.43. Porcello also led the American League in shutouts last year with three.
Over his first five seasons, Porcello posted a combined 4.51 ERA. Via Brian MacPherson of The Providence Journal, Red Sox manager John Farrell credits Porcello's improved curveball for his better 2014 numbers.
"Particularly this past year, where he's starting to use his curveball a little bit more, it spread the strike zone top and bottom a little bit more consistently where his sinker becomes that much more effective," said Farrell.
Speier suggests Porcello was actually that good all along:
However, his breakthrough may have had as much to do with the defense behind him as with his own work on the mound. A pitch-to-contact sinkerballer, Porcello had suffered for years as a result of a Tigers infield that had myriad defensive deficiencies. The team upgraded in 2014, with Nick Castellanos taking over at third for Miguel Cabrera, Cabrera moving to first and Gold Glove candidate Ian Kinsler joining the club as a second baseman. The result was a year in which Porcello's actual ERA reflected the kind of contact that he elicits, as well as the frequency of his strike-throwing (he averages 5.5 strikeouts and just 2.2 walks per nine innings in his career).
If Porcello can repeat his 2014 success in 2015, the trade should be a huge win for the Red Sox.
Last summer, they dealt impending free-agent ace Jon Lester for Cespedes. In essence, Boston gave up two months of Lester on a last-place team this year for a full season of Porcello next year—when the outlook is suddenly much brighter.
It's hard not to view that as a steal.
Statistics via Baseball-Reference.com.