MILWAUKEE — In early February, a few days before pitchers and catchers started showing up to Red Sox camp in Fort Myers, Fla., it was odd, funny, and yet interesting to see Travis Shaw working out.
Hey Travis, did you know you got traded to the Brewers? Shaw had bought a house in Fort Myers because he thought he might be with the Red Sox long term. But life takes different twists and turns, and Shaw was packaged with infielder Mauricio Dubon, hard-throwing righthander Jeff Pennington, and a player to be named for righthanded reliever Tyler Thornburg.
“A little shocked at first, but I think that’s the way everyone reacts,” said Shaw, who bats cleanup for the Brewers, who opened a three-game series Tuesday night with an 11-7 win over the Red Sox. “I’d just bought a home, was settled in Fort Myers. Two months later, you get traded. Obviously, I don’t get those two months at home, but it is what it is.”
Dubon is hitting .280 with 16 steals playing shortstop for Double A Biloxi, while Pennington has yet to pitch for Wisconsin, the Brewers’ Single A team, as he recovers from an elbow scope. The teams have yet to decide on the player to be named later.
As it stands, it’s easy to say the deal was a bust for the Red Sox because Thornburg has yet to throw a pitch for them because of a shoulder impingement, and he’s nowhere near attempting a comeback.
Shaw, meanwhile, has gotten off to a great start in Milwaukee’s powerful lineup, which also includes Eric Thames, the free agent signed out of South Korea after a thunderous three-year stint there. Thames has hit a National League-best 13 homers, and along with Ryan Braun (who returned to the lineup Tuesday after nursing a forearm strain) and Shaw have formed an impressive 1-2-3 punch with 27 homers among them.
Shaw’s sweet swing has been on display to the tune of seven homers and a team-leading 25 RBIs, including an RBI single Tuesday, part of a 1-for-3 night with a walk. We saw that swing over the first half of last season in Boston, after Shaw beat out Pablo Sandoval for the starting third base job out of spring training.
Shaw’s production fell off the cliff in the second half, when he hit .194. He also was horrible against lefthanded pitchers last season, hitting .187 with a .599 OPS, stats that have been flipped to a .323 average and .977 OPS this season.
“I don’t know,” Shaw said. “Maybe it’s consistent opportunity. I hit well against [lefties] in 2015. I got some opportunities early and then they went away a little bit. This year I’ve had success in spring training and got my rhythm back against them.”
The other bad look here for the Red Sox is third base has been the black hole of the offense and defense, as Sandoval got off to a less-than-stellar start and is now on the disabled list. The Sox also have used Brock Holt, Marco Hernandez, Josh Rutledge, Steve Selsky, and Deven Marrero at third this season. They are eagerly awaiting 20-year-old third base prospect Rafael Devers.
Red Sox third basemen this season had hit .221 with three homers, 14 RBIs, and a .601 OPS (which ranks 28th in the majors) entering Tuesday. They also have made 12 errors. Shaw isn’t the greatest third baseman. In fact, he’s a much better first baseman. But Thames has that position wrapped up as long as he’s shocking the majors with his power. Shaw has committed four errors at third base this season, which the Red Sox would take right now.
Asked if he’s been paying attention to the Red Sox’ third base situation, Shaw said, “I still keep in touch with some of the players and I’ve read some stuff about it, but I don’t think one way or another about it. I’m just trying to prove I’m an everyday player. I come in here every day and I’m in there whether it’s lefty or righty. It’s done a lot for my confidence knowing they have that kind of faith in me.”
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski traded for Thornburg, feeling the Red Sox needed a setup man after Koji Uehara signed with the Cubs, and also as the team waited for Carson Smith to recover fully from Tommy John surgery. Thornburg had a successful run with the Brewers as a setup man, and then became the closer last season and saved 13 games, but also blew eight save opportunities.
It’s always a tricky proposition to deal for a reliever because of the general inconsistencies in performance from year to year. Dubon, meanwhile, is projected as a very good major leaguer.
Sure, right now the deal doesn’t look so good. Shaw is on pace to hit 35 homers and knock in 122 runs. But what if Shaw falls off the cliff again? What if Thornburg returns and is a force in the Sox’ bullpen?
Shaw, meanwhile, said he learned a lot from last season.
“Control what I can control,” he said. “I started thinking about stuff that was out of my control, like front office stuff. Moves, that kind of stuff. And I got away from what I needed to do every day to prepare. You struggle a little bit and your try to over-correct. You struggle to stay in the lineup and then it just spiraled out of control from there. I learned a lot about myself the last couple of months of the season. Learned what I needed to do to get ready to play every day, and with experience comes wisdom and I think I’ll be better for it.”
It’s too early to evaluate the wisdom of the deal, but as we write this, the Red Sox could use Shaw, who never wanted to say goodbye.