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Looking back at the Brewers trade of Tyler Thornburg

With Tyler Thornburg officially done for the year in Boston (before it even began), let’s take a look back at the trade.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago Cubs Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Back in early December, David Stearns and the Brewers pulled together another impressive deal, sending Tyler Thornburg to the Red Sox for four players: Travis Shaw, Mauricio Dubon, Josh Pennington, and a player to be named later (which ended up being Yeison Coca). While it was a haul for the Brewers even before the season began, the injury issues that Tyler Thornburg has dealt with are making the deal look like an even better move. As Thornburg is officially out for the season now with thoraic outlet syndrome that will require season ending surgery, let’s take a look back at the deal, as well as why the Brewers aren’t at fault for what happened to Thornburg.

So far, the Brewers appear to be ahead in this deal.

It’s not hard for the Brewers to be ahead in the deal at this point. They got four solid players back for Thornburg, and if any one of them turns into a success, this deal is great for the team. In fact, it’s already started paying off for the Brewers.

1. The Brewers might have come out ahead even if all they got was Travis Shaw.

Knowing what we do today, if the Brewers had been offered a Shaw for Thornburg straight-up deal back in December and taken it, the Brewers could have still come out ahead. Shaw has revitalized his career in Milwaukee, batting .306/.355/.533 with 11 HR and 46 RBI so far this season. While the strikeout rate is still a bit high (50 K in 245 PA), Shaw has stabilized a third base position that had seen a lot of turnover in recent years. Not only that, but the Brewers will have him for four more seasons after this one. If Shaw puts up numbers that just come close to that in each year, the Brewers could win this deal with Shaw alone.

2. Acquiring Mauricio Dubon as well made this an even better deal.

If Travis Shaw is the cake of this deal, then Mauricio Dubon is...well, he might also be the cake here and make this a double-layer cake. After being acquired, Dubon instantly joined the Brewers top prospect list and has garnered some big praise. He’s currently ranked #9 in the Brewers system by He’s hitting .289/.347/.370 with 29 stolen bases for the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers. He’s earned All-Star honors in that league. He’s even been predicted to be the Brewers next Hall of Fame player. That last one might be a stretch, but it just shows how highly people think of this kid. To get Dubon in addition to Shaw made this deal so much better.

3. That leaves Josh Pennington and Yeison Coca to just sweeten it a little more.

Of course, the haul of prospects for Thornburg didn’t stop there. The Brewers also acquired RHP Josh Pennington and infielder Yeison Coca. Both young players, they have the potential to make this deal into something truly special (and put the icing on this cake). Pennington is on the Brewers top 30 prospect list on at #21, though is currently rehabbing in Arizona after surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. Meanwhile, Coca will likely play with one of the rookie level teams this season. If either of these guys (or both) end up panning out, this deal just becomes that much sweeter.

The Brewers aren’t at fault for trading away Tyler Thornburg, even with this injury.

Of course, on the other side, there’s Tyler Thornburg. He’s officially out for the season now with thoracic outlet syndrome that will sideline him for at least nine months. While this destroys any chance of the Red Sox getting value from Thornburg this season, he still has two more years after this one, and could still bounce back.

Whether it’s fair or not, there is a sentiment around this trade that the Brewers pulled one over on the Red Sox. By trading him before he went down injured, the Brewers dumped their damaged goods on someone else. It’s especially easy to understand on the Red Sox side, as they have not got one game from him yet. However, there’s a few things to remember about that point.

1. The Red Sox have their own doctors who are more than capable of evaluating a player, and did decide he was healthy.

Many people want to point at past injuries for Thornburg or the Brewers’ training regimen as at fault for Thornburg’s shoulder injury. However, one thing to remember before any trade goes through is that doctors from both sides evaluate the players before a trade is official. It’s part of their due diligence, and it’s up to them to call anything out before a trade happens. Remember the Carlos Gomez near trade with the Mets from a few years ago? The Mets didn’t like something they saw in Gomez’s physical and called off the trade. That’s how much power these doctors can have. If there was any concern on the Red Sox side about Thornburg’s health, the doctors could have pulled the plug before it was official. In fact, Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowski said that “the Brewers were forthcoming in their release of medical information”, and that the problems may be related to the Red Sox offseason shoulder workouts. So, there should be no guilt on the Brewers side for making this trade.

2. This was not a one-year deal for the Red Sox.

Even with Thornburg not throwing a single pitch for the Red Sox this season, it doesn’t mean that this deal will go down as a failure for this. It’s a big hit to the value they got from the deal, especially since the Red Sox were hoping to have Thornburg solidify their bullpen this season. However, the Red Sox can still get two years from Thornburg if he comes back next season and pitches well. Of course, it’s also not a given that he does return. Matt Collins points this out on Over the Monster:

It’s also worth noting that the procedure Thornburg is about to undergo is not always successful. Just recently, Matt Harvey of the Mets underwent the surgery and he hasn’t been the same. That does not mean Thornburg is toast, but it’s worth remembering that surgery is not always an easy fix. Sometimes, shoulders are just done. Hopefully, this is not one of those times, because something tells me the Red Sox might need some bullpen help next year, too.

As also mentioned at the end of the quote, the Red Sox will still likely need bullpen help next season, so a healthy Thornburg would hopefully be a boost to them next year. Even with zero value for this year, more time is needed to get a better grasp on the full value here.

While the Red Sox are still waiting to see how this trade turns out for them, the Brewers have already received some big dividends on their return. Shaw could be a regular at third for several years, Dubon is powering his way through the Brewers minor league system, and there’s still a few more players who could impress in Pennington and Coca. Though there’s still a lot more to play out here, it’s hard to classify this trade as anything but a big win for the Brewers.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference