Red Sox Better News: Kimbrel’s Return Or Moncada’s Move?
With the trade deadline a day away, is Craig Kimbrel‘s return to the Boston Red Sox great news or is the report of Yoan Moncada trying new positions better?
Rob Bradford, the hard-working journalist from WEEI.com, had two big pieces of news to report recently. On Friday, he posted evidence that the Red Sox top prospect has been slowly introduced “to the world outside of second base. Red Sox general manager Mike Hazen confirmed that the organization has been working Moncada at third base prior to Portland Sea Dogs’ road games.” Early this morning, Bradford also reported, “After the closer’s 17-pitch outing with the Pawtucket Red Sox Saturday — in which he allowed a leadoff single, hit a batter and induced a ground ball to first base — Kimbrel is slated to join the Red Sox Monday in Seattle.”
Which of these two stories should make Red Sox Nation feel all warm and fuzzy inside? On the surface, the choice would seem obvious. Kimbrel’s going to be the closer when he returns, so his return will impact the team directly and immediately. Both Wednesday’s close game against the Detroit Tigers and Thursday’s nail-biter against the Los Angeles Angels saw the replacement closer Brad Ziegler give up the go-ahead runs to record two losses. Seeing Kimbrel back on the mound in the ninth inning may restore order and hope for the Red Sox faithful late in games.
However, allowing a leadoff single and hitting a batter in a Triple-A appearance isn’t exactly showing the domination that Red Sox Nation counts on from Kimbrel.
Bradford added, “The appearance with the PawSox was Kimbrel’s only rehab outing since undergoing surgery on his left knee July 11. Monday would be three weeks out from an operation the Red Sox identified as needing 3-6 weeks to recover from.” One thinks of professional athletes as genetic freaks, who can recover quickly and do what ‘normal’ humans can’t do with their bodies; yet, these professionals are still human, who can make mistakes and get re-injured. Especially with a complicated joint like a knee, let alone his contract for four years and $42 million, maybe rushing Kimbrel back isn’t the best thing for him or the team after all.
A trade could be made to give Kimbrel more time to recover; however, Ziegler had pitched over five innings of shutout baseball before those two losses, making it possible that the sky over Fenway Park isn’t falling just yet. It may have been just two bad acorns of misery for knee-jerk reactions abound.
Then, there’s Moncada, whom Baseball America ranked as the best MLB prospect on the Top 100 list at the midseason. Take a look at Bradford’s tweet:
The plan, apparently, is to have Moncada practice positions other than second base in pregame warmups in Double-A. Bradford added, “There is still the possibility Moncada will see game action at one of the alternate positions, although if/when a permanent switch is made it will likely take place in ernest during the offseason.”
At 21 years of age, Moncada isn’t too old to learn other positions, making his ability to break into the big club’s lineup more flexible. Moncada is a second baseman and has been often reported saying that he would like to remain a second baseman when he plays in the majors. Despite that sentiment, it’s very smart for Moncada, or at least the Red Sox, to work on other positions.
Let’s face it: barring any freak injuries or a complete collapse in skills, Dustin Pedroia is the Red Sox second baseman until his contract expires in 2021. Boston is not just going to sit Pedroia if he continues to produce like he is this season. He’s hitting .304 with a .991 fielding percentage at second base. And, it’s not like the Red Sox will move a proven veteran and a former American League MVP to another position for a young prospect, no matter how much of a phenom he may be.
That Cuban phenom is currently hitting .274 with eight home runs and 22 RBIs in 31 games for Double-A Portland. In a span that includes his time with the Sea Dogs and 58 games in Class-A ball this calendar year, Moncada has made 14 errors at second base. Pedroia has made only four errors this season, and only 12 errors combined over the last three seasons.
Moncada needs time to grow, so news that he’s working on other positions is good for his development, but also great news for the Red Sox. Until Chris Young returns from injury, the gaping hole left in the outfield is and will be pretty noticeable. Rusney Castillo, the man expected to be in the outfield to start the season, is only hitting .237 in Triple-A, after being considered a Cuban phenom himself at one time. Now, the left field position is being platooned by utility player Brock Holt and Bryce Brentz, both men not hitting above .270 when playing that role. Between giving both Moncada and another Red Sox prospect Andrew Benintendi time to learn the position, the Red Sox may look to be filling the role internally, instead of paying a great deal of money for a free agent.
Look how well that worked out at third base for Boston. Pablo Sandoval took a great deal of money to never be heard from again. With Travis Shaw continuing his rollercoaster ride of a batting average, Aaron Hill was brought in through a trade to establish some consistency at the hot corner. However, at 34 years of age and a free agent next year, Hill will likely be on his way out of Boston and the problem will remain.
If Benintendi develops quickly and Pedroia continues to be himself, the only other spot that the Red Sox would need someone would be in the third base role. Moncada, if he becomes as good as everyone says he will, would then own that position for as long as he wants it.
If all else fails, it looks good to other MLB teams whom the Red Sox may want to trade with on Monday. It makes Moncada look more flexible to them, not just to Boston, making him an even more valuable commodity, even at this late time before the trade deadline.
Kimbrel’s return is good news, and he should continue to gain strength in his knee as the days move along. However, the better news for the future is Moncada’s move to third base, even if it’s just for pregame warmups. Whether he wants to or not, the fact that Moncada’s ego isn’t getting in the way of him learning a position that the Red Sox vitally need solidified in the following year is fantastic for Boston. Especially if he can dazzle the majors like he’s amazed the MLB scouts.
If his knee holds out, Kimbrel will be able to take over the closer reigns and allow Ziegler to fill the set-up role that he was brought in to do. If he pushes it too hard too soon, Red Sox Nation may not see Kimbrel on the mound possibly for the rest of the season. Moncada’s move has very little risk, other than mental, while Kimbrel’s news could risk the entire 2016 season for the Red Sox.