Acquired RHP Craig Kimbrel from the Padres in exchange for OF-R Manuel Margot, SS-L Javier Guerra, 2B-L Carlos Asuaje, LHP Jason Allen [11/13]
It is 2015, and every Major League Baseball trade must have a clear WINNER and LOSER to satiate Baseball Twitter’s need for first takes. Don’t worry about what either team needs. Just ask, what did Team A give up? What did Team B send in return? Did Team A give up more than Team B? Wow, Team A must be run by idiots.
Viewed through this lens, the Red Sox were absolutely hoodwinked by the Padres last night. They gave up two--two!--top-100 prospect types and two more lottery tickets for a relief pitcher. This is exactly what we were worried about when ol’ Star-Loving Dave Dombrowski took the reigns. Theo Epstein never would’ve made this deal. One imagines Ben Cherington becoming physically ill at the thought of this deal. There is indeed a new sheriff in Boston.
You already know who and what Craig Kimbrel is, and if you need to learn more about any of the kids heading to San Diego, I point you to the good work of Christopher Crawford below. Rather than focus too much on player profiles, let’s talk about why this trade really does make sense for both teams, even if you’d be mocked for making it in your dynasty league.
First, the Padres. The Padres gave away a player they don’t need in a rebuilding year while improving their outlook for the future. That’s the easy part. Margot was born to roam a spacious centerfield, shortstop prospects like Guerra are always nice and Allen and Asuaje are fine lottery tickets. No one can, is or should argue that the Padres “lost” this trade.
That being said ... didn’t the Red Sox get substantially better last night without really hurting their long-term chances?
Right now, it appears as though that answer is “yes,” too. Boston’s bullpen ERA sat at 4.24 last season, while the league average mark was 3.71. Their pre-Kimbrel closer and best reliever, Koji Uehara, is 41. The bullpen--that tricky part of a team that sunk so many of Dombrowski’s Tigers juggernauts--was a massive area of need for the Red Sox. With Kimbrel, who is one of if not the best reliever of his generation, it’s a much better unit.
But just like no one is arguing that the Padres shouldn’t have made this deal, no one is arguing that Kimbrel is bad, especially since he’s under control for three seasons. We’re not seeing the “all relievers are a waste” rhetoric that was so popular a few years ago. We are seeing a lot of “wait, the Red Sox gave up all those guys just for one reliever? But what about the rotation?”
It’s fair to ask in one sense and unfair in another. Being upset that the Red Sox included Margot and Guerra in a deal for Kimbrel, and not a starter, presumes three things:
- There was or would be a deal out there that would allow the Red Sox to acquire a top-end starter through the use of these prospects.
- The Red Sox need or at least should improve their rotation via trades.
- If the Red Sox do decide to trade for a starter, it will be more difficult for them to do so now.
The first is unknowable. Maybe something would’ve popped up. Maybe it wouldn’t have. In the time Dombrowski waited to see if a starter became available for these two, maybe someone else would’ve grabbed Kimbrel. This part is all conjecture.
As for the second point ... well, it’s one avenue Dombrowski and co. can take to improving the club, but there’s a strong argument to be made that it’s not the smartest. The free-agent pitcher market is stronger than the free-agent reliever market and the Red Sox still have money to spend. Indeed, when Dombrowski was asked about his lack of front-line starter last night, he responded that he’d likely fill that hole through free-agency.
And the last point? The Red Sox still have Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers, Anderson Espinoza, Andrew Benintendi, Henry Owens, Blake Swihart, Jackie Bradley Jr., etc. The point of having an incredibly deep farm system isn’t to hoard all of those prospects. It’s to find multiple paths to improving the MLB team, both through promotion and through trades. All we’re seeing now is the Red Sox walking both paths at once.
Finally, there’s another aspect that’s pretty unique to Boston’s situation. Margot and Guerra were dealt because as much as there’s no such thing as a blocked prospect…I mean, they were blocked. The Red Sox have eight thousand center fielders in the majors and Benintendi coming up behind Margot. They have Xander Bogaerts at short and eight thousand utility infielders in Double-A or above. Betts and Bogaerts are about to embark on their age-23 seasons. Margot and Guerra were house money.
On Friday morning, the Red Sox had a bad bullpen, a great farm system and the resources needed to acquire a front-line starter. On Friday night, the Red Sox had a better bullpen, a great farm system and the resources needed to acquire a front-line starter.
If Dombrowski stops here, if the Sox roll into 2016 with their 2015 roster plus Craig Kimbrel, this is a stupid and bad trade for Boston. But if he adds another bullpen arm and a starter or two, it will make a lot more sense. This was not the Angels trading away their last two interesting assets. It wasn’t the Tigers of old shipping off their only prospects to buy life for an old, dying team. It was a team using a surplus to address a deficiency, and deciding to use surplus only rather than also accept, say, a Melvin Upton-esque contract to get the job done.
The Red Sox are young already, have more young talent on the way and can compete in a wide-open AL East for the next several years if they get better at pitching. Kimbrel can help them accomplish that goal. Guerra and Margot couldn’t. —Ben Carsley
Some fantasy owners may get hung up on the move from the National League to the American League, or from Petco to Fenway; however, high-end closers are mostly immune to these effects. It's also folly to try to and predict save opportunities a week in advance, let alone six months in advance, but the Red Sox are on track to be a better team right now in 2016 than the Padres, so any slight decrease Kimbrel might see in ratios, he has the potential to make up for in raw saves. Despite 2015 being the worst season of his career (his 3.04 DRA was more than a third of a run higher than his previous career high of 2.68 in 2013), he's still a safe bet to invest in as a top-five closer in 2016, although he's not the surefire elite option that he used to be.
