The Red Sox Second Trade Affirms 2015 Focus

An hour ago, we posted Paul Swydan’s review of the Jon Lester/Yoenis Cespedes swap from the Red Sox perspective, noting that Boston chose a shorter term big leaguer over a deal for prospects who were likely going to be several years off. And now, they’ve made a second deal — shipping John Lackey to the Cardinals for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly — that reaffirms that this is not a team looking to do any kind of rebuild.

This one isn’t quite as straight forward as the Lester-for-Cespedes deal, since that was a rental for not-a-rental, while the Red Sox could have held onto Lackey for 2015 due to the clause in his contract that gave the Red Sox a league minimum option on his deal due to his 2011 Tommy John surgery. However, there was legitimate concern that Lackey wouldn’t actually pitch for the league minimum next year, and given that he’ll be 36 in a few months, he had some leverage in the form of retirement. If Lackey really didn’t want to take the mound for the same salary as some guy from Triple-A, he could have walked away, leaving the Red Sox to either give him a raise/extension or to get nothing for the option.

That makes Lackey a very difficult asset to value, because we really don’t know what he’s going to cost for the next few years. The most reasonable outcome seems like some kind of short-term extension at below market rates that doesn’t offend him, so maybe something like 2/$20M keeps him on the field. But this is all speculative; we don’t actually have any idea what the Cardinals are going to pay Lackey next year. I’d bet it won’t be $500,000, though.

By moving Lackey now, the Red Sox dump that uncertainty, and get a starting pitcher in return who doesn’t have a say in how much he makes next year. 2015 will be Kelly’s final pre-arbitration year, and so he’ll make whatever the Red Sox decide he’s going to make, which will likely be something in the $500,000 range. In exchange for a guy who might pitch at the league minimum, the Red Sox got a guy who definitely will, and then they’ll control for three years beyond that.

Of course, Kelly isn’t as good as John Lackey, so this is a downgrade in talent, and the cost savings of dumping whatever Lackey might have demanded will now have to be reallocated to Allen Craig, who also is coming to Boston in this trade. So your opinion of this deal might very well hinge on what you think of Craig’s ability to bounce back and become something close to the player he was the last three years.

For two and a half years, Craig was one of the best hitters in baseball; this year, he’s been one of the worst. His power has disappeared, as he’s stopped pulling the ball with authority, which has sunk both his ISO and his BABIP. As an aggressive hitter who doesn’t walk much, he absolutely has to hit for power to be useful, and the 2014 version of Craig has been pretty terrible.

Theoretically, Fenway Park should be the perfect place for Craig to get his career back on track. A line drive right-handed pull guy who can bounce balls off the Green Monster? This is a recipe that has worked wonders before. But Craig hasn’t been a line drive pull guy this year, and if he keeps hitting the ball to right center, the park isn’t going to do him any favors. If the Red Sox think his issues are fixable, and he can get back to being the Allen Craig of prior years, then this is a pretty big win for Boston.

But it’s certainly a gamble, and one that is going to require some trade-offs for the Red Sox to explore. After all, Craig should probably be a first baseman or a designated hitter, but Boston already has Mike Napoli and David Ortiz. The team has had success putting limited range guys in left field before — hello, Manny — but they play on the road too, and Craig’s defensive issues and offensive question marks likely make him a downgrade from any of Cespedes, Jackie Bradley Jr, or a healthy Shane Victorino. It’s not even clear that Craig-as-an-LF is dramatically better than Daniel Nava, and he’s probably worse than Mookie Betts next year.

In some ways, Craig is a great fit for Boston. In other ways, he doesn’t fit at all, but the Sox have plenty of time to sort this out before next spring. Maybe they’ll just shut Victorino down for the year and tell him to get healthy for next year, then shop him, Craig, or Cespedes to a team looking for a right-handed bat this winter. Or maybe they’ll trade Betts to a team that would rather use him as a second baseman. Or maybe Craig will continue to look completely broken even in Fenway, and he’ll just take Mike Carp‘s role as reserve 1B/DH.

The Red Sox are in asset collection mode. Joe Kelly is a pretty nifty asset to collect, and Allen Craig is a lottery ticket who might be good, might be terrible, or might not last very long in Boston. There’s no way of knowing what the 2015 Red Sox are going to look like, but they’re doing a nice job of giving themselves options. Their current pieces don’t all fit together, but they’ve got another eight months to figure out who should stay and who should go.

The idea of a league minimum John Lackey would have been nice too, but if you believe that Lackey wasn’t going to play along, this is a much cleaner way to have a cheap starting pitcher and some upside beyond. And if part of the pitch to Jon Lester is that the team is going to get back on the winning track next year, trading for guys he’s heard of probably doesn’t hurt either.




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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


64 Responses to “The Red Sox Second Trade Affirms 2015 Focus”

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  1. Jdrury12 says:

    But what about the Cardinals side?

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  2. Max says:

    Really happy about these two trades for this season, allows space for young talent like Ranaudo to get their shot in the show.

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  3. BMB says:

    Cardinals side – Taveras plays every day now. They have Lackey. No harm in the trade for them that I can see.

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    • jdbolick says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      The only thing I would worry about is it smacks a little of the Moneyball scene where the manager wouldn’t play the guy the GM wanted, so he forced the manager’s hand via trade.

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      • paperlions says:

        That isn’t something Cardinal fans are worrying about…as a group, we hope this serves as Matheny’s wake up call and he starts to realize that he doesn’t control anything and that he has a lot to learn about managing…if not, he could be easily replaced.

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  4. jfree says:

    Mookie Betts has gotta be really disappointed this morning. Now triple-blocked – and nothing he can do about it except hope he’s traded.

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    • John C says:

      If he keeps hitting, the Red Sox will find room for him. Guys who hit .350 in the minors can get un-blocked in a hurry if the guys ahead of them don’t produce.

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      • tz says:

        Someone who’s watched Betts play in AA this year commented on another post that he appears to have the arm to play SS. If that’s the case, you shift Bogaerts to 3B full-time and go from there.

        I’d rather have Betts in the lineup than Cecchini or certainly Middlebrooks. And, having Brock Holt as your super-sub is nice insurance to try something like Betts at SS.

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        • Paul says:

          One scout that I talked with about Betts said he could be an average defenseive shortstop at least.

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        • Joe says:

          Why can’t Betts just play 3B? Cecchini isn’t ready and Middlebrooks has shown no signs of being capable of playing every day.

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        • Simon says:

          You’d have to think that if Betts was able to play SS or 3B at an average MLB level, he would have been playing there by now.

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  5. LaLoosh says:

    This is a great deal for the Cards. I can’t believe they don’t have to throw in some $ for the Craig contract. Even if Lackey retires after this season or threatens to do so, getting him for the playoff drive while getting the salary relief from dumping Craig is really fabulous deal for the Cards. Great to see them not give in to temptation and deal away top prospects and apparently they are ready to give some kids a shot in the OF. Bravo.

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    • chuckb says:

      I tend to agree. This gives Taveras an opportunity to play everyday and gets the team out from under Craig’s contract. Though it’s not huge, Adams’ emergence has made Craig a burden. And I think the Cards will work something out with Lackey for a year or 2 in addition.

      If the Sox are able to fix Craig, it’ll work out well for them as well. But he’s already 30 so it’s unlikely he’s ever going to be what he was last year.

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  6. Maybe the Cardinals end up working out some below-market-value extension, but I really don’t see Lackey retiring at the end of the season. He’s still an above-average starter, and will have an opportunity to play for a contender in St. Louis (with a favorable pitching environment). If he can make it through 2015 without much of a decline, he could stick around for another few years and make a decent paycheck. We saw AJ Burnett and Tim Hudson make good money this offseason, and Hiroki Kuroda has made over $40M in his age 37-39 seasons. Not to mention the fact that it would simply look pretty bad for Lackey to sign a contract knowing that this clause was there and then backing out because he didn’t feel like it was fair.

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    • tz says:

      I have to agree. Your last sentence is a great point – if Lackey “retires” until he gets the $ he feels is worthy of him, he might cost himself enough money on a future deal to undo the $ value of such gamesmanship.

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      • RC says:

        Right.

        The idea of Lackey basically taking his ball and going home is patently absurd. There’s no way it comes out as a plus for him.

        Plus hes said a bunch of times that he would play for it.

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  7. Greenwell's Moustachio says:

    If Craig ends up taking the “continue to look completely broken” path, this means the Sox are on the hook for 3 yrs/$18m (or so) for a backup 1b/DH. Not a great deal imo, given that Craig has been terrible for more than a year now.

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    • jdbolick says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Are the Cardinals kicking in some money to cover part of the contract? Craig is due $26.5 million over the next three years once you include the $1 million buyout for 2018. If St. Louis isn’t paying for at least some of that then the move is horrendous for Boston.

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      • chuckb says:

        Apparently Boston sent $1.75 M to the Cards, I guess for Lackey’s contract this year.

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        • Jeff says:

          Which seemed absurd to me… How did St. Louis pull that part of it off ? We eat Craig’s contract and send them money ?

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        • LaLoosh says:

          wow. and supposedly Lackey has already confirmed that he intends to honor 2015 option.

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  8. TKDC says:

    If Lackey doesn’t pitch next year, what happens if he wants to come back after that?

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    • Grammar Police says:

      The Cardinals will hold his rights until he fulfills his 1 year obligation.

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      • John C says:

        No. If he sits out 2015, he’s a free agent. They could offer him a QA if he un-retired, but he’d still be a free agent because the $500K option was for 2015 and only 2015.

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        • paperlions says:

          No he isn’t. Contracts are obligations for amounts of time, not particular years….otherwise players could threaten to “retire” all the time when they are in a FA deal they don’t like and want to renegotiate or during their last year of arbitration….but they don’t do that because contracts don’t work that way.

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  9. Tom says:

    So we read reports for a week that they’re asking for top prospects, and then today they trade for mediocre ML players.

    And now Peter Gammons and the Red Sox PR brigade are trumpeting the “Prospects are now overrated!” narrative and pretending like this was their plan all along. What a joke.

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    • arc says:

      They just acquired a prospect for Andrew Miller, so I’m pretty sure you’re making all that up.

      Which is a real surprise to me. You sounded so impartial.

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  10. Brian says:

    Ken Rosenthal ?@Ken_Rosenthal ·1 min
    Source: Lackey has told #STLCards he plans to honor his club option. No extension at this time.

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    • AK7007 says:

      This. Lackey would have to be way shady to play the leverage game on this one, since he knew about it when he signed the deal.

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      • Doug Lampert says:

        Shady, but you actually expect people to follow their own interests, retiring wouldn’t actually violate the contract, and Lackey might well do better to use the leverage of at least threatening to not honor that option.

        I agree that following the contract is the honorable thing to do, but it’s still worth praising someone for doing the honorable thing (of course if he works out the Cardinals may well offer him a renegotiation and extension anyway).

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  11. nik says:

    How exactly does this improve the Red Sox for next year? They downgraded from Lackey to Kelly and got saddled with a 1B type who’s bat has cratered and is owed $20 mil.

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    • chuckb says:

      They traded 1 1/3 years of Lackey for 4 1/3 years of Kelly, plus they get a lottery ticket in Craig. If Craig becomes even a decent hitter again, this is a pretty good trade for the Sox.

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    • John C says:

      Kelly has a 3.25 ERA in 266 MLB innings. And he’s not even eligible for arbitration until 2016. The Red Sox, who have a pretty darn good scouting department, may well be of the opinion that:

      1) Kelly isn’t a downgrade at all; and
      2) Three years of club control is better than one year of club control on Lackey, when we don’t even know if he would actually play for the $500K in 2015.

