Ding Dong, the Mayor’s dead. Pablo Sandoval killed him. Just a sad, sad day.
Can’t say I didn’t see this one coming. There were a number of factors that led to this, but the biggest one is…well, the biggest one. Pablo Sandoval. Yeah, he’s slimmed down, so the fat jokes might have to be put on the shelf for a while, but one last shot before I have to root for this stupid idiot, as the success of the Red Sox will soon somewhat depend on Sandoval’s personal success. As far as Travis Shaw goes, his offensive disappearance last year was a mystery. Not that spring training stats matter, but Shaw hit .338 with an .887 OPS in spring, and carried that momentum into the regular season where he was hitting .329 with a .973 OPS as late as May 17, 39 games into the season, and drawing comparisons to Adrian Gonzalez with his swing.
From that point forward, Shaw hit .205 with a .621 OPS. Among the 155 major leaguers who had at least 370 plate appearances over that span, Shaw’s batting average was the lowest, and his OPS was the second lowest. Not great. Despite essentially falling off a cliff after mid-May, Shaw still ended up with a respectable 16 homers and 71 RBI. And the thing about Shaw that I feel like a lot of Red Sox fans don’t realize is that when he got called up in 2015, he wasn’t even a top 10 prospect. He was an overachiever who got an opportunity and ran with it as far as he could. He got called up to a last place team in 2015, got a look and impressed some folks, so that opened a door in 2016 when there was some doubt at the corner infield spots. By the way, people forget that Shaw outright won that job over Sandoval in spring. Sandoval’s season-ending injury didn’t come until after Shaw had already won the third base job from him.
But the reality is that the Red Sox still owe Sandoval $53 million over the next three years, and God forbid he has some competition in spring training again, because we all know that he doesn’t need an outside force to stay motivated. For as much hype as Yoan Moncada gets, we all know he’s not winning that third base job out of spring. During his September call-up, he got exposed as a player who can’t field, is not a smart base runner, and can’t hit a major league curveball. He also takes way too many selfies, but that’s a separate issue. So, here ya go, Pablo. Your competition is out of the way for you, because you’ve clearly earned the right to just be handed your job back. The fuck?
Enough about Shaw and Sandoval for now — how’s this new reliever that the Red Sox got? Well, it wasn’t just Shaw who went to the Brewers in exchange for Tyler Thornburg. Milwaukee also got a pair of prospects in the deal, infielder Mauricio Dubon and right-hander Josh Pennington. SoxProspects.com ranked Dubon as the No. 9 prospect in Boston’s system, and Pennington as their No. 27 prospect. So, if you’re wondering how Shaw, even after the disappointing season that he had in 2016, netted a legit reliever, it’s because the Red Sox had to sweeten the pot with a couple of legit prospects. I was actually surprised to see Dubon’s name in this deal. I knew that he’d eventually be traded, because there was really no place for him on the major league roster, but I always got the sense that he’d be involved in something bigger.
Thornburg is a 28-year-old right-handed reliever, who averaged 95.19 MPH with his fastball last year, but he maxed out as high as 98.44 MPH. He also throws a changeup and a curveball. Opponents hit .167 with a .525 OPS against Thornburg’s fastball last year, .163 with a .558 OPS against his curveball, and .138 with a .564 OPS against his changeup. Simply put, dude’s nasty.
The Red Sox will have him under team control for the next three years, all three of which he’s eligible for arbitration, and won’t become a free agent until 2020. What Red Sox fans will love to hear is that he’s a strikeout machine. He appeared in 67 games for the Brewers last year, and struck out 90 batters in 67 innings with a 2.15 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP. Among the 139 major league relievers who appeared in at least 50 games last season, Thornburg ranked 14th in ERA, was tied for 13th in WHIP, and was 10th in strikeouts per nine innings (12.09). He also had as many strikeouts as Aroldis Chapman, but we can just ignore the fact that Chapman missed the first month of the season, and use that stat to deceive people into thinking that Thornburg is better than he actually is.
As much as it pains me to say, it’s a good deal for the Red Sox. Shaw was a platoon player, who crowbarred his way into a starting job through hard work, and then became the odd man out due to poor performance and salary dictating playing time. Boston needed help in the backend of their bullpen, especially with Carson Smith probably not being ready to return until some time just before the All Star break, and Milwaukee saw the potential that Boston saw when Shaw won the starting job this past spring, allowing the Red Sox to acquire the bullpen piece that they desperately needed.