Red Sox

Dave Dombrowski has a history of trading prospects, but dealing talented Anderson Espinoza still comes as a surprise

The Red Sox sent their most promising pitching prospect in years to the Padres straight-up for 27-year-old lefty Drew Pomeranz. It had better work.

Drew Pomeranz has had a breakthrough season with the Padres, but can he sustain it now that he's with the Red Sox?

COMMENTARY

We won’t be surprised again. Maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised this time.

Dave Dombrowski acquired 27-year-old lefthander Drew Pomeranz from the San Diego Padres Thursday night for 18-year-old righthander Anderson Espinoza, and the decent sample-size of immediate responses suggested a wave of trauma all around New England.

Hey, Sox got Pomeranz. Nice pickup. Saw him at the All-Star Game. He should help. It’s surely the end of you now, Buchholz!

[Pause]

[Whut?]

[Number 1 Sox Fan! mug drops to the floor, shatters into a million pieces]

Omigod he gave up Espinoza! What in the name of Lou Gorman is Dombrowski doing?!

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[Picks up mug, patiently glues it back together, drops it again during a second wave of shock and disgust.]

OK, maybe it didn’t go quite that way, but it’s an understandable presumption based on the Twitter reaction to the deal. (And every household does have that mug, you know.) Espinoza is a prospect maven’s darling, rated third or fourth in the Red Sox’ rich system. His reputation was only enhanced in fans’ eyes by an enthusiastic endorsement from Pedro Martinez, which is always the gateway to a daydream.

If Pedro likes him … well, maybe he’s like Pedro! Comps to Pedro are unfair — there’s only one Pedro, now and forever — but Espinoza seemed have the potential to flash to the major leagues and become a sensation before he could legally enjoy an adult beverage.

He is the Red Sox’ best pitching prospect since Clay Buchholz, and no, that is not a punch line. Put it this way: Red Sox fans (not to mention the Red Sox’ designated hitter) openly covet Miami’s Jose Fernandez. Espinoza probably will not be the next Fernandez. But there’s enough electricity in his arm that it is plausible to dream he could be. We’ve been waiting for someone with his promise for years, if not decades.

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If you’re a Red Sox fan, you hate to see him go.

Now that promise — and the wildly fun hope that it may someday be fulfilled — belongs to Padres fans. As a franchise with little hope this year, they have to love this trade. The Red Sox, of course, made this trade because of hopes for this year. Hell, if Pomeranz bombs, he’ll still be better than some of the stiffs they’ve run out there.

And he probably will not bomb.

Pomeranz is a pedigreed — he was the No. 5 pick in 2010 — prime-of-career lefty who had moderate success with the A’s the past two seasons (3.08 ERA in 73 games, 19 as a starter) before finding his groove with the Padres this year. He’s been exceptional (2.47 ERA, 1.06 WHIP in 102 IP), but he is accompanied by significant risk. He’s had shoulder issues in the past, he’s already surpassed his previous career high in major league innings this year, his walk rate is high and his BABIP low, he was pitching in San Diego’s home run graveyard, and he must prove that his newfound success as a starter is sustainable.

Is the pitcher that Pomeranz has been this year who he will be going forward? If so, the deal will ultimately be palatable, and we can say that without knowing when Espinoza (who has a 4.38 ERA in Single A this year) will reach the majors and what he will be when he does — if he does. With pitchers, even the most promising among them, you never know how it’s going to go. Pomeranz, blooming late himself, is evidence of that.

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But the price feels steep — and that’s because it is. We’ve lauded Dombrowski for his knack for going out and getting the player he wants — Craig Kimbrel in December, or Brad Ziegler and Aaron Hill on lesser scales recently — without fiddling around. But those deals were easy to like in part because they didn’t cost elite prospects. (The Kimbrel deal cost four players, including, Manuel Margot, but the Red Sox were dealing from depth.)

This one did, and it brought back a talented pitcher who happens to be something less than a sure thing. This is the downside of Dombrowski’s boldness in going out and getting his guy.

This trade is intriguing and worrisome and fascinating. What it cannot be — or what any future trades like it cannot be — is a surprise. This is who dealin’ Dave Dombrowski is, and it’s what he does, at least — or especially — when he helms a big payroll team with immediate postseason aspirations. Frustration that Espinoza is gone is an understandable reaction. But genuine, gobsmacked surprise should be a response only if you are unfamiliar with Dombrowski’s work.

We knew he was going to trade a prospect with whom we were smitten at one point or another. Thursday night, the hammer dropped. Anderson Espinoza, Pedro-approved and Baseball America-touted, is the Padres’ new hope.

And now, strangely, Pomeranz arrives in Boston with the obligation not just to help this year, but to make us forget about a kid who has taken the mound in the big leagues only in our imaginations.

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