Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Peavy/Iglesias Trade Should Benefit Red Sox Now and in Future

The Red Sox trade of Jose Iglesias that netted them Jake Peavy is controversial to many Sox fans. After all, Iglesias had been highly touted for his defensive prowess since the Red Sox signed the Cuban defector as an international free agent in September 2009.

Defensively, Iglesias didn't disappoint, turning out to be one of the finest shortstops anyone could remember seeing in Boston. At just 23 years of age, many Sox fans looked forward to watching him vacuum up balls and save runs for at least the next decade.

However, Iglesias has always had trouble at the plate. Yet, almost miraculously, Iglesias seemed to put all those troubles behind him this season, posting a .330 average and .375 on-base percentage over 66 games.

But after a stunning July performance that saw the young shortstop batting over .400, his average has been steadily falling. That was quite predictable. No one in their right mind thought that Iglesias had suddenly turned into Ted Williams.

Over 100 career games at the major league level, Iglesias is a .281 hitter with a .333 on-base percentage. But Iglesias struggled for years in the minor leagues, showing horrible plate discipline. He routinely swung at balls out of the strike zone and missed. Not only did he consistently post poor batting averages, he also showed an inability to draw walks, resulting in a weak on-base percentage that didn't warrant time in the majors.

In essence, all too often he was an automatic out.

Entering this season, Iglesias was ranked as the 10th best prospect in the Red Sox organization. If someone had asked you back in spring training if you would trade Iglesias for Jake Peavy, I'll bet you would have enthusiastically said yes.

Peavy is a three-time All-Star. He won the Cy Young Award and the pitching Triple Crown with San Diego in 2007. The righty had a 3.25 ERA from 2002-08, though it has since jumped to 4.00. But it's important to note that Peavy has been pitching in the hitter-friendly US Cellular Field since 2009, as a member of the White Sox.

Peavy was 36-29 with a 4.00 ERA in parts of five seasons with Chicago. And in 45 starts since the beginning of 2012, prior to coming to Boston, Peavy had won 19 games and had a 3.61 ERA.

While some contend that Peavy's best days are behind him, he was an All-Star as recently as last season, finishing with an 11-12 record and a 3.37 ERA, to go along with 8.0 strikeouts and 2.0 walks per nine innings.

In his first start with Boston on Saturday, Peavy didn't disappoint, throwing seven-plus innings of two-run ball, in which he allowed just four hits. He walked two and struck out seven, throwing an economical 99 pitches in the process.

The putative reason for the trade was because Clay Buchholz has not pitched since June 8th, nearly two months ago. And Buchholz may not return until the end of August. Dr. James Andrews, who examined Buchholz last month, told the pitcher that he should only expect to make 4-5 starts during the rest of the regular season.

But Buchholz will eventually be back, and he won't be burdened by fatigue at the end of the season. The 28-year-old has thrown just 84.1 innings this year and should have a fresh arm upon his return.

The bigger issue, the one that most surely necessitated this trade, is Jon Lester.

Since May 20, Lester has just five quality starts, and two of them came in a five-day stretch in late July. In other words, Lester has been pretty ineffective for long stretches this season.

From mid-May, 2009 to September 5, 2011 (a stretch of 83 consecutive starts), Lester had a 2.79 ERA and a winning percentage over .700. But it's been pretty much downhill since.

Lester went 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in September 2011, the beginning of a worrisome downturn for the former star pitcher. In 2012, by far the worst season of Lester's career, he went 9-4 with a 4.82 ERA.

Add it all up and, since the start of the 2012 season, Lester is 19-20 with a 4.67 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP. That's not the stuff of a No. 1 pitcher. That's a No. 5 pitcher, at best.

Many Red Sox fans were hopeful that the return of John Farrell, the former pitching coach under whom Lester had his greatest success, would put the lefty's career back on track. And at the start of this season, that seemed to be the case.

Lester started the year looking like his vintage 2010 self. Over his first nine starts, the lefty went 6-0 with 2.72 ERA. But that was largely the result of a torrid April, when Lester went 4-0 with a 3.11 ERA.

