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Tim O’ Sullivan: Peavy to Sox a major coup? Time will tell

Ben Cherington spent wisely during his trade deadline shopping on Tuesday night, and Jake Peavy did not exactly come from the thrift shop. The right-handed pitcher was one of the biggest names available and has the potential to be a difference maker for the Red Sox.

But even if it was a thrifty move by Cherington, was it the right move? Did Boston really need another starting pitcher, especially one who could wind up in the middle of the rotation? If other pieces fall into place in the bullpen and the now-depleted big league infield, then the Peavy trade could turn out to be a another smart decision by Cherington, who has done an excellent job building this year’s Sox. But if those pieces don’t fall into place, acquiring Peavy may end up a fruitless endeavor.

Let’s start with the positives, and the price tag is at the top of that list. Boston sent Jose Iglesias to Detroit for Avisail Garcia, and then shipped Garcia and three low-level, unheralded prospects (pitchers Francelis Montas and J.B. Wendelken, and infielder Cleulius Rondon) to the White Sox for Peavy and reliever Brayan Villarreal, who has spent most of the year in Triple-A and is currently out with a sprained thumb. All told, that cost seems cheap for a proven starting pitcher like Peavy.

There’s no doubt it was savvy shopping by Cherington. He found a team in Detroit that was desperate for a shortstop because the Tigers incumbent at that position, Jhonny Peralta, is expected to be suspended for his connection to the Biogenisis case. Cherington also sold high on Iglesias, who has hit .244/.296/.292 in 829 Triple-A at-bats, but has put up some gaudy numbers with Boston this year (.330/.376/.409) in 215 at-bats thanks to a hot/fluky stretch from late May to late June.

Sure, Iglesias is an amazing fielder, and his ability to play short or third at a high level has been instrumental to Boston’s success this season. But if he was producing at or below his Triple-A slash line, which seems like a more realistic projection of what kind of hitter he will be (he’s hitting .205 in July), it’s doubtful the Tigers would have given up Garcia for him, and it’s doubtful the White Sox would have given up Peavy for anything less than a prospect like Garcia (.380/.424/.561 in 171 minor league at-bats this year).

Cherington also dealt from a position of long-term strength. Xander Bogaerts has rocketed through the Red Sox farm system, is one of the top prospects in all of minor league baseball, may prove to be major-league ready now if he’s called upon, and is certainly viewed as Boston’s shortstop of the future. Iglesias’s future at third was just as murky with Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini (tearing it up in Double-A) in the system.

So, the Red Sox got near maximum value for a player who was probably not going to fit into their future plans, they didn’t have to give up any top prospects, and in return they got a 32-year-old former Cy Young Award winner who is eager to pitch in Fenway’s spotlight, is coming off an All-Star season and is under contract for next year. Sure, Peavy has a 4.28 ERA this season, but he had a 2.97 ERA after his first nine starts before suffering a rib injury, and in the two starts he’s had since coming off the disabled list, he seems to be back to that early season form.

Peavy will help the Sox in the next two months as they contend with Tampa for the AL East title and try to avoid the dreaded one-game wild card playoff. The Rays have the best starting rotation in baseball, and while Boston’s starters have been good lately, they could falter at any moment. Jon Lester and Felix Doubront have both pitched better over the last month, but it wouldn’t be shocking if either one began to struggle again. Ryan Dempster has been fighting a groin injury. And the return of injured and erstwhile ace Clay Buchholz keeps getting pushed back.

Here is where we look at the question marks, and the pieces that must fall into place for this trade to amount to any real postseason success for the Sox. If Buchholz can’t return from injury, or if Lester doesn’t keep improving, what kind of chances does Boston even have in the playoffs? It may not take a staff of aces to win a World Series, but you need at least one or two. Peavy may want the ball in the big games, but he hasn’t proven himself as a postseason ace. He’s had two postseason starts (2005 and ’06) and is 0-2 with a 12.10 ERA.

Now flip it around. What if Buccholz does come back, Lester does throw like the No. 1 pitcher he has been in the past, Dubront keeps up his current pace and so does for John Lackey, who has really been Boston’s best pitcher from the beginning of the season until now? If all that happens, Peavy might not even get in the postseason rotation. Would this trade seem so wonderful then?

Now ask yourself, was starting pitching really Boston’s biggest need, or was it relief pitching? The bullpen has been decimated by injuries and is relying on arms that may prove to be too inexperienced (Drake Britton, Jose De La Torre, Pedro Beato) or get too worn out (Koji Uehara). Peavy’s arrival will probably push Brandon Workman into the pen, and the young hard-throwing righty may be just what’s needed out there, but then again he might not. If Uehara gets hurt, or the set-up guys can’t hold a lead, it won’t matter how deep the starting rotation is, the Sox will be looking at a wildcard spot at best.

Finally, who is going to play third now? Maybe Brandon Snyder can improve on his. 212/.235/.455 slash line, maybe Brock Holt will get a shot and make the most of his chance, maybe Middlebrooks can redeem himself at Fenway, or maybe Bogaerts will get called up and prove to be the phenom he appears to be. Or maybe none of them are really ready for the full time job and Boston is left with a gaping hole in the order and in the field.

Given the price and Peavy’s potential, it’s easy to view this trade as an instant success. But only time will tell if Cherington’s latest move will amount to anything of consequence.

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