At this point in the 2018 season, it’s pretty clear that the front of the AL East-leading Red Sox starting rotation is set. Many expected the Sox to be checking in on bullpen help ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, and maybe they still are. But with the back end of the rotation an absolute shipwreck, Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright falling overboard to the disabled list and Drew Pomeranz clinging to a life preserver, Dave Dombrowski chose to kick off the midseason deals extravaganza with a move for a starting pitcher.
Enter Nathan Eovaldi, a veteran right-hander most recently of Tampa Bay, who has compiled a 3-4 mark with a 4.26 ERA this season, less than two years removed from elbow surgery. Pitching with a previous ligament, Eovaldi had won 14 games for the 2015 Yankees.
The Rays got back Jalen Beeks, Boston’s sixth ranked prospect, in the swap.
Perhaps Dombrowski eyes Eovaldi as a fourth starter in October, should Rodriguez be unable to answer the bell and complete what had been a breakout campaign. With relief pitchers commanding a healthy return on the trade market and Boston’s traditional bullpen depth evaporating, he might, as Sean McAdam suggested, be looking to deploy any number of starters as relievers this autumn.
But with Eovaldi described yesterday as “depth,” an “extra arm,” even a “guy that can slip into the bullpen,” I couldn’t help but think we’ve been here before. And we have! Many times before.
Pete Schourek, 1998
This wasn’t technically a deadline move, as GM Dan Duquette was busy in late July re-acquiring Mike Stanley and rolling out the red carpet for former Donruss Diamond King Greg Swindell. Duquette nabbed Schourek from the Astros in August for cash following Houston’s acquisition of Randy Johnson. While the lefty had gone 18-7 with a 3.22 ERA back in 1995, it was the only season he’d won more than eight games. The general manager set modest expectations:
"He's been a winning major-league pitcher and adding him to our ballclub gives us additional experience,” said Duquette. “Pitching depth will be a key for us for the rest of the season."
The 29-year old went 1-3 with a 4.30 ERA across eight starts and two relief appearances. Manager Jimy Williams made the much-analyzed decision to start Schourek over Pedro Martinez on three days rest in a do-or-die Game 4 of the ALDS against Cleveland. He responded with 5.1 scoreless innings, but the Sox offense managed just a run off Bartolo Colon and five relievers. All-Star closer Tom Gordon coughed up a two-run double to David Justice in the eighth and the season slipped away.
Kent Mercker, 1999
Butch Huskey was the big acquisition at the 1999 deadline, with Duquette again waiting for August to make a move for a lefty arm. A product of the loaded Braves system of the 1980’s, Mercker was a journeyman coming off a career-best 11-win season when the Sox came calling with a couple of minor leaguers.
"He's a versatile pitcher who has the ability to be effective as a starter and as a reliever," Duquette said at the time.
The GM also touted his late-season success and postseason experience. Mercker’s September and October splits were indeed impressive prior to his Boston tenure, as the veteran carried a 4-2 career mark with a 3.16 ERA in those months. With Williams hesitant to hand the keys to Mark Portugal or Pat Rapp and with Bret Saberhagen’s arm falling off, the Sox needed somebody to chew some innings.
While Mercker went 2-0 with a 3.51 ERA in five regular season starts, he was unfortunately subject to a quick hook in the playoffs, as he started three times in Boston’s 10 postseason games and never lasted more than four innings.
Rolando Arrojo, 2000
Dante Bichette came over from the Reds in August, but Duquette made this splash in July, shipping Brian Rose, Jeff Frye and John Wasdin to the Rockies for Arrojo and former Expo Mike Lansing. While Lansing’s Boston tenure would be more notable for the glob of pine tar on his uniform shoulder than actual offensive production, Arroyo had been a 1998 All-Star pitching in the AL East for the Devil Rays (14-12, 3.56 ERA).
While Arrojo had struggled with shoulder woes and the general discomfort of being a starting pitcher in Colorado, his new GM was optimistic:
"We thought Arrojo would stabilize our rotation for the rest of the season and going into the postseason,” he said. "It's always good to have the innings and the experience in the postseason.”
It was not to be for Arroyo in Boston, as he pitched to a 5.05 ERA across 13 starts and the Sox faded down the stretch. Tomo Ohka wound up being the No. 2 starter. The Cuban import lingered in Boston until 2002, largely as a reliever.
