World Series 2018: How the Red Sox built their AL champion roster through trades, free agency and the draft

For the fourth time in the last 15 years, the Boston Red Sox are American League champions. They dispatched the defending World Series champion Astros in five games in the ALCS. The Red Sox are now four wins away from their fourth World Series title in the last 15 years after rather famously going 86 years without a championship.

Stream every 2018 World Series game on fuboTV (Try for free). For a complete look at the Fall Classic schedule, click here.  

Like every team, the Red Sox were assembled through all sorts of different methods. No team is built exclusively through the draft, or trades, or free agency. It’s not possible. Successful teams acquire talent through every avenue possible. Here is Boston’s 2018 WAR breakdown via the Baseball Gauge:

  • Trades: 19.8 WAR (8th most in MLB)
  • Free Agency: 14.1 WAR (2nd)
  • Draft: 17.9 WAR (3rd)
  • International Free Agency: 3.7 WAR (11th)
  • Other: 1.6 WAR (18th)

The Red Sox have crushed it in the draft and in free agency. They’ve also done a really good job on the trade market and scored at least one cornerstone player through international free agency. Let’s take a deeper look at how the Red Sox built the roster that carried them to the 2018 World Series.

The Draft

Matt Barnes was part of a stacked UConn class in 2011, which produced two other big-league regulars in George Springer (11th overall) and Nick Ahmed (85th overall). Barnes never did miss enough bats or control the strike zone well as a starting pitcher in the minors, but he’s emerged as a reliable setup man in recent years, and so far this postseason he’s allowed one hit in 6 2/3 innings.

A 71-91 finish in 2014 gave the Red Sox the seventh overall pick in 2015, which they used on Golden Spikes Award winner Andrew Benintendi. (The Golden Spikes Award is the baseball equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.) Benintendi went from toolsy but undersized high schooler to dominant college hitter — he hit .376/.488/.717 with 20 home runs and way more walks (50) than strikeouts (32) during his draft year at Arkansas — and was selected in the first round as a draft-eligible sophomore. He was in the big leagues less than a year later and is now a two-way threat and the No. 2 hitter on a pennant winner.

These days every team has an Albert Pujols story. Every team had a scout on Pujols and they were all ready to draft him in 1999 but gosh darn it the Cardinals beat them to it in the 13th round. In about 10 years every team will have a Mookie Betts story. They all had a scout on him at his Tennessee high school and were ready to draft him but drat, the Red Sox beat them to it. Boston selected Betts in the fifth round and it has been the draft steal of the decade.

Believe it or not, the knock on Betts coming out of high school was that he didn’t have a carrying tool. He did everything well but nothing spectacularly — Mookie was an infielder at the time — and when you add in his size (5-foot-9 and 180 lbs.), there was some thought he’d be better off going to college. Instead, Betts now has multiple carrying tools. He’s an elite hitter with elite hand-eye coordination, an elite baserunner, an elite defender, and he had elite intangibles. Mookie is the AL MVP favorite and a true franchise player. He is the first legitimate challenger to Mike Trout’s throne as the best player in baseball.

Thanks to the free agent defections of Adrian Beltre and Scott Downs (!?), the Red Sox had four first-round picks in 2011, and three of them were on their ALCS roster. One is Barnes, one is Jackie Bradley Jr., and the other is coming up in just a second. (The fourth is lefty Henry Owens, who has bounced around a bit the last year.) The man they call JBJ slumped during his draft year at South Carolina and he need surgery to repair ligament and tendon damage in his wrist, which sabotaged his stock. He went from potential top 10-15 pick to the 40th overall selection, and while he’s had a very up-and-down big-league career, Bradley is a productive player who was just named the ALCS MVP.

Blake Swihart is the fourth of the four 2011 first-round picks along with Barnes, Bradley, and Owens. He was a big of a project at his New Mexico high school, where he started to catch and switch-hit not longer before the draft. Swihart has had some injury issues in the big leagues but stuck with the team this season as a utility guy, and he could still be their catcher of the future. So far this postseason Swihart has appeared in just one game, but he was on both the ALDS and ALCS rosters, and his versatility and switch-hitting bat figure to come in handy off the bench in the NL park games of the World Series.

Regarded as a solid gloveman during his draft year at a Puerto Rico high school, Christian Vazquez displayed strong defensive chops behind the plate and his glove (and arm) remain his calling cards. Vazquez has started six of the team’s nine postseason games and he has a knack for clutch hits — his solo home run in ALDS Game 4 proved to be the series-winning hit — and he is all the way back following Tommy John surgery in 2015.

