Zach Stewart, SP
Last time we checked in on Zack Stewart, he owned a 1.96 ERA despite striking out just five batters in 18-plus innings of work for Triple-A Pawtucket. His ERA has shot up since, but the underlying numbers are far more believable and satisfying this time around. Stewart has punched out 22 batters in his last 20 innings, accomplishing that feat while handing out free passes to seven hitters, giving him a 3.2 K/BB that matches up nicely with what he's put up for the season while in the Red Sox organization.
Stewart isn't a prospect, but he's a pitcher whose stuff has always surpassed his results. Boston has had success squeezing production out of arms like this the past couple of years -- Andrew Miller, Franklin Morales, and Clayton Mortensen all come to mind -- so while much of the focus has been on how much the Red Sox blew it by dealing Kevin Youkilis when they did, let's take a step back and realize a few things. Boston acquired a mid-20s lottery ticket with six years of service time and options left, in exchange for an aging, injury-prone third baseman they had a replacement on hand for. Youkilis has hit .246/.360/.439 with Chicago, bringing his season line to a very average .238/.336/.404 that's combined with below-average defense. Stewart looks like he's starting to come around, especially in terms of strikeouts, and while the real test is in the majors, this is still a good sign.
Now, the important thing to realize is that both of these players are lottery tickets, not just Stewart. The White Sox might have bet on the more established player, but there's always the risk of injury with Youkilis -- who has already missed time for two different dings since the trade -- and while he's been useful at the plate, he hasn't been vintage Youkilis, either. Like he did with Boston, Youkilis has shown flashes that make you think he's back, but those are followed by struggles that remind you that he is indeed on the wrong side of 30, and closer to the end than he is his peak. Stewart is a different kind of bet for Boston, but he's inexpensive, under team control, and might just be another useful piece that can shuttle between Triple-A and the majors going forward. Different players for different needs, and the deal seems to be working out for both sides to this point. That's not the exciting position to take, but the truth of most trades resembles this, regardless.
Chris Carpenter, RP
Carpenter has tossed 15 innings on his rehab assignment, including nine at Pawtucket, signifying as well as any calendar that his rehab was nearing its end, and he needed to be added to the 40-man roster. Thanks to the deals that sent Matt Albers, Scott Podsednik, and Lars Anderson out of town, there was room available without having to sacrifice any additional players to the waivers god.
The 26-year-old Carpenter is a recent convert to relief, as he used to be a starting pitching prospect with the Cubs. His control went a little nuts after the switch, in part due to the added velocity that a relief role can bring, and it hasn't quite recovered yet. That's to be expected, though, after elbow surgery, and Carpenter has another month to figure things out before he's called up as part of expanded September rosters, anyway.
The positive news is that he's missing bats once more, so even if he can't always aim his stuff, it's still there post-op.He hasn't allowed a run since July 22, five innings and appearances ago, and struck out four against two walks and four hits in that stretch. There's no room for him in Boston's bullpen at present, but there doesn't need to be: just like Junichi Tazawa, Alex Wilson, Clayton Mortensen, and others, Carpenter is loaded with inexpensive service time, and can just as easily be a part of the future bullpen as today's.
Andy LaRoche, 3B
LaRoche is no prospect, even less so than Stewart. He's spent five years and over 1,300 plate appearances in the majors, and has just a career .226/.305/.337 line to show for all that time. He's always had the patience, but never the power or batting average, and as disappointed as some are with his older brother's career, LaRoche the Younger has produced even less.
He's always hit a bit in Triple-A, though -- a career .287/.380/.479 line in five seasons at the level -- and 2012 is no exception. Over his last 10 games, he's been even better than that, mashing to the tune of .297/.350/.568. Former general manager Theo Epstein has said that he doesn't believe in Quad-A players, but Andy LaRoche would like a word with him about that particular topic.