Late Tuesday night, the New York Yankees completed a trade with the Chicago White Sox that brought third baseman Todd Frazier, as well as righties David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, to the Bronx. In exchange, Chicago received former first round pick Blake Rutherford (36th on Baseball America Top 100 Prospects), lefty Ian Clarkin (also a former 1st rounder), outfielder Tito Polo, and right-hander Tyler Clippard.
The deal, while a major boon for the Yankees, may have had an even larger impact on their longtime rivals, the Boston Red Sox. Frazier has been connected to Boston since spring training, along with just about every relief pitcher deemed to be available between now and July 31st. When the details of a potential Frazier/Robertson deal first broke, I, like many, assumed that the deal was between Chicago and Boston. This invoked two immediate thoughts, 1) YES, this would be a huge addition for Boston; and 2) NO, what if Dave Dombrowski overpaid again? In hearing reactions from other New Englanders about the actual deal, which took place between Chicago and New York, I have found that I am not alone.
While I have been in favor of a number of notable Dombrowski deals, I have been equally opposed to some of his other moves; namely the David Price signing, the Travis Shaw trade, his inability to recognize the importance of bullpen depth (he “replaced” Koji Uehara last winter rather than try to re-sign him), and failing to receive compensation after the Padres/Pomeranz medicals fiasco (a deal I was initially in favor of). Those transactions could each be their own articles though, so I digress. In essence, the development of a potential deal for Frazier and/or Robertson was both interesting and controversial, so here are my takeaways now that everything has been finalized…
1) While the New York Yankees have closed the gap, Boston’s current roster is still good enough to win the division.
Yes Aaron Judge has been exceptional, yes Luis Severino is finally living up to expectations, and yes the Yankees have scored the second most runs in the American league (497 entering play Thursday). But make no mistake; the Red Sox are still the team to beat in the AL East. Sure it would be a little more comforting to have a manager that knows how to manufacture runs from a lineup that lacks power, but the bottom line is that this team has talent. With Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, David Price, and Drew Pomeranz, Boston will likely have the best rotation in the AL from here on out. They still have a stud of a closer in Craig Kimbrel to go along with a couple of useful power arms in the pen, and they have some of the best young players in baseball. Yes there are holes that make a World Series parade seem distant, but at least we can expect October baseball in Boston.
2) Dave Dombrowksi showed restraint for the first time since joining the Red Sox’s front office.
Since joining the team late in the 2015 season, Dave Dombrowski has done his best job of dealing away every prospect at his disposal. I won’t rehash the entire list, but it should be noted that the lack of future assets in the minors has created a window of contention with the current team (to be discussed later). The other piece of fallout from those moves is that the Red Sox need to be very protective of the few top prospects that remain, something that Dombrowski has not been very good at throughout his career. Based on what the Yankees gave up in the Frazier/Robertson/Kahnle deal, below is what would likely represent the closest comp from the Sox’s system:
- SP Jay Groome (87th in BA midseason Top 100)
- 3B Michael Chavis (26th overall pick in 2014 Amateur Draft)
- OF Danny Mars (AA prospect with some potential)
- LHP Fernando Abad (not a perfect comp, but best expendable bullpen piece)
As someone who is not as high on Groome given his off the field concerns, this is a deal that I would have been very tempted to pull the trigger on; however, it is a positive sign that Dombrowski was able to show restraint and not try to outbid another team, especially a division rival.
3) The Yankees dipped into their prospect stash for what is ultimately bullpen pieces and a rental.