During his draft year at Texas, Brandon Workman was the No. 3 starter in a rotation that also included eventual big leaguer Taylor Jungmann. Workman needed Tommy John surgery in 2015 and that has been a significant bump in the road in his career, though he’s has appeared in 76 games for the Red Sox the last two years and is a quality middle reliever thanks to his big breaking curveball.

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What a pickup Nathan Eovaldi has been. The Red Sox acquired Eovaldi at the 2018 trade deadline for lefty pitching prospect Jalen Beeks and he threw 54 innings with a 3.33 ERA (132 ERA+) after the deal. And, in the postseason, he’s allowed three runs in 14 1/3 innings spread across two starts and one relief appearance. For a while earlier this year the Red Sox appeared set in the rotation. The Eovaldi pickup seemed like a bit of a luxury and it’s turned into a godsend.

During their last place season in 2014 the Red Sox unloaded several veterans at the trade deadline, most notably shipping Jon Lester to the Athletics and Andrew Miller to the Orioles. They also sent Jake Peavy to the Giants for relief prospects Heath Hembree and Edwin Escobar. Peavy helped San Francisco win the World Series in 2014 and Hembree has spent the last five seasons as a depth reliever in Boston, throwing 216 innings with a 3.46 ERA (128 ERA+).

In what proved to be one of the most impactful reliever trades in recent memory, Brock Holt was essentially a throw-in as the sixth most notable player in a six-player trade. The full trade details:

  • Red Sox acquire: Holt, Joel Hanrahan
  • Pirates acquire: Mark Melancon, Ivan De Jesus Jr., Jerry Sands, Stolmy Pimentel

The trade was essentially Melancon for Hanrahan with other stuff thrown in. Melancon was excellent in Pittsburgh while Hanrahan was hurt an ineffective with Boston — he threw only 7 1/3 innings the rest of his career following the trade. Holt has salvaged the deal for the Red Sox by becoming a high-end utility player who had his best offensive season (.277/.362/.411) in 2018 and went on to hit for the first cycle in postseason history in ALDS Game 3 against the Yankees.

It has been five very up and down years with the Red Sox for Joe Kelly, who came over from the Cardinals at the 2014 trade deadline with Allen Craig for John Lackey and a prospect. Kelly spent some time in Boston’s rotation before settling in as a reliever, sometimes a high-leverage reliever. Some performance issues late in the regular season have relegated him to middle relief in the postseason, though, with a fastball that averages 98.5 mph, he can dominate on any given night.

Rather regrettably, the Padres went all-in on the 2015 season, and it blew up in their faces. They went 77-85 in 2014, acquired several big-name players (Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, James Shields, etc.) during the offseason, then went 74-89 in 2015. Ouch. San Diego started their rebuild following that 2015 season and one of their first moves was sending Craig Kimbrel to the Red Sox for four prospects. The trade:

  • Red Sox acquire: Kimbrel
  • Padres acquire: Manuel Margot, Carlos Asuaje, Javy Guerra, Logan Allen

Margot is San Diego’s center fielder and Asuaje has provided some value as an up and down infielder. currently ranks Allen as the No. 76 prospect in baseball. Not a bad haul for the Padres. Kimbrel, of course, has been one of the most dominant relievers in baseball throughout his career and during these last three seasons with the Red Sox. He’s been an All-Star all three years with Boston and he closed out Games 4 and 5 of the ALCS to send the BoSox to the World Series.

As part of their trade deadline tinkering earlier this year, the Red Sox acquired Ian Kinsler from the Angels for bullpen prospects Williams Jerez and Ty Buttrey to shore up second base with Dustin Pedroia hurt. Kinsler didn’t do much for Boston during the regular season and he is 6 for 24 (.250) with 11 strikeouts in the postseason, but, if nothing else, he’s solidified their infield defense and provided a veteran lineup presence against southpaws.

The Red Sox needed a backup catcher in 2015 and that led them to Sandy Leon, who was out of minor-league options — that meant he couldn’t go to Triple-A without first passing through waivers — and didn’t have a spot on the roster with the Nationals. Boston acquired him for cash at the end of spring training. Leon has never come close to repeating his .310/.369/.476 batting line in 2016, though he’s a very good defender and is lauded for his work with the pitching staff.

Third base was a bit of a mess for the Red Sox last summer, so, to shore things up, they acquired Eduardo Nunez from the Giants for two Class-A pitching prospects. Nunez was out of this world good with the Red Sox after the trade (.321/.353/.539), and while he hasn’t repeated those numbers this year, manager Alex Cora trusts him enough to start him in six of the team’s nine postseason games. 

It should be noted Nunez became a free agent last offseason and re-signed with the Red Sox on a one-year deal with a player option for a second year. The deal guarantees him $4 million and can max out at $10 million. Technically, Nunez is a free agent signing, but since he originally joined the Red Sox in a trade and has remained with them since, I’m lumping him in with the trades.

