The Boston Red Sox have released Tyler Thornburg, bringing an end to an ill-fated trade that provides a cautionary tale about dealing for bullpen help.
The Tyler Thornburg experiment has mercifully come to an end for the Boston Red Sox. The team announced on Wednesday that they have released the right-hander after he refused a minor league assignment.
His release slams the door on the most regrettable trade that Dave Dombrowski has made at the helm of the Red Sox front office. Thornburg was a complete disaster since Boston acquired him from the Milwaukee Brewers in a deal that cost them promising young slugger Travis Shaw.
The Red Sox brought in Thornburg to serve as an elite setup man following his breakout 2016 season when he posted a 2.15 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 12.1 K/9, and saved 13 games for the Brewers.
The plan backfired when Thornburg underwent surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome in his right shoulder, wiping out his 2017 season. He was never the same after that, producing a brutal 6.54 ERA in 42 2/3 innings over the last two seasons. His strikeout rate dipped, his walk rate inflated and he couldn’t stop serving up home runs. This was not the same pitcher they scouted in Milwaukee several years ago.
Meanwhile, Shaw broke out with consecutive 30+ homer seasons in Milwaukee. Injuries have derailed him this season but the Brewers have already received more than enough value out of Shaw in those first two seasons to consider this trade a massive win.
This disastrous deal serves as a cautionary tale to those clamoring for the Red Sox to trade for another late-inning reliever. Boston’s shaky bullpen needs an upgrade but relievers are volatile by nature and therefore come with risk.
Red Sox fans gripe about Dombrowski’s decision to trade for Thornburg. How could he be so stupid? Did he really give up a 30-homer bat for this dumpster fire?
More from Red Sox News
- Red Sox Nation deserves far more from Fenway Sports Group
- Bizarre trade deadline comes back to haunt Red Sox after Nathan Eovaldi departure
- Red Sox’ Moneyball-style offseason continues with Corey Kluber contract
- Rich Hill’s Red Sox departure puts him within striking distance of unique MLB record
- Red Sox offseason takes another nasty hit with Nathan Eovaldi departure
Except the move was applauded at the time it was made. Boston had a surplus of corner infielders, making Shaw expendable. They needed a high-leverage bullpen piece and Thornburg was the best on the trade market, bringing tremendous strikeout potential with closing experience as a bonus. How was Dombrowski supposed to predict that Thornburg would immediately get hurt and never recover?
Keep that in mind when you’re criticizing Dombrowski for not emptying what’s left of the farm system to fix the bullpen. Boston appears to be set at the corner infield spots for years to come with Michael Chavis emerging at first and Rafael Devers locking down the hot corner. Does that mean they should be in a rush to deal their top two prospects simply because Triston Casas and Bobby Dalbec play the same positions?
A logjam may eventually force the Red Sox to make a move but they aren’t there yet. Casas and Dalbec certainly aren’t untouchable (nobody in their farm system is) but each is more highly regarded than Shaw was as a prospect. The same can be said for several of the promising pitchers in their system.
If they give up a prospect with this type of potential they better get back a reliever who will perform. Unfortunately, there are few surefire bets at the closer position on the trade market. If there is a relatively safe option available, it’s probably going to be a half-season rental.
Boston learned this the hard way. They once thought Thornburg was one of the game’s brightest young closers but he went from stud to dud about as quickly as you can save “blown save.”
Fans complain when their team makes a bad trade, such as giving up a legitimate power threat for a pitcher who turns out to be a bust. Those same fans complain when their team doesn’t rush to make a quick fix deal for the bullpen at the cost of a young player who could have more long-term value.
The Red Sox could use another high-leverage reliever and should consider dealing one of their prospects at a position of surplus. Be careful what you wish for though. Sacrificing the future for the present is a win-now move that contenders sometimes have to make but there’s always the potential for the deal to blow up in their face.