I wanted to begin by saying that we’re living in some kind of Bizarro world because Padres GM A.J. Preller fleeced Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski, who is a Hall of Fame-caliber executive. However, that would imply that Dombrowski didn’t realize what he was doing. I’m sure he understood exactly how much he was paying for Craig Kimbrel. With the tremendous depth in the Red Sox farm system, he probably felt that the exorbitant price was worth it.
The Red Sox sent CF Manuel Margot, SS Javier Guerra, and a couple of lottery tickets in exchange for one of the best relievers in baseball. Margo and Guerra are both top-100 or even top-50 prospects in all of baseball. This is an absurdly high price to pay for a reliever who will pitch 60-70 innings for the next 2-3 seasons, depending on whether or not the Red Sox pick up his option for 2018. The Red Sox easily paid more for 2-3 years of Kimbrel than the Angels paid for 5 years of Andrelton Simmons, who has a historically good glove at shortstop. Put another way, the Red Sox paid more for 6-9 WAR than the Angels did for 15-20 WAR, with the upside for significantly greater than that. That is awful.
Trades should only ever be evaluated based on what is known at the time. Process over results. Until somebody gets that crystal ball working, that’s the only fair, logical way to do it. That being said, let’s pretend for a moment that results are how we should evaluate this trade. If even one of these players going to San Diego becomes so much as a league-average regular, this trade will be a disaster. It would be much better to have six cost-controlled seasons of an average regular than 2-3 seasons of an elite closer. It’s highly likely that the result will be much better than that.
It appears that Dombrowski is overreacting to the Royals success as a result of their elite bullpen, and his own failures in building a competent bullpen in Detroit, as if that were the reason why the Tigers never won a World Series during his tenure there. I’m not going to go in-depth here, but the Tigers failure in bringing a championship to Detroit was only in small part because of the bullpen. Along the same lines, the Royals tremendous success the past couple of seasons was mostly the result of other factors besides the monster bullpen. The Astros had one of the best bullpens in baseball in this past season and didn’t even win their division, nor did they get past the ALDS. The Yankees had two of the best relievers in baseball in Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, and they couldn’t even win their division either. Bullpens are important, but you need a lot more to be a good baseball team.
Here’s the thing: The Red Sox are trading from a tremendous amount of depth in order to fill a significant need. Last season, the Sox bullpen was tied for eighth-worst in the majors by ERA-, dead last by FIP-, and fourth worst by DRA, a new advanced metric from Baseball Prospectus. Their now former closer, Koji Uehara, is 41 years old and has a history of being injury prone. Only he and Junichi Tazawa were above replacement level in the bullpen. Acquiring Craig Kimbrel should improve this bullpen by 2-3 wins a year. Furthermore, if Joe Kelly is moved to the bullpen like he should be, this could end up being a very potent bullpen. I’ve always believed that Kelly could be an elite reliever.
I always cite the volatility of relievers whenever a team overpays for one, but Kimbrel has proven to be an anomaly so far. He’s been worth approximately 2-3 WAR each full season in Atlanta. His year in San Diego might look like he declined significantly, but I would disagree. While he did pitch in the most pitcher-friendly ballpark in the game, it was in front of one of its worst defenses. His 2.88 RA9 looks pretty bad when you see that he had a sub-2.00 RA9 the past three seasons. Besides the defense, of course, his 13.6% HR/FB is more than twice his career rate going into 2015. Pitching in as big of a ballpark as Petco Park, that’s incredibly fluky. His groundball rate was actually up while his line drive rate was down. His cFIP was roughly the same as 2014, which was only slightly worse than it was in 2013.
If we look at Kimbrel’s PITCHf/x data on Brooks Baseball, we see that his fastball and curveball have not lost any velocity, nor have they lost significant movement. You can argue that Kimbrel declined slightly in 2015, but it’s tough to say given his track record that he isn’t more or less the same pitcher he’s always been.
Margot and Guerra are still a long ways off from reaching the majors, and given the team’s depth at those positions they were unlikely to ever reach the Show in a Red Sox uniform. The team has Xander Bogaerts under control for four more years with Deven Marrero still in the system1. Mookie Betts just put up a 6 WAR season and is under control for five more years. Behind him are Jackie Bradley Jr. and 2015 1st-rounder Andrew Benintendi. If you’re going to overpay for a player, this is the best possible situation to do so.
With the Red Sox desperate need for starting pitching, I’m shocked that they weren’t able to get anything for this package. I would’ve parted with a #3 starter for this package, maybe even a #2! It’s hard to imagine that Dombrowski didn’t at least try to do so. Claiming that he was done trading for the offseason, it’s possible that the plan is to fix the bullpen regardless of the cost, and then pay for Zack Greinke, David Price, or Johnny Cueto. It’s really not a bad plan. It would’ve cost the Sox even more in prospects to get an ace. Instead, they just have to spend money. That’s a much more plentiful resource than prospects in today’s game, especially for the Red Sox.
From the Padres perspective, this is far and away the best move that A.J. Preller has made in his short time as GM. The team is clearly punting 2016 in order to rebuild, which is the right decision. They traded a closer that they won’t need, especially in Petco Park, for a tremendous return in prospects which will fill the team’s gaping holes in center field and shortstop. This is the best return a team has gotten compared to what they gave away since, coincidentally, the Red Sox traded away two months of Andrew Miller for Eduardo Rodríguez. I just cannot give Preller enough credit for this trade.
Normally I would excoriate a team for doing what the Red Sox did, and they do deserve to be criticized for giving up so much for a closer. However, the team has tremendous depth in their farm system, are set at center field and shortstop for years to come, had a big need in the bullpen, and the players traded away are far from reaching the majors. The Sox are going to have to obtain an ace through free agency for this trade to look better. There’s no way I ever do this trade if I’m Dombrowski, but If you squint just enough, the trade becomes defensible.
- Yoan Moncada was drafted as a shortstop but has already been moved to 2nd base. He’s too big to be a shortstop. ↩