Did Acquiring Drew Pomeranz Cost Too Much for the Red Sox?

Boston gave up one of their top prospects for the left-hander. Was the swap worth it?

Very rarely in baseball are teams able to trade for a player without giving up anything of value. The best trades are the ones in which both teams win. A contending team shores up a major hole on their roster and the rebuilding team gets a prospect with upside for the future.

On Thursday, the Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres hooked for the second time in two years on a major deal, the first big one of this trade deadline season, exchanging left-handed starter Drew Pomeranz for Anderson Espinoza, an 18-year-old starter in Single-A.

It was a steep price to pay for Boston. Espinoza was ranked as the number-15 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America recently and was the number-19 prospect after the 2015 season.

Was it worth it?

Pomeranz to Boston

As for Pomeranz, our own Jim Sannes earlier this week outlined why he was such a valuable trade chip. He was an All-Star this year, 8-7 in 17 starts (102.0 innings pitched) with a 2.47 ERA and a 3.18 FIP. He has struck out 10.15 batters per nine innings and walked 3.62 with an fWAR of 2.5.

At 27 years old, he is having a career year. As Sannes noted in his piece, even though he'll be moving from Petco Field (a known pitcher's park) to Fenway Park (a hitter's haven), the peripherals show he's still outperformed the average big league starter this year when you strip away all those park factors.

Pitcher SIERA Strikeout Rate Walk Rate Hard-Hit Rate
Drew Pomeranz 3.75 28.0% 10.0% 28.0%
Average N.L. Starter 4.22 20.8% 7.7% 31.5%

Sannes also looked at how Pomeranz compares to some of the other top starting pitchers on the trade market, in relation to the MLB averages for big league starters.

Month Average Fastball Velocity SIERA Strikeout Rate Contact Rate
April 90.0 3.64 33.0% 65.1%
May 90.0 4.11 26.6% 79.1%
June 89.9 3.67 27.1% 75.0%
July 90.3 3.24 25.0% 80.0%

You can see why he was such an attractive target to many of the teams looking for starting pitching this month.

And one other factor that makes Pomeranz appealing is that he cannot become a free agent until after the 2019 season. That's three more years of team control.

But there are some reasons to be cautious as well.

At 102 innings, Pomeranz has already reached his career-high in a season. Before this year, he alternated between being a starter and a reliever, and as a result, the most innings he'd ever thrown was 96 2/3 back in 2012 with the Colorado Rockies.

If he continues to start every fifth day for Boston and if they make it to the postseason, Pomeranz will approach 200 innings, a massive jump. It's not clear how that will affect his stuff as the year goes along.

Still, you can see why Boston needed to trade for a starting pitcher. Coming out of the All-Star break, the Red Sox rotation is nine in the American League in starters' fWAR (4.9), ERA (4.72) and FIP (4.53). Below are their starters' numbers for the first half of the season.

David Price 9 6 19 124.1 10.13 1.95 4.34 3.42 2.6
Steven Wright 10 5 17 114 7.42 3.39 2.68 3.64 2
Rick Porcello 11 2 18 113 7.73 1.67 3.66 3.87 1.9
Sean O'Sullivan 2 0 4 20.1 5.31 2.66 6.64 5.09 0.1
Joe Kelly 2 0 6 22.1 10.88 7.66 8.46 5.91 -0.1
Roenis Elias 0 1 1 4 4.5 6.75 15.75 10.93 -0.2
Henry Owens 0 0 3 12.1 6.57 9.49 5.11 8.28 -0.3
Eduardo Rodriguez 1 3 6 29.1 6.44 3.68 8.59 6.96 -0.4
Clay Buchholz 2 8 13 71.1 5.8 3.91 6.31 6.37 -0.6

David Price has struggled as the staff ace this year -- but is pitching better than his traditional stats suggest -- and that has really hurt Boston's rotation. Knuckleballer Steven Wright has been a godsend, and Rick Porcello has been largely excellent as well. But the rest of the staff has been either at league average or below.

Adding Pomeranz immediately gives Boston another arm for the top of the rotation, something they desperately needed if they want to keep up with the Baltimore Orioles, who have pitching needs of their own. Heading into the second half, the Sox and Blue Jays trail the Orioles by two games in the American League East.

Espinoza to San Diego

So in a wide open division that is there for the taking, the Sox gave up one of the top prospects in the game, Anderson Espinoza. immediately considers him as the Padres top prospect now, a pitcher who throws in the high-90s and has reached triple digits on his fastball from time to time.

However, even though he has plus-stuff, he is still a long way from the Majors. At 19 years old and playing in Single A ball, there is still a lot that can go wrong, enough uncertainty that new Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski felt comfortable selling him for a starting pitcher who carries some risk with him as well.

This is the second time in two years Boston and San Diego have hooked up for a major trade. Right before the start of the 2015 season, the Padres traded closer Craig Kimbrel to Boston in exchange for highly regarded outfield prospect Manuel Margot, as well as shortstop Javier Guerra, infielder Carlos Asuaje, and lefty Logan Allen.

In the year and a half Dombrowski has been at the controls, he has continued to show he has no fear of trading prospects to upgrade the big league club. It's what he did as the general manager of the Detroit Tigers, and it's not unreasonable to think he's not done dealing yet this season.

And if Pomeranz holds up long enough to make the second-best team in the Majors better and to improve their 8.1% chance to win the World Series, then the swap is certainly worth it for both sides.