      Of course, they could be wrong about Kelly, but the Sox do know their stuff most of the time.

      I think a lot of people are totally missing the point of this trade, anyway. Kelly was the player the Red Sox really wanted. Craig is a lottery ticket. If he doesn’t remember how to hit, he hits the bench. If he does, great.

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      • emdash says:

        That supposes Kelly is a pitcher who will continue to beat his peripherals. He’s barely struck out 6 per nine innings in the NL Central where he gets to pitch to pitchers – how well will that translate? Added to that, he’s never pitched more than 170 innings in a season. He’s not particularly a huge prize.

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      • Ryan says:

        Kelly also has a career FIP of 4, a career K/9 of 5.5 when pitching as a starter, & only once in his career has managed to pitch 7 full innings in a start. Not a terrible guy to have floating around the organization as a spot starter, but he’s not more than that.

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        • arc says:

          84 ERA- 103 FIP- 4.12 SIERA
          87 ERA- 107 FIP- 4.15 SIERA
          90 ERA- 108 FIP- 4.21 SIERA
          93 ERA- 103 FIP- 4.21 SIERA

          That’s Jered Weaver, Joe Kelly, Chris Tillman, and Matt Moore

          Splitting the difference between WAR and RA9-WAR, a pitcher with Kelly’s profile is worth 1.5 WAR over 150 innings.

          “Spot starter” is a joke.

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        • nik says:

          Now remove the reliever stats from that…

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        • arc says:

          Now remove the reliever stats from that…

          Good idea! I bet this will reveal the secret hidden truth about how awful Joe Kelly is!

          Overall – 3.25 ERA 4.00 FIP
          Starter – 3.25 ERA 4.09 FIP

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        • paperlions says:

          Kelly’s splits:

          Starter: 4.07 FIP; 4.16 xFIP
          Reliever: 3.71 FIP; 3.69 xFIP

          He’s inefficient, will be lucky to go 6 innings without getting to face a pitcher and he doesn’t miss bats. He is a total GB machine, but a lot of contact is hard. He’s a backend starter at best…and only then if he can regularly make it through more than 5 innings.

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      • Tom says:

        Cool, let’s look at ERA and also ignore that half of that is relief innings.

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        • Kelly beat his peripherals last year for less than 150 innings. He doesn’t have elite ground ball stuff and stranded at a rate something like 20% higher last year. He’s not a low 3.00 ERA guy. He’s a 4. A 4 in the NL. So, in the AL, in Boston, a late bloomer who is already 26 is a spot starter.

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  12. Tom says:

    Lackey has reportedly told the Cards he will honor his contract for 2015. I don’t know why he would do this for them but not Boston, but it certainly makes this trade look worse for the Red Sox.

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    • tz says:

      Dave, would you put Lackey on your trade value list if you were putting it out today?

      (or even the honorable mention?)

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  13. Detroit Michael says:

    It seems to me that the Red Sox lost this trade in terms of 2015 value because Lackey at the league minimum is quite a deal. Nothing in this article tells me that Lackey’s contract isn’t enforceable. (Courts wouldn’t require Lackey to pitch for the Red Sox or Cardinals but he could be liable for millions of dollars in damages if he didn’t, and Lackey presumably has the deep pockets to pay those damages.)

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    • Richie says:

      Lackey, like any player, can retire anytime he wants. Sounds like he won’t, but he could, with no one having any legal recourse regarding it.

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      • Detroit Michael says:

        Yes, he can retire any time he wants — and be liable for breach of contract.

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        • jerbear says:

          can we just end this right here? Lackey absolutely has the right to retire, but if he unretires later on the Cardinals hold his rights for one year at $500k. But, no, he isn’t going to retire and he isn’t going to play for $500k. They’ll work something out, likely a 2 or 3-year contract below his market value. Cameron’s 2/20 suggestion sounds like a very good guess.

