Red Sox: A look back at the Travis Shaw for Tyler Thornburg trade


The Boston Red Sox trade of Travis Shaw was a dismal failure, but the reasoning was sound. Deals have a way of turning around with time and this one may.

The Boston Red Sox and Tyler Thornburg avoided arbitration when the right-hander signed for $2.05 million for the 2018 season.  Of course, Thornburg also avoided the entire 2017 season with surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome.

Thornburg, a now 29-year-old, was the primary all-purpose bullpen tool for the Brewers is 2016 with an 8-5 record, 2.15 ERA, 13 saves and 67 appearances. Thornburg, along with Carson Smith, would be the cornerstones of a revamped Boston bullpen.  The Red Sox sent Travis Shaw, Josh Pennington, and Mauricio Dubon to the Brewers.  Just how has that worked out?

Let’s get Shaw dismissed ASAP as just watching the round robin at third for the Red Sox and the lack of power made Shaw’s box score visuals quite depressing.  Shaw’s line was 31/101/.273, but what catches the attention is .250 against lefties versus .187 against southpaws while with Boston in 2016. Shaw finished with a 3.4 fWAR and was decent enough defensively with a -1.1 UZR/150.

The Logic

Shaw was expendable and had simply sunk on the corporate depth chart in 2016.  “Shaw can’t hit left-handers” became the reasoning and it was rather accurate based on that previously mentioned .187 average. In 2015, Shaw simply teed off on portsiders at a .329 clip.  Had they suddenly found the holes?

The misery didn’t end with just lefties as Shaw self-destructed offensively in the second half of 2016 hitting just .194 and being benched. To add another layer, Shaw was becoming a Fenway Park only hitter banging just .204 on the road.

The Red Sox also had a returning Pablo Sandoval who was reportedly in pristine (for Panda) physical condition. Surgery had repaired an ailing shoulder and weight loss repaired a lack of mobility. And Sandoval was owed a pile of dough.  With a spring line of 5/20/.338, it was a sure thing Sandoval would play as expected when signed. And we all know how that turned out.

The other position for Shaw is first base and with Hanley Ramirez having a power producing 2016 it became clear that even first base would not be a viable option. Shaw could be moved and was.


Dubon was a player I hated to see leave the system and wrote about him a few years ago.  Dubon seemed like the player who could someday play multiple positions off the bench and was developing as a hitter. The right-handed 23-year-old is now ranked ninth in the Brewers system and had a respectable 2017 season in AA and AAA.

The two-team stat line finished with a .274 average and some pop with eight home runs.  Dubon is also a capable speedster on the bases with 38 swipes in 53 attempts. This is Dubon’s third professional season with 30+ steals and you can’t teach speed.

Defensively Dubon is excellent as noted in the scouting report and now Dubon is being introduced to playing the outfield in the Arizona Fall League. That should give some anecdotal insight into Dubon’s athletic ability.

The Logic

As with the trade for Craig Kimbrel with the highly talented Manuel Margot being sent out west, it all came down to blockage. Margot was going nowhere with Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley playing the outfield. Dubon was in a similar situation with Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia holding down the middle.

"Dubon is a true shortstop, one with quick hands and feet as well as the arm strength to make plays from either side of the bag, who can play anywhere on the infield, and he increased his defensive versatility during the Arizona Fall League by playing some center field. – MLB Prospect Watch"

Boston also has some variety in Marco Hernandez and Brock Holt to mention two players capable of the utility role. Dubon simply became expendable and now faces a similar issue with the Brewers. Dubon may or may not surface as a regular with the Brewers or elsewhere, but his opportunity certainly was limited with Boston.


Pennington is what becomes a classic throw-in that is in the lower ranks of a farm system. Pennington may go beyond just trade fodder since his fastball has suddenly acquired a bit more juice to it. The 22-year-old right-hander is ranked 22nd in the Brewers system for the former 29th round pick of the Red Sox (2014).

"Pennington worked in the low 90s in high school but now operates at 94-98 mph, giving him one of the best fastballs in Milwaukee’s system. His movement and command with his heater don’t stand out as much as its velocity, however. He shows aptitude for spinning an upper-70s curveball with good depth that could develop into a plus second pitch.  – MLB Prospect Watch"

The cautionary story with Pennington is TJ surgery while in high school and a bone chip removal in his elbow during 2016 offseason. Pennington’s season was a late start, but he did have 10 games started in the lower minors for the Brewers. What did stand out from my quick view is a 2.37 BB/9.

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Pennington is barely six feet and on the light side physically in an age when pitchers must be behemoths to get serious attention. With two arm injuries in his career, it is a cautionary tale regarding Pennington’s future. Hopefully, Pennington will stay healthy and have a respectable 2018.

The Logic

There is not much to discuss with Pennington. A low round draft pick that had project or work in progress attached to him. Did the Brewers see something? Generally, players such as Pennington will be given a short developmental leash and for the Red Sox Pennington was considered clearly expendable.

I will follow Pennington as I do others that not much os predicted for future MLB success since occasionally one surprises. Maybe Pennington will?

Next: Red Sox Free Agent Targets: Matt Adams


This was a solid move by Dave Dombrowski that was a wretched failure over an injury issue. Injuries are sometimes predictable and sometimes they are not. All three players Boston shipped to the Brewers were expendable, but Shaw’s great season and Boston’s power outage made this transaction a disaster – thank you, hindsight. If Thornburg returns to his 2016 form this deal could be a win-win.