Dave Dombrowski might have finished off his trade-deadline shopping two weeks early.
The Red Sox acquired San Diego lefty Drew Pomeranz late Thursday (Friday in Manila) night in exchange for top prospect Anderson Espinoza. Pomeranz might wind up being the best pitcher moved in a thin market for starting pitching, even if his relatively short track record of effectiveness makes his acquisition a significant risk. His 2.47 ERA in 17 starts for the Padres this season earned him his first trip to the All-Star Game, but this is the first season in which he’s pitched more than 100 innings in the major leagues. He’ll make his Red Sox debut Wednesday.
But a confluence of circumstances have rendered the July trade market for starting pitching as thin is it has been in recent memory. The best pending free agent might be ex-Red Sox lefty Rich Hill, who brings with him a similarly short record of effectiveness as a starter in the major leagues — and Hill will be a free agent after this season.
Oakland and Atlanta appeared to have significant price tags for Sonny Gray and Julio Teheran, respectively, in part because no urgency compels either team to trade its best pitcher anytime soon.
“In a case in which the demand exceeds the supply, which is definitely the case in this situation, I’m not sure you don’t take a greater risk by waiting,” Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski said. The demand continues to build, and I don’t think there’s a lot more guys becoming available.”
It wasn’t Dombrowski who acquired Joe Kelly or Rick Porcello, but Pomeranz appears to represent the late-blooming starting pitcher the Red Sox tried to bring aboard when they targeted both Kelly and Porcello.
The 27-year-old Pomeranz was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2010 draft and was the centerpiece of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade a year later, sending him to the Colorado Rockies. But he struggled upon introduction to the major leagues in Colorado, posting a 4.93 ERA in 22 starts in his first full season in the major leagues in 2012. It wasn’t until the Rockies traded him to Oakland in 2014 that he got his feet under him, posting a 3.08 ERA in duty split between starting and relieving. The Athletics traded him to San Diego last winter, at which point he put together his best season.
Pomeranz this season has struck out 115 hitters and walked 41 in 102 innings pitched, and his adjusted ERA+ (161) ranks seventh in the major leagues, between Johnny Cueto (162) and Jose Fernandez (159).
That Pomeranz is not slated for free agency until after the 2018 season is significant. Boston didn’t have any front-end starters coming up through the upper levels of its farm system, and the free-agent market this winter was just as thin as the trade market this month.
If the Red Sox didn’t add a pitcher like Pomeranz now, it was going to be just as difficult to do so in November or December — and perhaps next July as well.
In Espinoza, the Red Sox surrender their top pitching prospect and one of the consensus top 25 prospects in the game. But Espinoza is just 18 years old, and Pomeranz himself is a reminder of just how long it can take even the most talented of prospects to put it all together — if they ever do. Espinoza posted a modest 4.38 ERA in 17 starts at Single-A Greenville, but his youth and his tools made him the most exciting pitching prospect the Red Sox had had in years.
On the same day news of the Pomeranz trade broke, however, the Red Sox reportedly signed first-round draft pick Jason Groome to an above-slot bonus. Groome was a contender for the No. 1 overall pick in June’s draft, a lefty who touches 97 with an elite curveball who fell in part due to concerns of signability.
The Pomeranz trade also came one day after multiple radar guns reportedly clocked Red Sox pitching prospect Michael Kopech at a remarkable 105 miles per hour in a start for High-A Salem — a reminder that Espinoza was hardly the only pitcher in the system with ace upside.