Why the Boston Red Sox's Trade for Jake Peavy Was a Steal

Sterling Xie@@sxie1281Correspondent IIAugust 1, 2013

SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 04:  Starting pitcher Jake Peavy #44 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on June 4, 2013 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Despite what their record indicated, the Boston Red Sox were a team walking on eggshells. The pitching staff was one injury away from catastrophe, barely holding on in the absence of their ace and two erstwhile closers.

You probably noticed the past tense verbs in the last paragraph. That's because the trade for Jake Peavy, as first reported by Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, fills the Red Sox's biggest need.

No, the 32-year-old Peavy is not a front-of-the-rotation savior. But he is a capable No. 3 starter whose arrival supplies sorely needed depth in both the rotation and the bullpen. Most importantly, Boston bolsters its immediate playoff ambitions without sacrificing any of its promising long-term prospects.

Peavy does not necessarily guarantee a World Series run for the Sox, or even ensure a postseason berth. Nevertheless, here are three factors that make the Peavy trade a bonafide steal for the Red Sox.


Fulfills a Glaring Short-Term Hole

The most obvious offshoot of the trade is the impact on the Red Sox's fragile rotation. Despite an unimpressive 4.28 ERA in 80 innings, Peavy's park-adjusted FIP (4.09) and xFIP (3.68) indicate some misfortune. Indeed, as Cliff Corcoran of SI.com points out, removing the disastrous 2.1 inning outing in which Peavy pitched through a broken rib, his ERA drops down to 3.71.

Breaking down the numbers further, Peavy has sustained his typically exemplary control, with 8.5 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 rates that are virtually identical to his All-Star campaign in 2012. After a rough patch from 2009-11, Peavy has bounced back nicely. Since 2010, the right-hander has compiled an 8.4 WAR, numbers sandwiched around the likes of Hiroki Kuroda and Dan Haren.

Even in limited innings this year, it still appears he is holding up well. Peavy's line-drive rate is among the lowest of his career at 17.6 percent, even if his fly-ball tendencies lead to too many home runs. According to BrooksBaseball.net, Peavy is still inducing a reasonably similar whiff rate as 2012:

It's slightly diminished in 2013, to be sure, and hitters are indeed making slightly more contact this season. But the peripherals are still solid, and no one really questions Peavy's effectiveness when he's healthy enough to take the mound.

That caveat looms large for Boston, given their already existing health issues with the pitching staff. The broken rib has nothing to do with Peavy's previous shoulder issues, which is certainly good news. 

In his two starts against the Tigers and Braves since coming off the DL, Peavy has allowed six earned runs in 13 innings, striking out 10 and walking two. Looking at his last start vs. Detroit, his cutter and changeup especially appeared to have good life.

Assuming no ill-effects from the rib injury, Peavy alone should have a nice impact on the Red Sox. And yet, this trade is a steal not only because of his contributions alone, but the side effects from his presence on the roster.


Indirect Bullpen Aid

Peavy's arrival allows fifth starter Brandon Workman to move to the bullpen, one of two positive consequences from the trade. Workman was a valuable stopgap in the rotation, with a 3.54 ERA in 20.1 innings. Now in the bullpen, Workman's ability to provide multiple innings will be invaluable towards lightening the considerable workloads of Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow.

More significantly, Workman is holding right-handed hitters to a .238 batting average and a .286 on-base percentage, allowing him to serve as something like a right-handed specialist if need be. Boston is a bottom-five pitching staff against right-handed hitters, an astounding stat given the dearth of left-handed pitchers earlier this season. 

Much of that damage has come from the bullpen, where Workman's 1.62 xFIP against righties indicates he should be of help. Even from a scouting perspective, his repertoire indicates someone who should be a reliable option, according to Alex Speier of WEEI:

In landing Peavy, the Red Sox likely achieved a pair of upgrades, since they not only get a starter with an established track record, but they also now have the ability to move right-hander Brandon Workman to the bullpen. In theory, at least, Workman may be able to give the Sox the right-hander who presents a tough matchup for fellow righties. 

Workman's willingness to go after opponents with his low- to mid-90s fastball, curve, changeup and cutter suggests a pitcher capable of retiring batters of either handedness. In his three starts, Workman held righties to a .231/.286/.308 line, not far from the .242/.389/.429 against him.

In addition to Peavy, the Sox acquired 26-year-old reliever Brayan Villarreal, who may also help out in that area. Villarreal has a frightening 20.77 ERA this year, but that has come in just 4.1 innings. And his career splits indicate he should be of help against righties, who have hit .220 against him in his career.