The Red Sox were having trouble with left-handed pitching earlier this season and they solved that problem by acquiring one of the best lefty mashers in the game in Steve Pearce. He came over from the Blue Jays for infield prospect Santiago Espinal. Pearce has been a godsend for the Red Sox, hitting lefties and righties, and chipping in a three-homer game against the rival Yankees in August. He’s also started seven of the team’s nine postseason games due to Mitch Moreland’s achy hamstring.

Following their last place finish in 2014, the Red Sox sought to reshape their roster, and they acquired Rick Porcello from the Tigers for a three-player package that included Yoenis Cespedes and setup man Alex Wilson. Porcello’s been a bit uneven in his four years in Boston (his ERAs from 2015-18: 4.92, 3.15, 4.65, 4.28), but he won the Cy Young award in 2016, and this postseason he’s served as a dominant setup man between his starts. This is Porcello’s 10th big-league season and he is still only 29. The Red Sox acquired him at age 25 and landed what are theoretically his peak years.

The Red Sox acquired Eduardo Rodriguez from the Orioles straight up for impending free agent Andrew Miller as part of their 2014 trade deadline sell-off. Rodriguez was one of the top pitching prospects in the game at the time, and, while he has yet to put it all together, he’s been a rock solid rotation option since 2015 and is in the team’s bullpen this postseason. He’s thrown 495 2/3 big-league innings with a 4.12 ERA (107 ERA+) since the trade. Not a bad return for a few weeks of Miller.

Once the White Sox decided to commit to a rebuild, all hell broke loose in the Chris Sale sweepstakes, and the Red Sox won out by sending a four-prospect package to Chicago’s south side. The full trade:

  • Red Sox acquire: Sale
  • White Sox acquire: Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe, Victor Diaz

At the time of the trade ranked Moncada as the No. 1 prospect in baseball and Kopech as the No. 30 prospect in baseball. Basabe played in the Futures Game this year and is a quality prospect as well. Moncada has flashed superstar potential these last few years but hasn’t put it all together yet. Kopech was arguably the game’s top pitching prospect when he was called up earlier this season. He’ll now miss 2019 with Tommy John surgery.

As is often the case when trading prospects — even great prospects — for a player of Sale’s caliber, the Red Sox have zero regrets about this deal. Sale has been one of the most dominant starters in baseball for nearly a decade now and his two seasons with Boston have been arguably the two best seasons of his career. He could’ve easily won the Cy Young last year and he might win it this year. Know what’s crazy? The Red Sox beat the Astros in five games while getting only four generally ineffective innings from Sale in the ALCS.

Free Agent Signings

What a story. Ryan Brasier is a journeyman who received a quick seven-game cup of coffee with the Angels in 2013, but otherwise bounced around Triple-A from 2011-16 before spending 2017 with the Hiroshima Carp in Japan. The Red Sox signed Brasier to a minor-league contract during spring training, he started the year in Triple-A, got called up in July, and emerged as one of the team’s most reliable setup men. Brasier has thrown seven scoreless innings this postseason.

It seems absurd that the Red Sox were able to sign Martinez to that bargain contract — in this case, $110 million qualifies as a bargain — given the season he had last year. Forty-five home runs in 119 games? And no one bothered to sign him until February? Good gravy. I reckon roughly 29 teams are regretting that. 

Martinez had a monster first season in Boston, hitting .330/.402/.629 with 43 home runs and an MLB-leading 358 total bases. He flirted with the Triple Crown and has driven in nine runs in nine postseason games. An opt-out clause means this could be a two-year deal worth $50 million, but the Red Sox aren’t worried about that now. Martinez has been an incredible pickup. He might be the single biggest reason Boston made the jump from ALDS pushover in 2016 and 2017 to pennant winner in 2018.

The whole Hanley Ramirez thing wasn’t really working out, so the Red Sox signed Moreland to a low-cost one-year contract ($5.5 million) last offseason, and he played well enough that they brought him back on a two-year deal this year. League average offense and above-average glovework makes for an above-average player. A hamstring injury has limited Moreland to pinch-hit duty for much of the postseason, but he did play the field in ALCS Game 5, and figures to be more of a factor in the World Series.

Wasn’t it only like two weeks that David Price was being talked about as one of the worst free agent mistakes in recent memory? Funny how a dominant performance (on short rest!) in a pennant-clinching game can change things. Three years ago the Red Sox signed Price to what is still the largest pitching contract in baseball history in terms of guaranteed money. Only Zack Greinke’s monster contract with the Diamondbacks has Price’s deal beat in terms of average annual value, and that is among all players, not just pitchers. 

