Dave Dombrowski made a bold move to acquire a top-flight closer in exchange for four prospects. This is not the first time that the Boston Red Sox have made such a trade. Brandon Magee breaks down the previous four-for-one trade for Adrian Gonzalez and compares it to the Craig Kimbrel trade.
Five years ago, the Boston Red Sox and the San Diego Padres made a trade, with four players leaving the Red Sox and one superstar heading to Boston. Last week, the Red Sox and Padres made another trade, with four players leaving the Red Sox and one superstar heading to Boston. With five years of perspective, we look back at the trade that brought Adrian Gonzalez to Boston and the lessons we can take from it and apply to the Craig Kimbrel trade.
The Gonzalez Trade
On December 6, 2010, the Red Sox traded for Adrian Gonzalez, the 28-year old first baseman who had finished fourth in the 2010 National League MVP race after batting .298/.393/.511 with 31 home runs. In return, Boston sent San Diego three top prospects: 2008 1st round draft pick Casey Kelly, a right-handed pitcher who was one of the top 50 prospects in the game according to both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus; Anthony Rizzo, a first baseman who was ranked as one of the top 75 prospects in the game by BA and BP; and 2009 1st round draft pick Reymond Fuentes, an outfielder who had put up very respectable numbers as a 19-year old in Greenville. The trade was finished off with the inclusion of Eric Patterson, a major league utility man whose main value was his positional versatility.
Gonzalez did not disappoint the Red Sox in his first season with the club, batting .338/.410/.548 with a league leading 213 hits, winning an All-Star Game appearance, a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger, finishing 7th in the MVP race, and earning a new seven-year contract that paid $21 million dollars per season. Of course, the Red Sox did disappoint, falling off a cliff in September and failing to make the playoffs for a second consecutive season and resulting in a change in Yawkey Way leadership, with both GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona moving to different positions outside the Red Sox organization.
Gonzalez regressed in 2012, batting .300/.343/.469 over 123 games with the Red Sox. The main cause of his line regressing was a plummeting walk rate, collecting only 31 base on balls. His short Red Sox career would end on August 25, when he was sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers along with Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto in a trade that cleared payroll and cleared the stage for Ben Cherington’s 2012-13 free agency bonanza, which led to a World Championship.
Gonzalez has settled in nicely for the Dodgers, putting up an .803 OPS in 2013 (earning him some votes in the NL MVP race), an .817 OPS in 2014 (with a Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, and a 7th place position in the MVP race) and an .830 OPS in 2015 (with an All-Star Game appearance). With three more seasons left on the seven year contract Gonzalez signed with the Red Sox, the Dodgers will be happy with Gonzalez, providing he continues his 4.0 bWAR per season performance.
As for the four players traded, Eric Patterson proved that versatility is not a means to an end, putting up a .564 OPS in his last major league season in 2011. Since then, Patterson has been unable to hold onto a job in the affiliated minors, spending the majority of 2013 and all of the 2014 and 2015 seasons with York of the independent Atlantic League.
Immediately following the trade in 2011, Anthony Rizzo tore up the Pacific Coast League, putting up a line of .331/.404/.652 with 26 home runs in Tucson. His first foray into the Majors, however, was less than fantastic. Over 49 games with the Padres, Rizzo hit .141/.281/.242. It would be his only season with the team, as the Chicago Cubs (and new boss Theo Epstein) would trade Andrew Cashner for him in early 2012. Rizzo would blossom with the Cubs, with a pair of MVP quality performances in the last two seasons.
Casey Kelly put up reasonable numbers in the AA Texas League in 2011 and would move up to AAA to start 2012, where a strained elbow put him on the disabled list early in the season. He would make it to the majors in August of that season, but an injury in spring training of 2013 led to Tommy John surgery and the loss of an entire season. Kelly would make it back to the majors in September 2015, where he pitched in three games for the Padres.
Fuentes had mediocre minor league seasons in 2011 and 2012 for San Diego, before breaking out in 2013 with the AA San Antonio Missions. A 1.006 OPS led to a promotion to AAA Tucson and then to San Diego, where Fuentes batted .152/.222/.152 in 23 games. It has been Fuentes’s only major league action, as he spent all of 2014 in the minors with San Diego and all of 2015 with the minors with the Kansas City Royals. At 25-year old to begin the 2016 season, Fuentes still has a chance to carve out a Major League career.
Trades are often praised or mocked as soon as they happen, but as time passes, perspective changes. The Gonzalez trade was considered a win-win, with the Red Sox gaining an elite offensive performer and the Padres gaining a trio of highly regarded young prospects. Five years later, the trade almost could be considered a lose-lose. Gonzalez was only with the Red Sox for two years before being traded away. The Padres traded away Anthony Rizzo after only a year, gaining a serviceable starter in Andrew Cashner for a player who appears to be a perennial MVP candidate. Kelly has been largely injured during his time with the Padres, limiting his potential. Fuentes has received a brief cup of coffee, but is also no longer with the organization. With the ability of hindsight, the real winner of this trade may be Theo Epstein, who not only traded away the best prospect in Anthony Rizzo, he then traded for him a year later.
The Kimbrel Trade
Since his debut in 2010, Kimbrel has been THE elite closer in the National League. In his first four full seasons, Kimbrel led the NL in saves (averaging 46 per season), earning All-Star appearances and Cy Young votes each year and MVP votes in the first three seasons. While his 2015 season with San Diego was slightly less fantastic, a 1.045 WHIP and 13 K/9 innings are only worrisome to those who worry about California sliding into the ocean.
