MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

2016 Trade Deadline gathers steam early

2016 Trade Deadline gathers steam early

The Boston Red Sox did something on Thursday afternoon that will resonate through baseball.

First, their acquisition of left-hander Drew Pomeranz from the Padres probably makes them a solid favorite to win the American League East.

Second, the magnitude of the deal signals that trading season is beginning early this season. To sit back and assess and wait for the market to define itself is to risk being left behind.

Red Sox acquire lefty Pomeranz

The Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline could still bring a flurry of last-second deals, but the heavy lifting is already underway. There's going to be some urgency, too, especially in the AL East, which may be decided by the team that can strengthen its pitching staff the most.

And the Red Sox have a head start by trading for Pomeranz and reliever Brad Ziegler in a span of five days. All of a sudden, an already tight market for pitching has gotten tighter.

Other starters are likely to be dealt: Tampa Bay's Jake Odorizzi, Oakland's Rich Hill and, possibly, Philadelphia's Jeremy Hellickson. But with so many teams -- including the Rangers, Cubs, Royals, Orioles, Blue Jays and Dodgers -- seeking pitching, it's going to be a competitive market.

How does the Pomeranz deal play in the AL East? Three teams -- the Orioles, Red Sox and Blue Jays -- are separated by two games. All three were uncomfortable with their pitching depth.

Now what? Toronto's farm system is deep enough to allow the team to grab one of the available starters, but the Blue Jays are kicking the tires on relievers as well. Baltimore's system is thinner than either Toronto's or Boston's, but executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has a history of plucking bargains from the market.

Meanwhile, few teams are better positioned to make a deal than the Rangers, who have seen their 10-game lead in the AL West shrink to 5 1/2 thanks to a rotation decimated by injuries. They've had conversations with the Rays regarding Odorizzi. Do they move now, even if the price is higher than it might be two weeks from now?

With 19 teams within 5 1/2 games of a postseason berth as the season's second half begins on Friday, the line between buyers and sellers could shift a time or two in the 18 days leading up to the Deadline.

So hats off to Dave Dombrowski, Boston's president of baseball operations, for taking care of business early. His rotation already had a solid front three in David Price, Steven Wright and Rick Porcello, all of whom are pitching at a high level.

Now, in Pomeranz, the Red Sox have added a 27-year-old All-Star left-hander who has been the hardest starter in the National League to hit this season, recording a .184 batting average against. Pomeranz's 2.47 ERA is tied for third best in the league, and despite being just 26th in innings (102), he's tied for ninth in strikeouts (115). He's also making a reasonable $1.35 million and will be under Boston's control for two more seasons.

Downside? Sure, there always is. Every deal has one or two. For the Red Sox, it's that Pomeranz made just 23 starts in the three prior seasons. But every indication this season is that he's finally healthy.

There's a different kind of pressure in Boston, but there's an energy, too, in being in a pennant race in a city where every game has the feel of a postseason contest.

Dombrowski surrendered one of his top prospects, 18-year-old right-hander Anderson Espinoza, who was ranked No. 34 among MLB's Top 100 Prospects.

No big deal there, at least not in Dombrowski's worldview. He's in it for 2016. Period. His legacy isn't just that he's one of the best baseball executives of his generation, it's that he's also one of the most aggressive, unafraid to make a deal.

When Dombrowski finds a player he believes will help get his club to October, he'll go hard for that deal even if it might mean overpaying. He'll trade prospects, too. At times, Dombrowski has admitted lying awake at night wondering if he'd just traded a future Hall of Famer.

Dombrowski may lose a few winks over Espinoza. On the other hand, he also put the Red Sox in a very good place. Every other team will take note. As Yogi Berra said, it's getting late early.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.