By no means has Price been bad during his three seasons in Boston (3.74 ERA and 119 ERA+), but he hadn’t lived up to the contract until ALCS Game 5, and he’s heard plenty of boos along the way. Once upon a time there was a (brief) narrative that the Red Sox had to trade for Sale because Price failed to be an ace, as if Price pitching like an ace would’ve stopped them from trading for Sale. Anyway, another great showing (or two) in the World Series should end those boos forever.

International Free Agency

There are two ways for teams to acquire amateur talent: The draft and international free agency. The Red Sox scout Latin American and Asia very well and have turned out quality players to use on their roster and as trade chips for years and years, and the fruit of that labor can be seen up and down the 2018 team.

Signed for a moderate bonus out of Aruba in 2009, Xander Bogaerts was the team’s starting third baseman during the 2013 postseason, and now he’s looking for a second World Series ring, this time at his natural shortstop position. Bogaerts quickly developed into an elite prospect — the Red Sox signed his twin brother Jair Bogaerts for $180,000 at the same time — and he’s been among the most productive shortstops in baseball the last few seasons. He hit .288/.360/.522 with 23 home runs during his career year (to date) in 2018.

Rafael Devers was the consensus best hitter in the 2013-14 international free agent class and he quickly showed why in the minors, as he displayed unreal power potential and the innate ability to get the fat part of the bat on the ball. Devers, who is still only 22, remains a work in progress defensively and call fall into prolonged funks at the plate, but he’s locked in right now, and hit what proved to be the game-winning three-run home run in ALCS Game 5.

Other Notables 

Those 25 players above made up the Red Sox’s roster for the ALCS. Several other players spent time with Boston this year — in some cases, they spent the entire season on the big-league roster — and helped get the club to the postseason, but are not expected to be on the World Series roster. Here are the Red Sox’s remaining notables and how they were acquired.

Left-hander Brian Johnson spent the entire regular season on the big-league roster as a swingman, throwing 99 1/3 innings with a 4.17 ERA across 13 starts and 25 relief appearances. He was not on either the ALDS or ALCS roster, but has traveled with the team in the postseason and remains available as an injury replacement.

Like Johnson, Tzu-Wei Lin was not on either the ALDS or ALCS roster, but he has traveled with the Red Sox throughout the postseason and is on standby as a potential injury replacement. The Taiwanese-born infielder spent 2018 as an up and down utility guy who played four different positions with the Red Sox. Lin’s $2.05 million bonus is a record for a position player from Taiwan.

A knee injury, specifically October 2017 surgery and subsequent complications, limited Dustin Pedroia to three games in 2018. He hasn’t played since May and his ongoing injury issues led to the Kinsler trade. Pedroia is of course a heart and soul Red Sox player and he is of course traveling with the team in the postseason. You think he’d miss this? No way.

Drew Pomeranz was an All-Star with the Padres in 2016 and his final act as a Padre was throwing a scoreless inning in the 2016 All-Star Game at Petco Park. Two days later he was traded to the Red Sox straight up for top pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza. Pomeranz turned in an excellent 2017 but has been besieged by injuries and ineffectiveness in 2018 — he threw 74 innings with a 6.08 ERA (72 ERA+) this year — leading to him being excluded from the ALDS and ALCS rosters. Pomeranz has traveled with the team in the postseason and could be an injury replacement, though I suspect Johnson is ahead of him on the depth chart.

As for Espinoza, he has not pitched in an official game since August 2016 due to Tommy John surgery and subsequent complications. ranks him as the 12th best prospect in a stacked Padres system.

For all intents and purposes the Tyler Thornburg trade has been a disaster for the Red Sox. They sent Travis Shaw and three prospects, including the well-regarded Mauricio Dubon, to the Brewers for Thornburg (and no one else) in December 2016. It wasn’t until July 2018 that Thornburg actually took the mound for the Red Sox. He was hampered by injuries last season and earlier this season. Thornburg allowed 15 runs in 24 innings this year and was shut down in September because the team didn’t like the way he was bouncing back physically from his relief outings. As best I can tell, he has not traveled with the team in the postseason. (It’s possible Thornburg was with the Red Sox and I just didn’t see him while covering the ALCS.)

Unlike the other players in this section, knuckleballer Steven Wright was on the postseason roster at one point this year. He was on the club’s ALDS roster and was expected to be a key setup man, but knee trouble led to him being removed from the roster (he was replaced by Hembree). Wright threw 53 2/3 innings with a 2.68 ERA (163 ERA+) this season and has been a solid swingman for the Red Sox for a few years now. They originally acquired him from the Indians for former top prospect Lars Anderson in a one-for-one trade. Wright is expected to miss the World Series due to the knee injury.

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