Dave Dombrowski said that it would be painful. He said big moves were coming, and he said that his first goal was to fix the bullpen.
So why is everyone surprised that the Boston Red Sox acquired ace closer Craig Kimbrel?
On Friday night, the Red Sox made the first big splash of the Major League Baseball off-season when they acquired Kimbrel from the San Diego Padres in exchange for four prospects. Kimbrel, the former ace closer of the Atlanta Braves, was acquired by the Padres the day before the first game of the 2015 season. However, when the Padres added Kimbrel, they agreed to take on the monolithic contract of problem outfielder Melvin Upton Jr.
Since the Red Sox didn’t eat such a contract, they had to pay the price for arguably the best closer in the game. Boston’s bullpen was weak in 2015 and they didn’t have many internal options to resolve it. Koji Uehara remains a free agent and even if he is re-signed, along with Kimbrel in the fold, the bullpen still has holes.
Junichi Tazawa faltered late last season. Craig Breslow proved inconsistent and Matt Barnes as unreliable. While giving up major prospects for a relief pitcher who won’t pitch more than 80 innings in a season might not be a sound philosophy, in this case the Red Sox had to do it.
Typically giving up a lot of money or prospects for relief pitching ends badly. Jonathan Papelbon’s contract with the Philadelphia Phillies is evidence of this. Or, in Boston’s case, giving up Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey. There is risk in giving up four prospects for just one bullpen pitcher.
And yet, what other choice was there? The relief pitching market is weak other than Darren O’Day, who is being pursued by 29 other teams. Even the Kansas City Royals, with a historic bullpen, are seeking his services.
Boston is in a position where they could afford to trade pieces of their farm system and it remain whole. Manuel Margot, while a stellar outfielder in Portland, would be blocked for a very long time thanks to the young outfield of Rusney Castillo, Jackie Bradley Jr, and Mookie Betts. The 20-year-old is still a year or two away from the big leagues, but he is the top prospect in this deal.
Javier Guerra is a terrific prospect overshadowed by a farm system that might be the best in the league. However, he is once again blocked by Xander Bogaerts who is coming off of an American League silver slugger award at the shortstop position. Guerra hit 15 home runs with Greenville last season, a high home run total for anyone in low-A ball and for any middle infielder.
Carlos Asuaje is another middle infielder and his projections are much lower than Guerra, while Logan Allen, an eighth-round pick last season, is the only pitcher surrendered. The 18-year-old already has three above average pitches but he is a long-term prospect, so it is interesting to see San Diego accept Allen as the lone pitcher in this deal.
Dombrowski has been known to trade away prospects to add big name players, so it should not come as a surprise that he has already gotten to work with Boston. His concern was the bullpen and that’s a hole he filled right away. Next up is a rotation pitcher, and with such a deep free agent class, one would have to think he will target a top arm. Dombrowski has already stated that Kimbrel may be the only big trade acquisition, which could mean the rest of the farm system is safe for now.
This is a move that almost certainly would not have happened under the old regime manned by Larry Lucchino or Ben Cherington. Dombrowski doesn’t have the same perspective or attachment to prospects since this is his first off season with the team.
These are the kind of moves Dombrowski will continue to make. One look at his moves with the Detroit Tigers (such as adding Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, and the extension of Justin Verlander) should prove that.
Red Sox fans should be wary to be attached to young players such as Henry Owens and Blake Swihart, and they should be ready to see the payroll skyrocket.
This is the Dombrowski era, and it has only just begun.