Earlier this afternoon, the Boston Red Sox traded lefty reliever Franklin Morales and minor league pitcher Chris Martin for 29-year old infielder Jonathan Herrera. While obviously this isn’t exactly a huge trade, it does hint at which dominoes may or may not fall before spring training. Let’s take a quick look at what this means for the Red Sox going forward:
Bullpen loses Franklin Morales
I liked Morales a lot. He was efficient in his time with Sox (3.90 ERA, 8.6 K/9 in 134 innings) and was a nice lefty situational player (.194 BA to lefties over his career).
But if you’re like me, and you watched Morales in the second half of the season and in the postseason, you were waiting for this shoe to drop. Not only was his play inconsistent last season (to be fair he was constantly battling injury) but he had fallen way down the line in the bullpen, and Craig Breslow and a healthy Andrew Miller were going to log most of the lefty reliever innings this season.
Where this does have some effect is who gets the odd spot start throughout the season. Now that Morales is gone (and now that we’ll never suffer through another Ace Aceves game again), the Red Sox are left with Ryan Dempster and Brandon Workman as their top swingmen (though it’s hard to believe the Red Sox will enter the season with 6 starters, so who knows). It also means that Sox fans will have a higher chance of seeing one of the Sox’s star pitching prospects step up to the majors for the odd start.
2. Farm system loses Chris Martin
I also liked Chris Martin, but there’s nothing to see here. The 27-year old was a solid AAA reliever, but with the bevy of pitching prospects racing up the ranks, he didn’t have a great chance at cracking the Red Sox bullpen, let alone the rotation. With Colorado (who actually drafted him in 2005), Martin will have a better shot at reaching the majors, and we wish him the best of luck.
3. Red Sox infield gains Jonathan Herrera
Basically in every Red Sox article I’ve written since the World Series, I’ve ranted and raved about how the priority for the Sox should be to find a solid defensive backup for Will Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts, and now, well, here he is.
The 29-year old’s natural position is second, but he’s spent time at shortstop and third as well. He was a solid utility player for Colorado, hitting .292/.336/.364 in 215 plate apperances last season. While we shouldn’t be expecting any hitting prowess from Herrera (though plenty of people said that about Iggy), he’s got a great glove, though just the fact that he has some versatility defensively is enough to make this trade certainly worth it.
Just on this trade in a vacuum, I’d probably give the Red Sox a B/B+. But more important is….
4. What does this mean for Stephen Drew and Will Middlebrooks?
As the roster sits now, the Red Sox are set in their infield. Bogaerts, Napoli, and Pedroia are complete certainties, with Mike Carp, Herrera, and Brock Holt/Jonathan Diaz able to start in a pinch. That leaves free agent shortstop Stephen Drew on the outside looking in. I’ve written A LOT about Drew’s situation with Boston, and the one thing the trade for Herrera does is solve the depth question (and eliminate the need to do a ride the hot hand offense amongst three infielders). With the Red Sox uncomfortably close to the luxury tax line, and given Drew’s likely price tag, they may have moved on for good.
But….there’s still the possibility that Drew comes back, but it would almost certainly mean that the Red Sox have given up on Will Middlebrooks. If they have a trade lined up with a team needing a third baseman (there are a few) and feel that Bogaerts/Drew would be a better deal for the future, then they may wait out the market and swing both deals at once.
(Now, that’s pretty much the end of the news. I’m about to do some Middlebrooks ranting)
If I’m Ben Cherington (putting on my ornate crown, sitting in an armchair filled with goose feathers and angels’ wings) and I’ve made this trade for Herrera, then I’ve already made my decision and it’s an easy one.
Let’s be cold and analytical: Will Middlebrooks’ trade value is at the lowest it’s ever been. His injuries bothered him all year, and his mid-season minor league stint was demoralizing. Garin Cecchini is flying up the minor league ranks, and is an OBP machine with a good glove. From a purely financial standpoint, it would be silly to sign Drew for a multi-year deal (which he’ll almost certainly ask for) because it clogs third base/short stop. If Middlebrooks really is a failure, then fine. Plug in Herrera for a while, and wait until Cecchini/Devin Marrero is ready, or deal one of my pitching prospects for a better one.
Now let’s not be cold and analytical (hot and dumb?). Midd is entering HIS THIRD FREAKING SEASON. HE’S 25 YEARS OLD. How often do we see cheap 25-year-olds with plus-plus-power potential, let alone at third base? In his rookie season, he hit .288/.325/.509 with 15 HR and 54 RBI in only 75 games. Last season was a bit of a disaster, as pitchers started to pick up in the holes in his swing and he battled to stay healthy. But, despite not picking up consistent AB, Middlebrooks still hit .276/.329/.476 after the All-Star Break. Based on Middlebrooks’ cold stats, I’d take him over Drew. But throw in his potential, and the fact that the Sox still haven’t seen a full year from him, and the choice is all that more easy.
Middlebrooks wants to improve his swing, he wants to work hard, he wants to get better. And most importantly he wants to do it in Boston. He’s young, he clearly wants to prove himself. His trade value can’t get lower than it is now. Worst case scenario they dump him next season and wait for Cecchini. But the best case? Middlebrooks has already shown he has immense power, and he can work on his approach at the plate to up his average as well. And with the Red Sox’ offense being what it is, he doesn’t need to be the man right away, but can learn from some of the best, and become a better hitter without struggling under immense pressure.
This trade for Herrera signals that the Red Sox are indeed banking on that latter hope, and are willing to bet on the immense upside of their youngsters, rather than shelling out millions in free agency.