BOSTON -- It remains to be seen whether Jake Peavy will represent an upgrade over Brandon Workman in the Red Sox rotation.
Workman impressed in his first three opportunities — maybe never more than Tuesday night against the Mariners — though his first major-league win wasn’t even yet official when Sox brass pulled the trigger on a trade with the White Sox that brought the veteran Peavy to Boston to take the rookie’s place.
Given that Peavy has been injury-prone and generally mediocre this season at least raises the question of whether the swap makes the Red Sox a better team. But that doesn’t mean this wasn’t a very good deal for Boston.
A three-team orchestration involving Detroit as well as Chicago, the trade also cost the Red Sox two low-level prospects and brought back roster-fringe reliever Brayan Villareal, though the crux of the exchange from the Red Sox perspective was Peavy for infielder Jose Iglesias.
Given that relatively cheap price for pitching depth, plus its ramifications elsewhere on the roster, the swap enabled Ben Cherington to achieve in a single low-risk move everything he’d sought to accomplish before Wednesday’s non-waiver trade deadline.
“We’re in a position to compete for a playoff spot, and we felt like adding a starting pitcher was one of the most important things we could do,” the Red Sox’ general manager said, his priorities obviously influenced by the uncertain health status of Clay Buchholz. “We just thought that Peavy, of the starting pitchers available, was the one that made the most sense to us.”
In announcing the move, the Sox trumpeted the right-hander’s 3.61 earned run average and 19 wins since the start of 2012, as well as his standing among the American League leaders in a variety of categories last season, including innings pitched, strikeouts and opponents’ batting average.
But the acquisition wouldn’t have made sense for the Red Sox if it had required them to fork over a more significant package, and Cherington essentially admitted that in saying the deal wouldn’t have come together had the Tigers not entered the picture out out of the need to replace soon-to-be-suspended shortstop Jhonny Peralta.
If Chicago had held out for one of Boston’s better prospects, that would have been a deal-breaker. There would’ve been little sense mortgaging the future for a 32-year-old who has thrown only 80 innings this season, has made only one more start than Buchholz since the start of June, now has the worst ERA (4.28) of any Red Sox starter, and will need to prove himself before getting a postseason start ahead of John Lackey, Felix Doubront or Ryan Dempster.
But Peavy throws strikes, he strikes out hitters at a high frequency, and he’s a renowned competitor. All that made it well worth the gamble, considering Iglesias clearly hadn’t convinced the club he belonged in its long-term strategy and short-term appeared to be on the verge of playing himself out of the lineup in the next week or two.
As recently as July 2, Iglesias’ batting average was .415 and his on-base plus slugging was .993. In his final four weeks as a member of the Red Sox, however, those numbers slid by 85 and 208 points, respectively. With Stephen Drew simultaneously not producing and Will Middlebrooks not progressing at Triple-A, the lack of offense on the left-side of the infield became an issue the Sox needed to address.
Now they can, the path having been cleared for Xander Bogaerts to be not only the shortstop of the future, but possibly be the third baseman of the present.
“He’s in the discussion,” manager John Farrell said of Bogaerts while addressing the media before Wednesday’s game with the Mariners. “That doesn’t suggest that his move or his recall or purchase of his contract is imminent. But he’s done a good job, and he’s played third of late, trying to get some exposure there.”
Workman is another who seems to fit into the future, and could also help fill a need now. The Sox bullpen was lacking a power-armed righty who can pitch multiple innings, with the proper makeup for pressure situations. His three-start audition indicated Workman could give them exactly that as he transitions back to the relief role he was originally expected to fill when the Sox promoted him weeks ago.
When Francisco Rodriguez and Jesse Crain went to other AL East contenders, without the Sox seriously in on either, it became clear Boston preferred trying internal options in those relief roles rather than overpaying externally. By acquiring Peavy to pad their rotation, the Sox were able to do that.
Almost as important, they were at the same time able to deliver a message to the clubhouse — a message that apparently has been heard loud and clear. By bringing in a veteran with a successful track record and a reputation for being a good teammate and competitor, the front office told the team that management believes it is a legitimate contender, and that everyone from ownership on down is working to do whatever they can to give this group the best chance to win a World Series this season.
How much of a roll Peavy would play in such a run remains to be seen, but emotionally and mentally, that’s a reassurance that could give the players a boost bigger than whatever Iglesias would have delivered with his someday-golden glove.
“We’re really excited to bring Jake here,” Cherington said. “He’s had a ton of success in his career.”
And actually, even less than two years into his tenure as GM, it’s not a stretch to say that about the kid from Meriden, either.
Dave D’Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is email@example.com.