The Pivetta heist: The trade acquiring Sox best starter shaping up to Bloom's biggest steal

·4 min read

Jun. 30—What do Heathcliff Slocumb and Heath Hembree have in common besides similar sounding names?

Both were 31-year-old right-handed relief pitchers who had established big league track records at the time they were traded by the Boston Red Sox. Slocumb was a former all-star, Hembree a World Series champion, and both were viewed as the solution to their new teams' bullpen woes.

With the benefit of hindsight, it's clear they have something else in common too. They were at the center of two of the biggest heists in Red Sox history.

The 1997 trade that sent Slocumb to the Seattle Mariners has long been regarded as one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history. Slocumb went on to pitch one and a half unremarkable seasons for Seattle while Boston got back prospects Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe, who went on to become key pillars of the 2004 World Series championship team and are both now enshrined in the Red Sox Hall of Fame.

That kind of fleecing is pretty hard to top, but Chaim Bloom's 2020 trade of Hembree and fellow reliever Brandon Workman to the Philadelphia Phillies for starting pitchers Nick Pivetta and prospect Connor Seabold might be the closest any Red Sox decision maker has come since.

Pivetta, who had been a sub-replacement level pitcher though most of his first three years in Philadelphia, has blossomed into a rotation mainstay and now an All-Star candidate since his arrival in Boston. After showing flashes of greatness at times last year, Pivetta has emerged as Boston's best pitcher in 2022, overcoming a terrible start to help fuel the club's recent surge back into playoff contention.

Over his last 10 starts Pivetta has gone 8-1 with a 1.85 ERA, holding opponents to just a .185 average and .536 OPS over that stretch while going at least six innings in nine of the 10 outings. He also pitched a complete game to beat the reigning American League champion Houston Astros and in his last two starts topped fellow playoff contenders St. Louis and Cleveland to help the Red Sox earn some of their biggest series wins to date.

Pivetta's run of dominance has been especially important with Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Whitlock all out with injuries, and Wednesday night he'll get the ball in the club's series finale against the Toronto Blue Jays, arguably the biggest regular season game of the season so far.

Landing a quality starting pitcher for a pair of relievers by itself would have been enough to make the deal a win, but the trade looks even better given the other parts involved.

From the Phillies' perspective, they did not get what they hoped for out of the deal. Hembree only threw 9.1 innings in a Phillies uniform and posted a 12.54 ERA before signing with Cleveland the following offseason. Workman wasn't any better, throwing 13.0 innings with a 6.92 ERA for the Phillies before eventually finding his way back to Boston. Philadelphia went 19-20 after the trade, finished with a bullpen ERA of 7.06 and did not make that year's expanded postseason field.

Pivetta, meanwhile, has thrown 253.2 innings and counting with Boston, going 19-13 with a 3.97 ERA. and that doesn't even factor in what Seabold could contribute down the line.

While there's no doubt Seabold hasn't looked great in his two big league starts so far — he got lit up by the Blue Jays in Monday's emergency spot start — he's still been dominant in Triple-A this spring and has demonstrated some intriguing potential. The 21 swing and misses he generated against Toronto were the most by a Red Sox starter in a game this season, and even if you're not sold on his potential as an MLB starter he could still prove useful as a depth option or a potential trade piece.

It would be something if Seabold wound up helping facilitate another big trade deadline acquisition, and Bloom turning two expendable relief pitchers into an All-Star caliber starter and another impact player would be the baseball equivalent of starting with a paper clip and flipping it into a house.

But that would just be the icing on the cake. Even if Seabold never makes a meaningful contribution, this will still go down as an all-time trade for the Red Sox right up there with the Slocumb deal struck nearly 25 years ago.

Email: mcerullo@northofboston.com.

Twitter: @MacCerullo.