Trade Retrospective: Red Sox trade Yoenis Céspedes to the Tigers for Rick Porcello

For the fifth straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here.

In December 2014, the Red Sox executed yet another trade that year. They acquired Rick Porcello from the Tigers in exchange for Yoenis Céspedes, Alex Wilson, and Gabe Speier.

In this trade retrospective series, trades will be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades and strip luck out of the equation: process over results. Having said that, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for both parties.

The Deal

The Red Sox executed so many trades of note in 2014 that I am not sure I am going to be able to cover them all in this series. At the trade deadline they acquired Céspedes, but it did not look like it was working out. He hit only .269/.296/.423 in 213 PA and walked just 3.3 percent of the time. His defense was still strong, but a 95 wRC+ is not what you want to see from your corner outfielder. To make matters worse, there were rumors that he was not happy with the team. Seeing as how they really needed rotation help, especially after trading away Jon Lester and John Lackey during the season, they decided to include him in a package to acquire Rick Porcello.

The Tigers were coming off their fourth straight division title and their least successful playoff run in that span, having suffered a sweep at the hands of the Orioles in the ALDS. The team was getting older, as was owner Mike Ilitch, who was desperate to win a World Series title at his late age.

The team’s rotation was a strength in 2014, but with Max Scherzer leaving in free agency, the Tigers really did not have the depth to trade away Rick Porcello, but the fact of the matter was that they needed corner outfield help, as they were at serious risk to get replacement level play there.

Porcello was coming off his best year to date, turning in a 3.91 RA9 in front of that terrible Tigers’ defense, though he still struggled with poor strikeout rates. Still, he was durable and might have had some upside to him. Céspedes was a low-OBP slugger with some defensive and baserunning value. The funny thing about this trade is that both of these players were more or less equally productive, and both teams traded away a need to fill another need, leaving the respective franchises no better on paper.

The Red Sox had already prepared for their outfield need by signing Hanley Ramírez to a four-year deal worth $88 million with the intention of converting him to a left fielder. It would have been nice to have been able to sign an actual outfielder, but there was not much available in free agency at the time. One would be hard pressed to find a shortstop that could not pass as at least an average corner outfielder, but the Sox found one.

Despite the fact that the Tigers had quite a few options in free agency to fill the voids left by Porcello and eventually Scherzer, they really didn’t do much. Around the same time as this trade, they acquired Alfredo Simón from the Reds. If nothing else, it was a dubious move ethically and morally because of allegations of rape and homicide against him. Much less importantly, it cost the team Eugenio Suárez, a prospect I am sure they wish they had held on to.

There is not too much to say about the prospects included in the deal. Wilson was just a reliever. Speier projected to be more, but he was still a long ways off. Still, these were nice additions on top of a corner bat the Tigers’ needed.

All and all, this was a pretty even trade for both sides. It was still a bit odd, though, given that both teams traded from one need to fill another. Neither did a good job filling their new needs elsewhere.

The Results

The Red Sox were so sure about Porcello that they signed him to a four-year, $82.5 million extension that April. They were probably regretting it before it even kicked in.

Porcello’s first year with the Red Sox did not go so well. He had a 5.39 RA9, but his 4.57 DRA was significantly better because he had quite a few things work against him that year. He suffered from a .332 BABIP, a low strand rate, and Fenway Park. He did succeed in displaying his usual excellent control, and his strikeout rate cracked 20 percent. Still, I am sure you can imagine all how Red Sox fans were reacting to all the runs he was giving up.

Then Porcello wins the freakin’ Cy Young award the following year. Awards voting has gotten a lot better over the past several years, but this one was questionable at best. Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber were clearly better choices. Porcello did have a really good year, though, turning in a 3.43 RA9 and a minuscule 3.6 BB%.

So how did Porcello follow up that award-winning year? With over 200 innings of a 5.53 RA9. He could not even crack replacement level at Baseball Reference, but as with his first year in Boston, his 4.84 DRA was much better than his RA9. At least he pitched well again during the Sox’s 2018 championship run, including in the playoffs. He finished his contract last year with a 5.89 RA9, the worst among qualified pitchers.

The only thing consistent with Porcello was his remarkable durability. Other than that, I am hard pressed to think of another pitcher who was so wildly inconsistent over a five to six-year stretch. He is currently on a one-year deal with the Mets, likely hoping to reestablish his value (and pitch for the team he rooted for as a kid).

The Tigers’ aging core and big contracts finally caught up with them, as they won only 74 games in 2015. Their Porcello replacement, Simón, was terrible. He had a 5.39 RA9 over 31 starts with poor strikeout and home run rates. Céspedes performed like his usual self, hitting 293/.323/.506 when the Tigers realized their season was lost, so they traded him to the Mets at the trade deadline.

Céspedes enjoyed the best two months of his career with the Mets that season, helping them win the division in a year where they made it all the way to the World Series. He leveraged that performance into some big contracts with the Mets, and even though he has hit pretty well since signing before the 2016 season, he has been devastated by injuries, having missed half the season in 2017, most of 2018, and all of 2019. Hopefully he will be back soon.

Wilson had a couple of great years out of the bullpen for the Tigers, which was remarkable given that his strikeout rates were terrible, and I don’t mean terrible for a reliever, either. He barely struck out 15 percent of the batters he faced over the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Last season he pitched 11 13 innings for the Brewers and, simply put, was just not a major league caliber pitcher. He was DFAed by the end of April. He is now back with the Tigers on a minor league contract.

Speier did not debut until last September and it was with the Royals. That debut went poorly. He made nine appearances in relief and gave up six runs. He struck out 10 of the 33 batters he faced, but he also walked six of them. As of this writing, he is still with the team.

Red Sox Results

Remaining Control WAR
Remaining Control WAR
Rick Porcello 1 0.5

Baseball Reference

This one is a little tricky, because the trade was only for one year, but it led to an extension that worked out better. We can’t say whether or not the Sox would have brought back Porcello had he hit free agency.

Tigers Results

Remaining Control WAR
Remaining Control WAR
Yoenis Céspedes 1 4
Alex Wilson 6 5.2
Gabe Speier 6 0
Total 13 9.2

Baseball Reference

Céspedes had an excellent half season in Detroit, and Wilson was a pretty good reliever during his time there. Moreover, the Tigers were able to turn Céspedes into Michael Fulmer, who is hoping to return from Tommy John surgery some time this upcoming season.

It was an even trade on both sides, but the Tigers got the better end of the results as long as we only count the one year of Porcello that the Red Sox traded for. Still, despite his frustrating inconsistencies, one could argue that acquisition/extension worked out for them too. Usually the results section is pretty clear, but I think this is an exception where that is not the case.

. . .

Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.

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