The Red Sox improved their roster in a significant way in Friday night, acquiring dominant closer Craig Kimbrel from the San Diego Padres. But the price was steep.
The Sox traded two of their top prospects in Single A shortstop Javier Guerra and Double A outfielder Manuel Margot. The Padres also obtained well-regarded infielder Carlos Asuaje and lefthander Logan Allen.
“We gave up a lot of good, young players but we also thought that of course you’re going to give some quality to get quality,” Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said.
Kimbrel said he was caught off guard by the trade but welcomed the idea of pitching in Boston and the American League.
“I’m excited. It’s a league of big bats and as a pitcher you want the opportunity to face those big bats,” he said. “It’s an opportunity and I’m looking forward to it.”
The Red Sox have Kimbrel under control for three more seasons. He is due $11 million for 2016 and $13 million for ’17. There is a $13 million team option for 2018 or a $1 million buyout.
The Red Sox, according to multiple reports, were engaged in talks with the Cincinnati Reds regarding closer Aroldis Chapman, who is signed for only one more season.
“The years of control do make a difference,” Dombrowski said. “We look to him to be our guy back there for years to come.”
Kimbrel has 224 saves over the last five seasons, the most in baseball by a wide margin. His presence should significantly improve a bullpen that was one of the worst in the game last season.
The Red Sox focused on the idea of trading for Kimbrel during organizational meetings last month, feeling the acquisition of a top-shelf closer was necessary. In July, former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington had engaged the Padres in talks for Kimbrel. But the Padres elected to hold on to him.
“When we look at Craig, we look at him as a premium closer,” Dombrowski said. “There are various names out there but [he’s] one of the best.”
Dombrowski said the Red Sox would shift incumbent closer Koji Uehara into a setup role.
Uehara, who turns 41 in April, supports the move.
“I’m fine!” he wrote in a text message.
Uehara then wrote on Twitter that the move was necessary for the Sox to become champions and he would do his best in whatever role he was given.
He gave the same message to manager John Farrell, who called Uehara after the trade was completed.
Dombrowski said the trade likely represents the only major move that would be made with the bullpen.
“I can’t say we won’t do some tweaking as time goes on,” he said.
With Kimbrel, Uehara, and Junichi Tazawa available to pitch the final innings, the Red Sox could have the kind of deep and talented bullpen that is so important in the postseason.
The Sox are Kimbrel’s third team in a span of just over seven months. He had a dominant run with the Atlanta Braves from 2010-2014, posting a 1.43 earned run average and saving 186 games. He made the All-Star team four times and was the 2011 National League Rookie of the Year.
Kimbrel led the NL in saves four years in a row starting in 2011.
The rebuilding Braves traded Kimbrel and outfielder Melvin Upton to the Padres last April 5, a day before the season started. He was 4-2 with a 2.58 ERA and 39 saves in 61 appearances.
“It’s part of the game. The more we look at the game, I think there’s players being moved around a lot more,” Kimbrel said. “From my view, especially being out of the bullpen, it’s become more common in the last few years.”
Kimbrel has maintained his fastball velocity at 96-97 miles per hour for the last five years, with a peak of 99. His is the kind of power arm that Dombrowski values.
Red Sox senior vice president of baseball operations Frank Wren was Atlanta’s general manager in 2008, the year Kimbrel was drafted out of a junior college in Alabama.
Margot, 21, hit .276 with 42 extra-base hits for Double A Portland and Single A Salem last season. Most analysts rank him among the top 50 prospects in the game.
With young outfielders Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. on the major league roster, Margot was somewhat expendable.
Guerra, 20, hit .279 with 15 home runs and 68 RBIs for Salem and was named the best defensive shortstop in the South Atlantic League by Baseball America.
Asuaje, 24, was an Eastern League All-Star for Portland, hitting .251 with eight home runs and 61 RBIs.
Allen, 18, was selected in the June draft in the eighth round. He had a 1.11 ERA in eight starts in his professional debut with the GCL Red Sox and Single A Lowell.
After trading the prospects, Dombrowski predicted the Red Sox would fill the hole atop their rotation with a free agent.
He went into the offseason believing the bullpen would be improved via trade and the rotation via free agency.
“You never can tell, but that’s what my instincts tell me,” Dombrowski said.