The New York Yankees are not accustomed to rebuilding. GM Brian Cashman, however, has done an excellent job moving MLB players for prospects while remaining competitive in the AL East. Now that the playoffs are a real possibility for the Bronx Bombers and Aaron Judge has emerged as a potential new face to baseball, it looks like Cashman is ready to tool up for the stretch run. While they still have a top-5 farm system after their trade on Tuesday night, perhaps Sox fans can look at this as the first in a series of trades that deplete the Yankee farm system over the next couple of seasons; much in the same way that the Red Sox have treated their farm the end of 2015. All things considered, the Yankees ultimately traded two former first round picks for a rental player in Frazier and two relievers. I am a major proponent of having a deep bullpen, but the Yankees are only truly getting about 60 regular season games from Frazier this year, and a handful of seasons of 60ish innings each from Robertson and Kahnle. Given the depth of the farm, I think this was a great move by New York, but maybe it is the beginning of more nearsighted moves to come?
4) There are still plenty of names available that would be nice fits in Boston; there is likewise plenty of time left to make a trade.
In reviewing Jeff Todd’s MLB Trade Deadline Candidates, it is clear that there are still plenty of relief pitchers left on the trade market that would be an upgrade to a questionable Boston rotation. Of the 60 names ranked, more than 20 are relievers, enough for each and every competing team to theoretically make a trade for one. In a perfect world, it would be nice to see the Sox go after both a lefty and a righty. I have my eyes on 36-year old rental Pat Neshek of the Phillies along with flame-throwing lefty Brad Hand of the Padres. Other possibilities include Addison Reed of the Mets, Hunter Strickland of the Giants, and Tony Watson of the Pirates, among others. With another 10 days until the July 31st MLB Trade Deadline and several set-up men still available, the Red Sox have plenty of time to make a well-calculated move for bullpen help.
5) So far, the prices for Relief Pitchers at the Trade Deadline have not been nearly as substantial as they were in 2016.
The main reason the Yankees have been able to put together such a deep farm system is because they had two dominant relievers to deal away at last year’s deadline. In moving Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs and Andrew Miller to the Indians, New York brought in several consensus top prospects, most notably Gleyber Torres (Cubs) and Clint Frazier (Indians). Sure the names of the players being moved this year are not as big as Chapman and Miller, but the cost has still been noticeably lower this season. Chapman, a rental in 2016, garnered a top-10 prospect league-wide in Torres along with other notable pieces like Adam Warren and Billy McKinney. Likewise, 2017 has seen the Oakland Athletics move LHP Sean Doolittle AND RHP Ryan Madson to the Washington Nationals in exchange for Blake Treinen (basically the equivalent of Adam Warren) and two recent draft picks who have yet to play above A-ball. Doolittle, in particular, is under a very team friendly contract that, if both team options are picked up, would keep him in Washington through the 2020 season. Undoubtedly, the price paid by the Nationals for two 2nd-tier relievers was well below what the Cubs gave up for an elite rental just one year ago. It would not be surprising if the large supply of relievers available allows prices to remain at their current levels, even as the deadline nears.
1) What if Boston believes that their bullpen is good enough? Because it is not!
This section really should not require explaining… Farrell has caught lightning in a bottle to this point with the bullpen. Anyone who watches this team night in and night out knows that the current bullpen configuration will be a liability down the stretch and in October, regardless of the perceived success that they have had on the stat sheet to this point in the season. I am fairly certain that the team’s front office recognizes its club’s inefficiencies, but being an “outsider,” I cannot know for sure what is really going on behind closed doors.
2) The Red Sox’s championship window with their current core is a lot smaller than has been portrayed in the media.
When talking about the current iteration of the Red Sox, statements by media members and broadcasters such as “for years to come” and “talented young core” imply that Boston looks to be a force for the foreseeable future. In a sense this is true; many of the clubs stars are signed through at least 2019. In reality, the window of contention is much smaller than many fans realize. The lists below show the earliest potential unrestricted free agency for notable pieces of Boston’s current roster:
- Post-2018: David Price, Craig Kimbrel, Hanley Ramirez, Drew Pomeranz, Joe Kelly
- Post-2019: Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, Xander Bogaerts, Brock Holt
- Post-2020: Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Christian Vazquez, Sandy Leon
The list above assumes that the Red Sox would pick-up all team options (Sale, Kimbrel) and players would decline any player options and utilize opt-outs (Price), the lone exception being Hanley Ramirez, who I have assumed will not reach the requirements for his 5th year vesting option. There are major potential losses to the roster each season from 2018 through 2020; and while it could be believed that these ending contracts will free up money for other additions, it should be noted that players like Betts, Bogaerts, and Bradley will be receiving significant pay raises through arbitration during those years. Further, with the farm system in shambles (or close to it), it puts a lot of pressure on the Front Office to bring another World Series to Boston before the end of the 2019 season. That leaves just two more seasons after 2017 to make something happen.