Villarreal is obviously a secondary prize in this trade, and his career 10.3 K/9 and 5.5 BB/9 rates illustrate a typical poor-control, high-power reliever. But as right-handed bullpen depth, his inclusion doesn't hurt.


Xander Bogaerts Time?

Given the rumored high price tag surrounding Peavy, it is borderline miraculous the Sox did not have to give up any significant prospects. More than a few heartbeats skipped when Jackie Bradley Jr. was pulled Tuesday night, but fortunately that was only a false alarm.  

General manager Ben Cherington's creative thinking in convincing Tigers' GM Dave Dombrowski to give up Avisail Garcia, the type of high-ceiling prospect the White Sox coveted, has to rank as one of the best moves of his tenure.

Now that is not to belittle Jose Iglesias, whose hot streak in May and June kept the Sox afloat on the left side of the infield. But over the last 30 days, Iglesias was by far the worst hitter on the team, succumbing to the regression monster with a .205/.247/.217 slash line. 

Though Boston will miss Iglesias' defensive wizardry, his departure frees up the prospect glut at third base and shortstop. For now, it appears Brock Holt will replace Iglesias at third, according to Rob Bradford of WEEI. 

In addition, the Sox still have Will Middlebrooks at Triple-A. Middlebrooks has shown improved plate discipline since his demotion, with an 8.9 percent walk rate that more than doubles the 4.2 percent rate he compiled in the majors.

However, those aren't the options the Fenway faithful are excited to see. That would be uber-prospect Xander Bogaerts, who continues to display a precocious hitting approach and development. 

Despite being just 20 years old, Bogaerts has impressed at Triple-A with a .273/.381/.473 slash line, while continuing to draw a high number of walks. When watching his at-bats, the smooth, balanced swing coupled with elite bat speed really stands out, as does his ability to spray almost anything to the opposite field:

Bogaerts is not perfect, and it will be difficult for him to immediately fulfill fans' sky-high expectations whenever he does make his debut. But he has zoomed through every minor league level, with an average of just over 300 plate appearances per level, and he has a baseball IQ that nearly matches his impressive physical tools. 

When critiquing Bogaerts' hitting approach to WEEI's Bradford, the worst Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina could muster was that he does not pull the ball perfectly:

He's like any young kid, he tries to stay inside everything. They get up here and the inner-third becomes exposed. We saw it with [Jackie Bradley Jr.] earlier in the year, 'Oh my goodness, there's an inner-third of the plate?' You have to start pulling, but pulling the right way. Xander's not there yet. He hasn't hit a ball hard down the third-base line, or hard in the hole yet. All of his balls, and especially his home run balls, have been from left-center to the right-field foul pole. That takes time. He hasn't learned that bat path yet.

In 2013, Bogaerts has also improved his glove to complement his elite bat. He'll never approach Iglesias at short, but simply adequate defense could turn him into a superstar. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Bogaerts has committed 16 errors at shortstop this year, as opposed to 42 in his age-19 season. Those numbers may not sound great, but it takes time to learn such a difficult defensive position, and Bogaerts has done so quite rapidly. 


Bottom Line

The Peavy trade may not go down in Red Sox lore as Heathcliff Slocumb for Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek. Nonetheless, this is better than almost anyone could have hoped for, as the Sox dealt from a position of strength while simultaneously reinforcing their greatest weakness.

The best kinds of trades are those that do not sacrifice any meaningful long-term gains, while also improving the short-term chances. Those trades are hard to execute and often only get recognized after the fact, when a prospect or two reaches or exceeds his ceiling. The aforementioned Slocumb trade is an example of this, as is the infamous Bartolo Colon-to-Montreal trade.

So when most people immediately identify the trade as a victory for the Red Sox, there is little to criticize. Peavy is under contract in 2014 for a reasonable $14.5 million next year, according to Spotrac.com, making him an impact arm the Sox hold for more than just the stretch run.

In a strong sellers' market, the Red Sox did better than almost any buyer. The Rangers sacrificed their top prospect and two mid-level ones to acquire Matt Garza, a pitcher of similar caliber to Peavy. 

Ultimately, Boston now has an arm they can deploy in the postseason, and they still have the plethora of minor league talent to ensure that this year's Red Sox team will not be a one-year wonder.


*Unless otherwise cited, all stats courtesy Fangraphs.com



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