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  14. George says:

    I love how active Cherington and the Red Sox FO is, and this isn’t just this year, bu this a characteristic of the ownership. If there is one thing I cannot stand in pro sports, it’s inactivity. I mean, yes, teams shouldn’t be reckless with their decisions, but at the end of the day it’s a game. How much is possibly at stake by making a bad move? Doing nothing is 10x worse than making a bad move. And yes, I’m looking at you Amaro.

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    • Reese says:

      At the end of the day it’s a business. There’s too much money for it to be a game anymore.

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  15. Dr. Mantis Tobaggon says:

    Wouldn’t Lackey’s 500k option be counted as 15.25mm against the luxury tax cap next year? Since the Red Sox are constrained by the luxury tax but not actual salary, this move makes a lot of sense in terms of opening up “cap room” for them.

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  16. Patrick says:

    The Red Sox sold low.

    In Kelley and Craig, they got all the risk of a prospect w/o the upside.

    On the other hand, there are probably enough fans who will be enticed by the names and that of the high priced FA signing they will undoubtedly make this winter to keep Fenway filled.

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    • Johnson says:

      Here I was thinking that they were buying low.

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    • glenstein says:

      Wouldn’t Lackey’s performance have to be down for them to be selling low? It’s not.

      If anything the Cardinals sold low on Craig.

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  17. francis says:

    The issue that nobody seems to be talking about is how bad the Red Sox pitching looks right now.

    Clay Buchholz is their ace, they have no middle relief, their closer is almost 40, and they have no top (pitching) prospects.

    You can talk about how good these trades are for them, but to gloss over the fact that they now have one of the worst staffs in baseball is missing a big piece of the puzzle.

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    • glenstein says:

      They’re not playing for 2014.

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    • jerbear says:

      They aren’t playing for 2015. The farm system is stocked with back-of-the-rotation types. They have about $95-100 mill in salary obligations for next year, with only 2 holes in the lineup (catcher and 3B/SS) and a surplus of outfielders. They’ve spent $150 mill+ every year in recent memory. And, they have some promising relievers in the minors, will likely re-sign Koji, and have Tazawa under team control. It’s entirely possible they sign both Scherzer and Lester.

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      • francis says:

        jerbear,

        the article’s headline refers to the Sox focus on 2015, if they’re not playing for 2015, the article’s premise is wrong from the start.

        If they are playing for 2015, they are delusional, because they have no pitching.

        If they aren’t playing for 2015, why bother with Cespedes, who is a free agent after 2015 ? Why not save the 10MM ?

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    • RC says:

      “and they have no top (pitching) prospects.”

      The Red Sox 10th pitching prospect is better than a lot of clubs 2nd or 3rd. They’re swimming in good pitching prospects.

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  18. Mr Punch says:

    The current Red Sox rotation is the worst I can remember ever, anywhere, that was achieved without injuries.

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    • B N says:

      It’s okay. I hear there will be some guys on the market next December or something. Bunch of no-names, but I bet a couple of them could slot into the rotation. Heard one of them even used to play in Boston like a million years ago (or maybe last week). :)

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  19. Jack Keefe says:

    The Red Sox have more pitching prospects this year than in any year in recent memory. Henry Owens, Anthony Ranaudo, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, Brian Johnson, Matt Barnes, and now they’ve added Eduardo Rodriguez and Edwin Escobar in the trades for Miller and Peavy.

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    • jdbolick says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      I don’t know if it was an intentional pursuit of quantity over quality, but it will definitely be interesting to see how it works out. I like Webster’s stuff and Barnes’ approach, but I think Escobar and Rodriguez are better bets than most of the incumbents.

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    • Bros before L.J. Hoes says:

      Good thing for the Red Sox that pitching prospects usually all stay healthy and reach their ceilings

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