The Red Sox haven’t even traded Mookie Betts yet, and I’m already reluctantly thinking about the acceptance stage of baseball grief. If, or when, they trade him, and they should not, at least it will be interesting to see what new baseball boss Chaim Bloom can get in return.
His former employer, the Tampa Bay Rays, sure did have a knack for finding talent in all sorts of ways.
Ah, heck, forget acceptance. I’m going to stay over here in the denial stage. The Red Sox can’t trade the most complete player they’ve developed in the draft era just because he wants to be paid like . . . well, the most complete player they’ve developed in the draft era. He’s already a Red Sox great, and he hasn’t even had his age-27 season yet. Do not trade Mookie, Chaim. Work that ol’ Rays talent-procurement-on-the-cheap wizardry elsewhere.
Like, say, with this expensive, flawed pitching staff, the real reason the Red Sox crumbled in 2019, a year after winning 108 games and blowing through the Yankees, Astros, and Dodgers in the postseason.
I almost spit out my Dunkin’s when I read colleague Peter Abraham’s breakdown of the Sox’ pitching staff Monday and he pointed out that the Sox got 28 wins, 29 losses, and a 4.97 ERA from Chris Sale, David Price, Nate Eovaldi, and Rick Porcello for $85 million in ’19. I knew it was a disaster, but not a $3 million per win disaster. The Rays entire payroll was $52.2 million, per baseball-reference.
Rather than fretting about what he might get for Betts, it’s more productive to consider how Bloom might repair this team’s biggest flaw: quality depth on the pitching staff. Looking at how the 96-win Rays built their unconventional staff — and assuming Bloom had a wisdom-contributing role in player procurement in cahoots with general manager Erik Neander and the Rays’ other front-office collaborators — offers reason for optimism in repairing the Red Sox rotation. I’m looking forward to seeing what Bloom and his staff can come up with for helpful pitching finds.
The ’19 Rays had 14 pitchers start a game, seven making more than 10 starts. It seems a fait accompli to me that the Red Sox will sometimes use an opener in ’20, especially when the current leading candidates for the No. 5 spot are Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez, neither of whom performed like big leaguers last season.
Let’s take a look at the seven Rays who made at least 10 starts:
Charlie Morton (33 starts): Morton just keeps getting better as he ages. The 35-year-old finished third in the American League in ERA (3.03) and fifth in wins (16) and strikeouts (240). A favorite of Red Sox manager Alex Cora from their time together in Houston, he joined the Rays on a two-year, $30 million deal last winter that includes a vesting option for 2021 ($15 million). He signed that deal 15 days after the Red Sox committed $68 million to Eovaldi. What a bargain.
Ryne Stanek (27 starts): Yup, twenty-seven starts, but just 55⅔ innings, pitching to a 3.40 ERA. This is what an opener looks like, folks, and he was a good one. Stanek was one of 11 Rays pitchers with an adjusted ERA of 103 or better, meaning they were 3 percent above league average. The Red Sox had seven, the first three of which (Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, and Marcus Walden) were relievers.
Blake Snell (23 starts): The former 21-game winner and 2018 American League Cy Young winner had elbow surgery during the season but still finished with 147 K’s in 107 innings. He’s not as young as you think — he turns 27 next month — but he’s a better bounce-back candidate than any of the older pitchers the Red Sox are counting on. He’s also an example of hitting it big on a pitcher taken high in the draft (No. 52 2011), something the Red Sox have failed at time and again. No one is going to whine about the Red Sox’ 2011 draft — among their picks were Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Barnes — but Snell did go 16 picks after Henry Owens. Ugh. The last high pitching draft choice to develop as a starter was Clay Buchholz, who made his debut 12 years ago, and even he was maddening.
Yonny Chirinos (18 starts): Nine-game winner proved a nice find and a developmental success story for an organization that signed him way back in 2012 as an amateur free agent.
Ryan Yarbrough (14 starts): I love how the Rays have used this guy over his two seasons, during which he’s won 27 games and pitched nearly 300 innings despite making just 20 starts in his 66 appearances. It kind of reminds me of Bob Stanley during his late-’70s/early-’80s rubber-armed days with the Sox. Yarbrough pitched at least seven innings in five of his starts, but when he was used in relief, he was usually deployed in four- and five-inning increments. He’s a different kind of work horse, and he’s good at it. The Red Sox could use a Ryan Yarbrough. Asking for two would be greedy.
Tyler Glasnow (12 starts): The longtime Pirates top prospect was shaping up to be a righthanded ace counterpart to Snell early in the season, got hurt in May (forearm tightness), but was just as effective when he returned, finishing with a 6-1 record and 1.78 ERA. The Rays acquired Glasnow and slugging outfielder Austin Meadows (33 homers) from the Pirates at the July 2018 trading deadline for pitcher Chris Archer.
That has a chance to be the Rays’ version of the Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb trade.
Brendan McKay (12 starts): The No. 4 pick in the 2014 draft is questing to be the first two-way player since . . . well, since Shohei Ohtani, I suppose. It’s a cool quest, but given his .697 OPS in 154 minor-league games, it may be one that goes unfulfilled on the hitting side. As a pitcher, though, his promise is obvious and near fulfillment; he put up a 6-0 record and 1.10 ERA across two levels last year before going 2-4 with a 5.14 ERA in spot duty with the Rays.
The way the Rays find, develop, and deploy their pitchers is impressive on all counts, and it goes beyond the seven starters. Closer Emilio Pagan came in a three-way deal with the Rangers and A’s in which the Rays gave up no one of current note. Adam Kolarek was a stellar reliever who was traded during the season to the Dodgers; he was originally added after getting released by the Braves. And I doubt the Rays have remorse about dealing Eovaldi to the Red Sox for Jalen Beeks, who went 6-3 with a 4.31 ERA for a $556,000 salary.
It looks to me as if the Red Sox have the right person in place to find quality pitchers in various different ways. If Bloom can add two or three quality pitchers to this team and keep the Betts/J.D. Martinez/Rafael Devers/Xander Bogaerts core intact, they should be a playoff team again, presuming at least one of the holdover starters returns to form.
I trust him to get pitching. I trust no one to deal Mookie.