With a bWAR averaging nearly 2.5 in his five full seasons, the Red Sox will be very happy with Kimbrel as long as he performs as the elite closer he has been. With three years of control at approximately $13 million per season, Kimbrel could be considered a bargain by the end of 2018.
The Red Sox sent four minor league players to the Padres for Kimbrel, all of whom have the potential to impact the Major Leagues.
Manuel Margot, a centerfielder, was the only one of the four ranked in the top 100 by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com coming into the 2015 season. Margot had a good season with the Red Sox in 2015, batting .276/.324/.419 with the High-A Salem Red Sox and the AA Portland Sea Dogs. Margot has the potential to be a power/speed guy, hitting 42 extra-base hits and stealing 39 bases this season.
Javier Guerra had a breakout season with the A-Ball Greenville Drive, batting .279/.329/.449 in his first year of full-season ball. Guerra showed surprising power out of his shortstop position, hitting 23 doubles and 15 home runs. Guerra also showed a boom or bust mentality, striking out 112 times in 434 at bats.
Drafted in the 8th round of the 2015 Draft, Logan Allen pitched in eight games in the Gulf Coast League and for the Lowell Spinners. His 26 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings certainly showed a great deal of potential.
Carlos Asuaje is the veteran of the crew heading out west. Asuaje was an Eastern League All-Star in his first AA season, batting .251/.334/.374 while playing primarily at second base. However, Asuaje has shown positional versatility for the Red Sox, playing a nearly equal number of games at 2nd, 3rd, and LF in 2014 for the Greenville Drive and Salem Red Sox.
It is not hard to see a number of similarities between these two trades, five years apart. Besides the obvious comparison of one superstar being traded to the Red Sox with four players moving out west to San Diego, the nature of the four players also tend to match up. In the Gonzalez trade, Kelly and Rizzo were top 75 MLB prospects; in the Kimbrel trade, Margot and Guerra are likely to be Top 100 MLB prospects when the rankings come out. Logan Allen compares well with Reymond Fuentes, recently drafted players whose potential is in the future. And, while Asuaje is still in the minor leagues, his positional flexibility is reminiscent of Patterson’s versatility.
What lessons can we take from the 2010 trade as we attempt to analyze the Kimbrel trade?
- The Red Sox paid a higher price for a single season of Adrian Gonzalez in 2010 than they did for three seasons of Craig Kimbrel.
With a pair of Top 75 prospects, an additional first round pick and a fungible major league player, the 2010 haul for the Padres was clearly better. The Padres received major league play from all four players within the first three years of the trade and both Patterson and Rizzo played for the Padres in 2011. Guerra and Margot are likely to be at lower positions on the MLB Top 100 list than Rizzo and Kelly were in 2010. Allen, while impressive in his debut season, was only an 8th round draft pick while Fuentes was a first round pick. Additionally, Patterson was a major league player, something that Asuaje can only hope to become. While it is unlikely that none of the four prospects ever suit up for the Padres, it is likely that they will not suit up for them this season.
It should be noted that prospect ratings are hardly determinative of the future. It should also be noted that prospect ratings are, at best, a decent guess of future production if everything goes perfectly. Furthermore, ratings carry the biases of the rater, for better or worse. One should always take ratings with a grain of salt. The haul that San Diego received in the Kimbrel trade may very well end up as better major league players than the ones received in the Gonzalez trade.
Of course, as we discovered looking back at the Gonzalez trade, prospects can progress quickly, slowly or even regress or get injured.
- Pitchers are fragile
This isn’t really new knowledge. However, the big prize for San Diego in the Gonzalez trade was Kelly, who missed a large portion of 2012, all of 2013 and most of 2014 with injury. While he did make it back to the majors this season, much of his value at the time of the trade has been lost due to injury.
Obviously, this statement hits both teams. The Red Sox certainly know the damage that losing a closer can cause – one needs to look no further than the loss of Koji Uehara this past season. With Logan Allen, the Padres picked up a lottery ticket arm who is far from the majors. The number of injuries that have wrecked the path of great pitching prospects in the minors is innumerable.
- Trade depth
The 2010 trade saw the Red Sox trade top prospects… but prospects that could have helped the team in the near term. Anthony Rizzo was the only prospect that was truly blocked and only because of whom the Red Sox were receiving. Kelly was the Red Sox top starting prospect and was already pitching in AA. Fuentes was far off, but was potentially in line to be the heir apparent to Jacoby Ellsbury in 2014.
The 2015 trade, on the other hand, was made directly from depth. Margot was not only blocked in centerfield by Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. who are already in Boston, but had also been eclipsed in the minors by Andrew Benintendi. Guerra was blocked at shortstop by Xander Bogaerts. While Asuaje has the ability to play multiple positions, his prospect status at 2nd base falls below that of Yoan Moncada. And Logan Allen showed fantastic potential this year, but he certainly falls below Anderson Espinoza on the young pitching prospect list.
- No one really knows anything.
Looking back at the Gonzalez trade, no one could have predicted all the movement the players in that trade would undergo in just five seasons. Gonzalez was supposed to be the next great Red Sox player, the next David Ortiz or Dustin Pedroia. Kelly was going to be the next great major league starter. Rizzo is the next great first baseman, but not for San Diego.
The future is not predictable. Kimbrel could suffer an injury in spring training and never pitch for the Red Sox. Margot could stop progressing. Guerra’s power could have been a fluke. Allen could be in the majors in two seasons. While none of this is highly likely, all of it is possible.
That is, after all, why they play the games.