Red Sox Acquire Tyler Thornburg from Brewers for Travis Shaw and Prospects

Red Sox nation had been relatively quiet for the first few days of the Winter Meetings, seemingly out of the hunt for a major acquisition such as Edwin Encarnacion. But as he always does, Boston President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski pulled a bag of tricks out of his sleeve on Tuesday to participate in a slurry of moves. Boston’s day started with a bang when they addressed a crucial need, trading infielder Travis Shaw, prospects Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington, a player to be named later, and cash to the Brewers for late-inning reliever Tyler Thornburg.

Thornburg is a right-handed reliever who had a solid 2016 season, pitching to an 8-5 record with a 2.15 ERA, 0.940 WHIP, and 90 strikeouts. Thornburg’s strikeout numbers particularly jumped in 2016, as he had a  12.1 K/9 ratio last year, the best mark in his career and 3.2 better than his next best mark. This move may signal the end of Brad Ziegler‘s tenure in Boston, who is currently a free agent, as Thornburg and Ziegler are both right-handed late inning relievers. Although Ziegler pitched well last year (1.52 ERA and 9.4 K/9), Thornburg is younger, is more of a strikeout pitcher, and is not a free agent until 2020.

According to Brooks Baseball, Thornburg mixes his mid-90s fastball with a low-80s curveball and a high 80s changeup. He is also able to step into the closer role when needed, which is beneficial to a Red Sox team that suffered from Craig Kimbrel‘s inconsistencies last year. Although Kimbrel is one of the best closers in the game when playing at his peak level, his pitching can sometimes be erratic and the Red Sox can use a change-of-pace option at closer once in a while. If Fernando Abad recovers from his late 2016 struggles, Boston will have a solid right-handed setup man in Thornburg as well as an effective left-handed setup man in Abad, preparing the team for almost any end-game situation that they face. A bullpen structure like this can be very beneficial during the playoffs and could be the difference between ALDS losses and deep October runs for the team for years to come.

The Brewers were able to acquire young infielder Travis Shaw as a part of the swap. Coming off of a red hot end to the 2015 season, Shaw surprisingly won Boston’s starting third base job last year, beating out veteran Pablo Sandoval. Shaw’s 2016 season was decent, but not great, as he batted .242 with 16 home runs and 71 RBIs. Shaw has shown glimpses of legitimate power when he puts his swing together, and at age 26, he is not old and still has time to grow and develop. Shaw’s 33.3% hard contact rate in 2016 is quantitative evidence of this power, which can be used as a dangerous weapon in an NL Central division which lacks a lot of high end pitching aside from the Cubs.

At first glance, it is hard to tell where exactly Shaw will fit into the Brewers lineup, as the team has the speedy Jonathan Villar at third base and just signed former Korea Baseball Organization star Eric Thames to play first base. However, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel stated that Villar will actually play second base next season for the Brewers, making room for Shaw to start at the hot corner.

The real prize of this deal, however, could be shortstop Mauricio Dubon. Dubon now becomes the ninth-ranked prospect in Milwaukee’s farm system according to Dubon batted .323/.379/.461 with six home runs and 69 RBIs between Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland last season, but his future in Boston was murky due to Xander Bogaerts‘ presence as Boston’s shortstop. Bogaerts will presumably hold that role down for years to come, so Dubon would most likely have not been given much of an opportunity with the Red Sox. He has intriguing potential and is also a solid trade chip, so he is a great add to the Brewers’ farm system.

Thornburg could prove to be an awesome addition who solidifies the back end of Boston’s bullpen and makes them a force to be reckoned with come playoff time. Shaw could turn into a power-hitting monster in Milwaukee, and Dubon and Pennington could blossom into solid MLB players. Only time will tell who the winner of this trade is, as the Red Sox have their eyes fixated on the present while the Brewers are gazing towards the future.

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