Sometimes obvious analysis is just obvious. All holds and no saves make Koji a bad investment. —Bret Sayre
Acquired OF-R Manuel Margot, SS-L Javier Guerra, 2B-L Carlos Asuaje, LHP Jason Allen [11/13] from the Red Sox in exchange for RHP Craig Kimbrel [11/13]
The Padres, for the heart of their last successful run in the mid-2000s, got by with a bullpen of misfits—Heath Bell, Scott Linebrink, Cla Meredith, Joe Thatcher, etc. They weren't always good (though usually they were) but, imperatively for a franchise in San Diego's financial position, they were always cheap, a luxury that allowed the Padres to shift precious funds to more important roster spots.
Flash forward to the start of the 2015 season, where the Padres, under A.J. Preller's trade-happy watch, suddenly had one of the most expensive bullpens in the league. The back-end of the 'pen—Joaquin Benoit and Craig Kimbrel—earned a combined $17.25 million, nearly 16 percent of the Padres total payroll. Fortunately they were both good, too, but expensive late-inning relievers are for the Seattle's and Boston's of the world, particularly after the rest of San Diego's roster went sour. Preller responded by shipping Benoit to the Mariners yesterday for a pair of minor leaguers then by sending Kimbrel eastbound to the Red Sox for an impressive quartet of prospects.
From one perspective, you can look at Preller's helter-skelter approach to roster management and wonder if he's cut out for the gig; after all, he looted an already so-so Padres system last year in exchange for a crop of older, more expensive players that haven't initially panned out, handcuffing the organization spending-wise going forward. Look from another angle, though, and he's doing okay.
When Preller picked up Kimbrel last year, he took on the remains of Melvin Upton's albatross contract—three years and $46.35 million—but by doing so he saved on the prospect value sent to the Braves (Matt Wisler, Jordan Paroubeck, and a draft pick went to Atlanta). Upton ended up turning in his finest offensive season since the Bush administration; just 87 games, sure, but he showed enough hints of competence both in the field and at the plate to make the contract … well, not as bad as it once looked. And now, after holding onto Kimbrel at the trade deadline when everyone wondered why he wasn't selling in bulk, Preller cashed in on his right-handed prize to restock the farm with a much needed punch of high-upside talent.
All told, Preller may have pulled off a nifty little roster shuffle. He gambled on Kimbrel as Pricey Shutdown Closer for a pennant race that wasn't to be, ultimately turning him into a nice haul from Boston's deep minor league pipeline. Kimbrel's gone in one year, leaving a void in the 'pen, but Preller's left with an improved farm system and two years of Upton at $32 million. (Don't forget, the Padres also shed the contracts of Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin in the original Kimbrel deal.)
There are still questions, of course. Preller now has to show that he can build a bullpen on a budget, a Kevin Towers staple. He also has to decide whether to turn a 180 and go full-on rebuild or stick on the current win-now path. The early signs may point to a rebuild, but Kimbrel and Benoit are still just relievers and the Padres have a number of hard-to-move contracts on the 40-man, like Matt Kemp and James Shields. Chances are the Padres try to break the 80-win mark again in 2016, and with Preller's penchant for activity plus the money freed up from the recent deals, stay tuned. —Dustin Palmateer
The best prospect in this deal is Margot; a prospect who was signed for $800,000 in the summer of 2011 and has done nothing but impress in his time in the system. At the plate, he displays with excellent ball-to-barrel skills, consistently making hard contact to all parts of the field. He's still filling out his frame but there's enough natural strength to project average power, and his speed makes him a nuisance to pitchers on the bases. That aforementioned speed when paired with his impressive instincts, make him a natural centerfielder, and there's above-average arm strength to boot. This a high-ceiling, medium-floor outfielder, and no one should be surprised if he's hitting at the top of the Padres lineup in the coming years.
Guerra's main value comes with the glove, but this is not a shortstop who is bereft of offensive ability. There's average power potential in his bat from the left side thanks to his extension and loft, and while he will expand the zone, his feel for hitting has improved and an average hit tool isn't out of the question. The defense is the selling point here, as Guerra has superb instincts and a cannon for an arm, often making the spectacular look easy. If he can make more consistent contact, this could be a first-division shortstop, but starter up the middle is a pretty nice middle ground.
The Red Sox took Allen with their eighth-round pick in 2015, though he would have gone much higher if not for bonus concerns. He'll show a 90-94 mph four-seam fastball that is plus, and he compliments that with three secondary offerings. The best of these is a slider in the low 80s with tilt, but the curveball and change both flash average, and he can throw all four pitches for strikes with an easily repeated delivery. He should move quickly through the Padres system, and there's No. 3 upside in his left arm.
Asauje was one of the standouts of the Arizona Fall League for me. I saw a player who has a chance for four average tools in the glove, arm, speed and hit, and he showed the ability to hit the ball hard into the gaps -- though the lack of plane makes hitting for power unlikely. He profiles best as a utility player who can help all over the infield and possibly the corner outfield in a pinch, but that is a useful player, and a darn nice fourth piece of a trade. —Christopher Crawford
Every Padres Reliever
With Kimbrel and Benoit now out of the picture, the race for saves in San Diego is wide, wide open. Want to gamble on Kevin Quackenbush? Brandon Maurer? Nick Vincent? The honest answer is that the Padres' closer in 2016 is more likely to not be on their current roster than be any of the names mentioned above, but when a players is out there and stands even a 5-10 percent chance of saves in a park that can enhance ratios, it's a chance worth taking. —Bret Sayre