Thursday, December 11, 2014

Boston Bolsters Rotation Via Trades

Miley makes Boston's rotation marginally better (ESPN)
The Red Sox moved quickly after missing out on Jon Lester, pulling off a pair of trades that will bring starting pitchers Wade Miley and Rick Porcello to Boston. While neither are anywhere near Lester's caliber, both are younger and just as durable. They're quality major league arms that make Boston's rotation more formidable.

The Miley trade was consummated first, sending Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, the pitching prospects acquired in Boston's 2012 blockbuster trade with the Dodgers, to Arizona. Webster, 24, has failed to impress at the major league level with a 6.25 ERA, 5.08 FIP, and 1.58 WHIP in 19 big league appearances (18 starts). Clearly the Red Sox did not like what they saw from last summer's audition and felt it was time to move on.

De La Rosa, 25, showed flashes of dominance but has been wildly inconsistent in his major league career, yielding a 4.34 ERA and 1.46 WHIP across 174 and 1/3 innings. Like Felix Doubront, he hasn't been able to translate his great stuff into steady success. Boston was wise to move both while they were still young and raw enough to command some value on the trade market. Each still has the potential to develop into a quality major league starter some day, albeit probably at the back end of someone's rotation. Perhaps they're destined to be bullpen guys. Either way, it seems highly unlikely that Boston just traded away a couple of aces in the making.

Miley's by no means an ace, either, but has been solid since debuting in 2011. He holds a 3.79 career ERA (103 ERA+) equal to his FIP, meaning his results are in line with his skills. He's gone downhill since making the All-Star team and finishing second in the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year voting to Bryce Harper, however, but still made 33 starts and topped 200 innings in each of the past two years with a 3.98 FIP each year. He's also lefthanded, which is a plus for a team that was counting on Lester's return but could spell trouble whenever he toes the rubber in Fenway Park. Good thing he's generated ground balls on more than half the balls he's allowed in play over the past two years.

As if moving to the Fenway and the American League isn't scary enough, the trends in his peripherals are positively frightening. His home run, walk, and hit rates have gone up since 2012, causing his WHIP to jump from 1.18 to 1.32 to 1.40. His ERA has risen more than a full run as he's gone from a solidly above average pitcher to a solidly below average one. At 28, he's an innings eater with little upside, as whatever bounce back potential he has will likely be offset by his transition to the AL East. At least he's under team control for three more years, which gives him a bit of re-sale value should he flop in his Red Sox debut.

Porcello will pitch for Boston in 2015 (HardballTalk)
Porcello, another ground ball pitcher, appears to be the better get here. Boston dealt Yoenis Cespedes to Detroit for him, fulfilling the Tigers' need for a right fielder in the wake of Torii Hunter's departure (three minor leaguers were also involved, two leaving Boston and one from Detroit). Like Cespedes, Porcello will be a free agent next winter, which means the Red Sox probably won't be committed to him beyond 2015.

Unlike Miley, the soon-to-be 26 year-old has become a better pitcher in recent years. His ERA has improved every year since 2010 and so has his ERA+. Last year was the best of Porcello's six-year career, resulting in a career-high 15 wins, 204 and 2/3 innings, 3.43 ERA, 116 ERA+, and 1.23 WHIP, not to mention his major league leading three shutouts (tied with Henderson Alvarez and Adam Wainwright). He probably won't replicate those numbers pitching half his games at Fenway Park next year, but should be good for around 180 league average innings.

His ability to do that over the course of his career has been surprisingly valuable. Despite a career 4.30 ERA (98 ERA+), he's been worth at least 1.7 fWAR every year and at least 2.6 in each of his last four, meaning his floor is pretty high. Seeing as how 2015 is his final arbitration year, he won't come cheap, but at least he'll stabilize Boston's rotation and be a reliable starter every fifth day. Like Miley, he's predominately a ground-ball pitcher who shouldn't suffer too much at Fenway's friendly confines and will benefit away from Detriot's abysmal infield defense (though I'm not sure Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez/Xander Bogaerts on the left side is much better). He also has postseason experience, having pitched for Detroit's division-winning ballclubs in the past.

While these moves fill out the back of Boston's rotation beyond Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly, they still leave the Red Sox in need of an ace. Max Scherzer and James Shields are still available if Boston's open to reinvesting the money they planned to give Lester, or package some of their many prospects for Mat Latos or Cole Hamels. Either way the price is going to be steep, but the Red Sox must land one of those guys in order to contend next year.

Boston's rotation looks considerably better than it did yesterday, but there is still work to be done.

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