3) The Red Sox may have been turned off from going over the luxury tax as a result of taking on Frazier or Robertson’s contracts, which should not be a concern for a Red Sox team in win-now mode.
According to Spotrac, the Red Sox’s current payroll for luxury tax purposes sits at $187,904,678; approximately $7 million away from the $195 million tax threshold. If they were to exceed this number, it would be the third time in as many seasons, which would require a 50% tax on any amount over the threshold. This means that, should they bring the payroll up to $200 million for the 2017 season, they would only be taxed on the $5 million that they are over the tax. At a 50% rate, this would mean a “measly” $2.5 million. Additionally, under the new CBA, which is broken down here by Forbes, that 50% tax rate does not increase for consecutive offenses beyond 3 years, as long as the team does not exceed the tax by $20 million or more ($215 million threshold for 2017). To make a long story short, the luxury tax is a non-issue for a team with the financial resources of the Boston Red Sox.
Because of their spending abilities, the team should, in fact, be able to maintain a farm system while simultaneously remaining competitive. But since the farm has been so significantly weakened over the past 2+ years, the Red Sox need to be in win-now mode while they work to rebuild what took Theo Epstein, and to a lesser extent Ben Cherington, so long to create. This is even more reason for the team to go all-in and spend in the $195-$215 million range. With not much to look forward to, winning now is the only choice. Spending in the above range would result in a tax penalty that amounts to a max of only $10 million, which could also be described as less than one-twentieth of David Price’s total contract.
4) Because the farm system is already gutted, the team is over-valuing the mid-level prospects that remain.
Patience and restraint is key when developing young talent; however, those things should not be confused with stupidity. What I mean by this is that, just because a player is the 3rd best prospect in your farm system, that does not mean he should be treated as if he would be the third best in another teams’ farm. Take Greenville third baseman Bobby Dalbec for example:
Dalbec, according to MLB.com’s Prospect Watch entered 2017 as the 4th best prospect in Boston’s farm system. However, he is a 22-year old third baseman batting just .248 with three homeruns and an absurd 62 strikeouts in 157 at-bats this season. Furthermore, Dalbec grades as a below-average fielder despite a strong arm, and has not played above, low-A at all in 2017, making his lack of success even more concerning. Scouts still look at him as a player with plenty of power potential, but it is certainly eye-opening to have a 22-year old performing so poorly in such a low level of the minors.
What does this mean? Well one team looking to move relievers is the San Diego Padres. They have already made clear that they are looking for top prospects. From Boston’s perspective, Dalbec should do the trick. But on San Diego’s prospects list, Dalbec would fall somewhere in the range of 15th overall! Clearly, the Padres do not value Dalbec very highly, nor should they; and the Red Sox aren’t going to ante-up a name like Jay Groome just to get a reliever. The result: Boston sits pat and does nothing, unable to correctly value their own assets.
While it is easy to criticize a deal in hindsight, I actually feel that Dombrowski and co. made the correct decision in regards to Frazier, Robertson, and Kahnle. For now, I am satisfied with sitting back and letting the next week or so play out. That being said, should the trade deadline come and go without any moves being made at all by Boston, then there will be plenty to complain about. Given their monetary resources, position in the standings, and short-term roster outlook, there is no reason to remain dormant at the deadline. In regards to a deal for Frazier and Robertson from Chicago though, it was probably wise to wait it out for a better deal elsewhere on the market.