Last Friday, Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis volunteered to me that Drew Pomeranz was "as good an arm as we’ve seen this year." Not only that, Pomeranz is left-handed, just 27 years old and under club control through 2018.
What exactly did people think the Red Sox could give up to land the Padres’ best pitcher, three minor-league yo-yos?
Sorry. Not how the game works. Not in a market starved for starting pitching. Not 19 days before the non-waiver deadline, when prices are still high.
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Let other top executives blink. The Red Sox’s David Dombrowski operates with the courage of his convictions, even if it means sacrificing a precious prospect or two.
Right-hander Anderson Espinoza, the pitcher whom the Red Sox traded for Pomeranz on Thursday night, might develop into a No. 2 starter or even an ace, rival scouts and executives say. But he’s hardly a guarantee, not at 18 years old with a 4.38 ERA at Low A.
He’s not Julio Urias, who made his major-league debut this season at 19. And he’s not Pedro Martinez, no matter what the Red Sox Hype Machine once said. Martinez reached Triple A at 19 despite pitching in hitter-friendly environments. Espinoza, at his current rate of development, will still be in A ball at that age.
Don’t get me wrong — the Padres did very well turning Yonder Alonso and Marc Rzepczynski into Pomeranz last offseason, and then Pomeranz into Espinoza. General manager A.J. Preller, by adding prospects through trades, the amateur draft and international market, continues to rebound from a series of missteps that marked the start of his tenure. Even some of the supposed missteps — most notably, the acquisition of Wil Myers in a trade that deprived the Pads of Trea Turner and Joe Ross — are turning out OK.
Preller, after landing minor-league right-hander Chris Paddack from the Marlins for closer Fernando Rodney last month, sought a similar but loftier score for Pomeranz, targeting a single, high-impact prospect rather than multiple players.
The Rangers were not willing to pay such a price, sources said. But the Red Sox jumped, with Dombrowski completing his fourth trade in eight days, adding Pomeranz to third baseman Aaron Hill, infielder Michael Martinez and reliever Brad Ziegler.
This is how Dombrowski rolls, quickly and aggressively. Last offseason, his first with the Red Sox, he effectively was done shopping by Dec. 7 — and his breathless run of acquisitions included left-hander David Price, closer Craig Kimbrel, outfielder Chris Young and setup man Carson Smith.
The Pomeranz trade, like many of Dombrowski’s deals over the years, is not without risk. The most reasonable criticism is that Espinoza was too good a prospect to trade for Pomeranz, whom the A’s used mostly as a reliever last season and seemed destined to be a reliever with the Padres this season before improving his pitch mix and becoming an All-Star.
Pomeranz was talented enough to be the fifth player chosen in the 2010 draft, then help the Indians lure Ubaldo Jimenez in a trade with the Rockies a year later. But his durability remains a question; his 102 innings this season already represent a career high. As one rival executive put it, "I would really be concerned about his workload for the balance of the year."
Dombrowski, in a conference call with reporters, countered that Pomeranz is not as fragile as younger pitchers. The Red Sox also pointed out in their announcement of the trade that Pomeranz has a career 1.97 ERA and .533 opponents’ OPS against the AL East. Well, that’s in only 45 2/3 innings. And, as Price and countless others can attest, pitching for the Red Sox is different than pitching against them.
Still, what the heck was Dombrowski supposed to do, wait for a better pitcher, a better deal? The Athletics are asking high on left-hander Rich Hill, who is 36 and a potential free agent. The Braves will trade right-hander Julio Teheran only if they get a big-time position prospect such as Yoan Moncada. The Rays’ most available pitchers, righty Jake Odorizzi and lefty Matt Moore, are not performing nearly as well as Pomeranz.
Context is important: The Red Sox are coming off back-to-back last-place finishes, trying to seize the moment in David Ortiz’s last season. Sox fans who were clamoring for Dombrowski to land rotation help cannot complain that he jumped the market and paid a premium. The Sox are getting three extra starts out of Pomeranz. And they now have four pitchers — Pomeranz, Price, Steven Wright and Rick Porcello — under long-term team control.
Prospects, everyone loves prospects. Well, the Sox have another pitcher, right-hander Michael Kopech, who hit 105 mph in High A on Wednesday night. They’re in agreement with left-hander Jason Groome, who was perhaps the best high school arm in the draft. And rest assured, their scouts and player-development people will come up with other young arms.
Maybe Espinoza will be an ace. Maybe Pomeranz will be a bust. But at least Dombrowski shows no fear in an age when many top execs operate with extreme caution. He is a deal-maker. And he just out-flanked the market.