BOSTON — The Red Sox and Kansas City Royals were rumored this past offseason to be in trade talks involving then-Kansas City prospect slugger Wil Myers and Boston starting pitcher Jon Lester.
But it never actually was too realistic for the Red Sox to trade Lester and another pitcher to KC for Myers because they didn’t have an immediate replacement for Lester within the organization.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, had not just one but two ready pitchers to replace All-Star starter James Shields. Myers ended up being shipped to Tampa Bay along with three other prospects for Shields and Wade Davis, who was relieving for the Rays but is starting for the Royals.
Shields was a huge part of the Rays’ rotation and success since 2008. He finished third for the AL Cy Young in 2011. But the Rays needed another big bat for their lineup (their offense has been their weakness for years) and they were in need of dumping salary. They were able to part with an All-Star starting pitcher without hindering their team because they had Alex Cobb and Chris Archer in their own system who immediately could provide similar production as Shields did
Losing pitchers such as Shields and Matt Garza hasn’t hurt the Rays at all. Tampa has had a revolving door going from the minors to their mound since 2008.
Tampa’s depth should be envied by everyone, including the Red Sox, although Boston’s pitching depth in the higher levels of the minors has increased this season after three or four down years.
“We have an inventory (of pitchers) that most other teams would envy,” Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey told The Eagle-Tribune. “That certainly is our lifeblood. That’s our strength and we can deal from a position of strength. And when you’re able to allow a guy like James Shields to go ahead and move on and feel pretty comfortable that you can plug that hole, (that’s helpful).
“That’s a pretty big hole to fill. But it’s also a pretty nice feeling to have when you know Matt Moore’s going to step up a little bit and Jeremy Hellickson’s going to step up a little bit and guys like Alex Cobb and Chris Archer are going to help. You’re not looking for one guy to step in and throw 225 innings. It’s certainly a big gamble — and a big reward, I’ll say.”
Even after dealing Shields, the Rays still have two legit aces in Moore and David Price.
Myers, meanwhile, looks like a big reward. Myers is batting .322 with five homers and 21 RBIs since his call up June 18.
Again, he might very well have been a big reward for the Red Sox had they felt comfortable enough with their pitching depth/talent in the higher levels of their farm system to part with Lester who obviously had a disappointing 2012 season and has continued to be inconsistent this year. The Red Sox have been winning over the past two months despite Lester.
The Red Sox are getting to the point where they actually might be able to have that same sort of revolving door in terms of starting pitching and therefore, have more ability to execute a trade if an attractive one is presented.
Six of Boston’s top 10 prospects are pitchers and that is not even including 24-year-old Brandon Workman who is with Boston right now starting games in place of the injured Clay Buchholz.
Of those six, four of them (Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Matt Barnes and Anthony Ranaudo) are either in Double-A and Triple-A. Both Workman, Webster and De La Rosa all have the ability to start next year in Boston’s rotation, although De La Rosa is more apt to pitch out of the bullpen.
The other two, Henry Owens and recent draft-pick Trey Ball, are still a long way from the big leagues.
All that said, if that Lester/Myers deal had been presented to Boston under their current circumstance, they might have been more willing to do it (that’s if KC had been willing and the Red Sox had provided the better package).
Tampa’s success shows that arguably the most crucial part of building a baseball team is drafting and developing pitchers. Hickey gives the more credit to drafting over developing.
“There’s certainly a key in what they (Tampa scouts/baseball operations) look for in terms of drafting pitchers and I think that should get the lion’s share of the credit for our successful run of pitching,” Hickey said. “It’s not coincidence that R.J. Harrison has been the head of amateur scouting for the whole entire time this has been going on.
“R.J. and his people out in the field do a tremendous job of obviously evaluating talent but also projecting it,” Hickey added. “When you’re talking about guys like Hellickson who was a fourth-rounder and Matt Moore who was an eighth-rounder, there obviously has to be some projection there as well.
Twenty-nine other teams passed on Matt Moore seven times and some of them eight times. And we did as well. But obviously there was something there that fit the mold.”
Hickey added that he doesn’t know of anything Tampa does different from other teams in developing the talent.
“The basic premise is to draft a guy who has a good arm and is talented and that is projectable,” Hickey said. “We feel like we can teach them certain things, whether it’s a breaking ball or changeup. The message is very consistent. The progression through the system is generally consistent. A guy like David Price is certainly an exception to the rule. Most guys — Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore — have logged 750 innings or so in the minor leagues.”
Follow Eagle-Tribune baseball reporter on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB.
SOX GAME POSTPONED Last night's Red Sox game against the Tampa Bay Rays was postponed by the umpires due to a forecast of continued rain throughout the night. The game will be made up this Monday at 6:10 p.m. at Fenway Park. Tickets for last night's game are good for admission.