Before the Red Sox committed to finding their front-of-the-rotation starter in free agency, they compared the relative cost of spending money for a pitcher like David Price as opposed to acquiring a frontline option via trade. The Sox concluded that a top-shelf free agent would be, in many ways, less expensive than a trade. How?
Consider that the Sox deemed it worth $63 million to sign Yoan Moncada, the equivalent of something like a top-five (and in some years, top overall) draft pick. A player like Blake Swihart would have even greater theoretical value, given his comparable industry prospect status and established pro track record, which now includes success at the major league level. A player like Mookie Betts or Xander Bogaerts, both of whom have shown the capacity to be a potential star at the big league level, would be worth considerably more.
Inevitably, for a young, controllable, dominant starter, teams seemed likely to need three, four, even five players, starting with an established big league centerpiece (Betts or Bogaerts), and at least two of the Sox’ most heralded young players behind them (Swihart, Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Anderson Espinoza).
The math quickly becomes clear: Moncada was worth $63 million plus whatever he’ll make in the big leagues. That value is on the low end of that group’s prospect worth given that Moncada had no track record in the States when he signed. If a player like Bogaerts or Betts could be viewed as having a value to the Sox in excess of $100 million (not unreasonable given their production relative to service-time controlled salaries, particularly for Betts, who is two years from reaching arbitration-eligibility and five years from free agency) . . . a $217 million commitment to Price started to make a lot more sense than trading for an ace – or, evidently, for a mid-rotation starter.
On Tuesday, the Diamondbacks made a shocking move, acquiring starting righthander Shelby Miller and minor league lefthander Gabe Speier (a potential reliever whose bloodlines run through a tradition of big league players as opposed to athletically deficient writers) in exchange for outfielder Ender Inciarte, righthander Aaron Blair, and shortstop Dansby Swanson, the top pick in the 2015 draft. Arizona proved willing to part with a massive haul to solidify its short-term ambitions with Miller, shortly after signing Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206 million deal.
Swanson likely represents a more valuable asset than Moncada, albeit with a lower-ceiling. The polished college product who received average, above-average, or plus grades in virtually every facet of the game is a high-probability above-average player and potential All-Star at a premium position (shortstop). Enciarte is an above-average outfielder whose primary value is wrapped up in his defense, a player somewhat comparable to Jackie Bradley Jr. but with a longer history of big league offensive success. Enciarte’s WAR exceeded that of Miller in 2015; he’s under team control for five years. Blair has a strong track record of minor league success thanks to the ability to avoid barrels of bats; he’s similar in many ways to Brian Johnson, albeit a) healthier and b) not lefthanded.
That’s 17 seasons of major league control of players with a chance to be very valuable. In exchange, Arizona got a pitcher in Miller who has three years of team control remaining before he’s a free agent and who, over the last two years, hasn’t been statistically similar to Wade Miley, as noted by @redsoxstats.
Miller performed as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter in 2015. He’s young and he’s gotten better in a way that suggests more upside (certainly more upside than Miley), but multiple evaluators view that upside as being that of maybe a very good No. 3 or possibly a No. 2 starter – not that of a potential ace. He’s not Price.
And yet one could easily conclude that the Diamondbacks committed the equivalent of somewhere in the vicinity of $150 million to $200 million worth of young talent – for three years of a player who isn’t Jose Fernandez or Chris Sale or Sonny Gray or Matt Harvey. Moreover, in strengthening their rotation, Arizona gave away a player who can improve their big league roster (Enciarte) and another who had a chance to be a depth option for 2016 (Blair), the sort of “rob Peter to pay Paul” scenario that the Red Sox wanted to avoid.
“You wouldn’t have the same players that would be in uniform now for the Boston Red Sox on Opening Day because those are the type of players that people want. And we decided we would like to keep those,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said of how he viewed the possibility of trading for an ace this offseason. “And really if you’re going to go out and sign a legitimate No. 1 starter, you’re going to have to be in a position to give the length of contract that we did. We analyzed it. We took the best risk we possibly can but also from an ownership perspective they listened and they supported what we were doing.”
If Miller sets the mid-rotation bar for starter trade value, then the cost of established, inexpensive young aces would be colossal.
David Price? For seven years of nothing but money (three if he opts out), the Red Sox felt that the cost of acquiring him was far more palatable than the idea of compromising the young up-and-coming core of cornerstones that they see as part of the same sort of sustainable framework for success.
Given the trade cost of Miller, perhaps it comes as no surprise that Dombrowski and manager John Farrell articulated their satisfaction with the current shape of the Red Sox’ rotation entering 2016. The quintet of Price, Clay Buchholz, Eduardo Rodriguez, Rick Porcello, and Joe Kelly appears to be written – at least in pencil – for April.
As Peter Abraham writes, Dombrowski said that the Red Sox are not in the market for a starting pitcher, content with the team’s current array of nine potential big league starters.
The Sox weren’t discussing Miller, writes Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com.
Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs, while acknowledging that industry consensus has been wrong before (in its evaluation that the Royals gave up too much for James Shields and Wade Davis in 2012, for instance), calls the deal a “clear, obvious mistake” by the Diamondbacks.
The Diamondbacks are in win-now mode and don’t care what anyone else thinks of the deal, writes Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.