Since that time, Lester has often looked unworthy of a spot in the rotation. He went 2-2 with a 3.92 ERA in May and 2-2 with a 7.62 ERA in June. That slide was alarming. However, Lester mostly righted the ship in July, going 2-2 with a 3.13 ERA.

Though he is only 29 and should be in the prime of his career, Lester has clearly regressed. He has thrown 1,306 innings for the Red Sox and perhaps that has taken its toll. Lester's fastball has lost velocity in each of the last three seasons. He can no longer just blow hitters away. Instead, he now needs to rely on guile, an element that far too often eludes him.

Lester dominated hitters from 2008 to 2010, averaging 16.7 wins, 207 innings and 201 strikeouts. That now seems like a long time ago. Since then, he seems to have gotten old really quickly.

The lefty has thrown the fourth-most pitches in the majors this season. Perhaps that's the reason for his ongoing struggles.

The Red Sox will be faced with a very interesting decision about Lester's future this offseason. The team holds a $13 million club option on Lester for 2014, with a $250,000 buyout.

He is not worth that kind of money right now, though the potential still remains. The reality is that the Sox aren't able to count on Lester or predict what kind of pitcher will take the mound on any given start; an excellent one, a good one, a mediocre one, or an awful one.

In his last 60 starts — the equivalent of two seasons — Lester is 19-23 with a 4.89 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. He has averaged 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

In the 150 games prior, Lester was 76-31 with a 3.43 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP and 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

Picking up Lester's option would also give the Sox leverage to trade him, should there be any interested takers at that price.

Though the Red Sox drafted and developed Lester, at this point there has to be a lot of frustration and disappointment upstairs at Fenway Park.

That's why obtaining Peavy may ultimately prove to be such a sage move — this season and beyond. The veteran is signed for $14.5 million in 2014, meaning he is not merely a two-month rental. That was critical to the Red Sox in making this trade.

Peavy also has a $15 million player option in 2015 that would vest if he pitches 400 innings from 2013-14, including 190 in 2014. But because he had thrown only 80 innings this season at the time of the trade, that is unlikely.

With Peavy in the fold next year, the Sox could potentially deal Lester or Ryan Dempster this offseason (the Sox have one year of control remaining on both).

Additionally, the extra year of control over Peavy allows the Sox an opportunity to make a qualifying offer (one year at approximately $14 million-$15 million) to him after next season, which would garner them a draft pick in return. That would offset the loss of at least one of the three low-level prospects also traded to obtain Peavy.

Trades are usually difficult to assess in their immediate aftermath. It usually takes a bit of time to gain the necessary perspective and accurately judge a trade on its merits. Some trades end up being perceived as lopsided and regretful for one party (think Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen). Some work out well for both parties, addressing the needs of each. And others end up serving no one, as the players involved become injured or otherwise underperform.

If the Red Sox win the World Series, or even make it to the Series, then this trade will have been a good one and GM Ben Cherington will be praised. However, if the Sox get booted from the playoffs early, and if Iglesias goes on to be a star, we may look back on this trade with regret.

I'll miss Iglesias, no doubt. He'll make hundreds of great plays over the course of his career, which will likely be a long one. And he will surely rob Sox hitters many times in the years ahead. But his bat was always in question, and his offense was falling back to earth in his final month with Boston.

Iglesias was 5 of 43 over his last 12 games, with one run scored. His last extra-base hit was on July 4. And, of his 70 hits this season, 24 were in the infield. That .400 average was fun for a while, but he was playing way out of his head.

Peavy will likely mean more to the Sox fortunes this season than Iglesias. And the Red Sox still have a wealth of talented prospects in the minors that play on the left side of the infield. Of course there's third baseman Will Middlerooks and shortstop Xander Bogaerts. But that's not all.

The Sox also have other promising shortstops in their development pipeline: Deven Marrero, the 2012 first-rounder, is at High-A Salem and Tzu-Wei Lin — a 19-year-old who signed out of Taiwan last summer for $2.05 million — is at Single-A Lowell.

In other words, even without Iglesias, the Red Sox future still looks bright. And with Jake Peavy, the present looks a whole lot brighter as well.

Put it this way, if the playoffs were to start to tomorrow, who would you rather have in the Sox four-man rotation: Jake Peavy or Jon Lester?

Yeah, I'd take Peavy too.