Jeff Suppan, 2003
A Lou Gorman draft pick a decade prior and a former Sox hurler, Suppan was in the process of revitalizing his career with Pittsburgh in 2003, pitching to a 10-7 mark with 3.57 ERA. He’d win 32 games over the next two seasons with the Cardinals. But his second tenure with the Red Sox was brutal from the beginning as he surrendered three gopher balls and seven earned runs in his first turn against the Angels on August 5.
The move made sense. Boston needed another starter following Byung-Hyun Kim’s move to the bullpen and far too many rotation turns for Ramiro Mendoza and Casey Fossum. But the Sox dished off future NL batting champion Freddy Sanchez to the Pirates for a guy who posted a 5.57 ERA in 11 appearances, 10 of them starts, and was left off the postseason roster.
First year GM Theo Epstein would stay away from the starting pitching market for the next several deadlines.
Paul Byrd, 2008
Byrd, a 1999 All-Star for the Phillies, was a grizzled veteran by the time the Sox pried him away from the Indians for a player to be named. Byrd had won 15 games for a successful Cleveland squad the previous summer. The 37-year old went 4-2 with a 4.78 ERA in eight starts with Boston.
"It just seemed like the right time to add this kind of stabilizer," Epstein said at the time. "You never want to get caught short on starting pitching in August and September."
Byrd pitched out of the bullpen in a 9-1 blowout in Game 3 of the ALCS. He’d return halfway through the 2009 campaign to make seven appearances before retiring.
Erik Bedard, 2011
After Epstein’s discouraging dalliance with Suppan during his maiden voyage as Sox GM, the team avoided shelling out for starting pitching at the deadline for the rest of his tenure. The acquisition of Bedard for four minor leaguers would actually be his swan song before departing that winter.
Bedard was never an All Star, but it felt like he always had the potential. He just couldn’t stay healthy. He’d won a combined 28 games in 2006 and 2007 for Baltimore and posted a 3.45 ERA in 16 starts for Seattle before coming to Boston. Unfortunately, the lefty hailed as a difference maker never had the chance, as the team imploded down the stretch.
Bedard posted a 1-2 record with a 4.03 ERA in eight starts amidst a miserable collapse.
Jake Peavy, 2013
For all the gripes that led to his departure two seasons later, GM Ben Cherington could do very little wrong in 2013. Even the cost of future All-Star shortstop Jose Iglesias wasn’t enough to discourage fans from getting behind the deal for the 2007 NL Cy Young winner. Peavy went 4-1 with a 4.04 ERA in 10 starts with Boston and while he didn’t dominate in the playoffs, his team was the only one of the aforementioned to bring home a World Series ring.
With the veteran righty in the fold, the Sox were also able to deploy Felix Doubront out of the bullpen in October, a move that paid dividends.
Peavy stuck around until 2014, when he was shipped to the Giants for a package that included reliever Heath Hembree.
Drew Pomeranz, 2016
Dombrowski jumped ahead of the market, securing an All-Star in Pomeranz from the Padres for top pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza (who still hasn’t thrown a pitch in two seasons). The lefthander’s transition to the AL East was a rocky one: he gave up 14 homers in 68.2 innings and was in the bullpen by the time the postseason rolled around.
Though Pomeranz didn’t particularly help the 2016 club, he was easily Boston’s second best starter last season, collecting 17 wins.
Nathan Eovaldi doesn’t have the expectations of Peavy or even Suppan. If the Red Sox get to the World Series, his contributions will likely be unheralded. He’s probably best compared to an acquisition like Mercker or Byrd, guys some Red Sox fans may have difficulty remembering.
Those same fans may have wanted a marquee player to put the Sox over the top. But with Dombrowski’s aggressive maneuvering over the past three years, they don’t have a lot to offer. They got a guy who, at best, can help smooth some of the rough edges of the pitching staff.
There may be something still to come. In the meantime, Dombrowski continues to navigate the trade waters as Dan Duquette did 20 years ago, hampered by payroll concerns and a lack of prospect depth. Let's hope Jalen Beeks doesn’t turn out like Freddy Sanchez. And if you're waiting on a significant upgrade to the 2018 Red Sox, I wouldn't suggest holding your breath.
-- By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can follow him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.