Despite a split in San Francisco and a pummeling of the lowly Twins, the Boston Red Sox entered this week having lost 6 of their last 12 and are in dire need of a shakeup. It’s time for Dave Dombrowski to show the aggressive problem-solving approach that made him so successful in Detroit.
The team has not only been losing games, but players, too: shutdown set-up man Carson Smith was shut down for the year, catcher and leftfielder-by-default Blake Swihart suffered a gruesome ankle injury, and Ryan Hanigan – who has been taking an absolute BEATING – followed him to the DL with neck stiffness.
To make matters worse, all of the lineup regulars who overachieved during the team’s historic May are now regressing to the mean as expected. Travis Shaw has just one home run in his last 17 games and he has hit just .194 over that span (his sky-high BABIP has come crashing down to Earth), Hanley Ramirez’s average exit velocity (love the stat or hate it, it’s here to stay) hasn’t exceeded 95 MPH in any week since the end of April, and then there’s this little nugget on reigning Player of the Month Jackie Bradley Jr., courtesy of Jared Carrabis:
Jackie Bradley Jr. is hitting .172 (5-for-29) since the game his 29-game hitting streak ended.
— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) June 5, 2016
*Tweet was published before the Minnesota series, Bradley had a double, a triple and a home run against a porous Twins pitching staff/defense.
But there’s a decent chance that you didn’t notice those plummeting offensive numbers for the league’s best lineup, because the pitching has been even worse. Joe Kelly has done terribly since his strong return from the DL (surprise, surprise…) and was demoted to Pawtucket, and Clay Buchholz continues to struggle despite his demotion to the bullpen. Rick Porcello has seen his ERA balloon to 4.00 since it peaked at 2.76 at April’s end, and Eduardo Rodriguez continues to be plagued by the home run ball.
Finally, the team continues to be dragged down by John Farrell’s complete ineptitude as a manager. There were a number of glaring gaffes on display in San Francisco, including a questionable decision to pinch hit for the red-hot Chris Young. Aside from his shocking inability to manage remotely well in interleague matchups, Farrell’s biggest red flag continues to be leaving his starters in just a little longer than he should. It has become a recurring theme to watch a starter trot out for another inning after getting knocked around, give up a hit or two more, and then Farrell finally walking out clapping his hands.
And yet, the Sox still have SO much promise. Xander Bogaerts is a bonafide MVP candidate, playing better defense at shortstop than anyone could have imagined, and now has 8 home runs to go with his absurd .350 batting average. He wreaks havoc on the basepaths with some of the most clever running I can remember seeing, a testament to his off the charts instincts and baseball IQ. He deserved an all-star nod last year, will almost certainly earn one this year, and will likely at least be in the running for the award for baseball’s best player if he keeps it up.
Mookie Betts is also coming in HOT. He ranks among the best defensive outfielders in baseball, has been steadily improving his batting average since mid-May (it now sits at .290), and is clawing his way up the rankings for most RBIs and runs scored. Betts and Bogaerts are talented and athletic, and as long as they’re healthy, the Sox will be in the wild card race this season. It’s a beautiful thing to see two 23-year-olds blossoming together, even if it is a little bittersweet that Swihart hasn’t had the chance to do the same yet.
Further, Steven Wright lowered his ERA to an American League best 2.09, and David Price has carried a 2.55 ERA through his last six starts since making a mechanical adjustment. Craig Kimbrel finally looks like one of the best relief pitchers in baseball, Junichi Tazawa as usual has been stellar (excluding his run-ins with the Blue Jays…) and Robbie Ross has been arguably more deserving of a high leverage role than the stumbling Koji Uehara.
There IS talent on this team, and quite a bit of it. But the flaws remain; the question therefore becomes “Is this team good enough to win a World Series with the right additions at the trade deadline?” My gut says no, but stranger things have happened (e.g. the entire 2013 Red Sox) and for the sake of this column, let’s say yes. But the immediate follow-up question is, who is available?
The answer will not please Red Sox fans. Typically, the players available at the deadline are those entering a walk-year, and the free agent pitching market this winter is barren following Stephen Strasburg’s 7-year extension. The one big fish is (laughably) the 36-year-old Rich Hill, who has continued his career resurrection in Oakland after the Red Sox let him walk for a measly $6 million dollars.
The Red Sox could attempt to play hardball with Billy Beane (bold strategy, Cotton), and would likely be able to pry Hill away without giving up one of their elite four prospects in Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, Anderson Espinoza, and Rafael Devers, though nothing is guaranteed with the unpredictable Beane. It would not be shocking to see him ask for a second-tier, but still very good prospect like Sam Travis, or Michael Kopech; ideally, the team should only pull the trigger if it can form a package around a less promising player (Michael Chavis or Trey Ball?).
The team could also explore acquiring a package of Hill and slugger (and ironically, also a former Red Sox) Josh Reddick, but there is no chance the team steals Reddick without giving up a few good minor-leaguers. Thus, the team will likely need to seek more creative avenues for external reinforcement, and the best options appear to be buying low on a struggling veteran, or swinging for the fences with a young, controllable, talented arm.
In the domain of the former, Dombrowski could reach out to his former team and GM Al Avila and inquire about the struggling Anibal Sanchez. Would the Tigers be willing to gamble on Clay Buchholz, in the hopes that the deal could benefit all parties with each pitcher seemingly in need of a change of scenery? Seems far-fetched, but the Tigers need a shakeup about as badly as the Red Sox do.
Another team worth reaching out to is Pittsburgh, who has two struggling starters in Francisco Liriano and Jon Niese, and is likely looking to make room for top prospect Jameson Taillon, and eventually Tyler Glasnow. Buchholz could also interest the Pirates as a reclamation project, but given their crowded rotation, the Red Sox might need to sweeten the pot somehow, perhaps adding a few prospects to the mix.
But giving up prospects for a pitcher like Liriano or Niese who will be, at best, a fourth starter in the American League seems foolish. There’s also the names everyone brings up, like Julio Teheran, Sonny Gray, Tyson Ross, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Drew Pomeranz, but all will either command a tremendously steep price or carry significant question marks about their ability to succeed in Boston (or worse, both).
In the end, it seems shortsighted to dip into our prospect wealth to bring in a flawed pitcher just for the sake of trying to capitalize on the team’s opportunity this year. Instead, the team should really begin looking into relief pitchers and… dare I say it… bats? The bullpen is shaky after Kimbrel, Tazawa, and Ross, barring significant improvement from Heath Hembree or Matt Barnes.
Relief options include Milwaukee’s Jeremy Jeffress (RHP), and Will Smith (LHP), as well as Minnesota’s Fernando Abad (LHP) and Atlanta’s Arodys Vizcaino (RHP), all of whom appear as though they could step into a set-up role should Koji truly crumble. But for a more outlandish possibility, what about Andrew Miller? The Red Sox and Yankees don’t trade often, but with a bullpen surplus, maybe the Bombers would move Miller back to his former team?
Trading for a reliever seems like a justifiable decision, given that the team will likely need to improve its bullpen for next year regardless. Unfortunately, the cost of relievers has skyrocketed, as made apparent by the Andrew Miller trade in 2014, and the Craig Kimbrel and Ken Giles deals of this past offseason. It’d be hard to stomach giving up a top-10 prospect for a reliever, unless the Red Sox received a bat back in return who could shore them up offensively at 3B, LF, or C.
All of this is a long way of saying that it’ll be a tough road to October for Boston this year. The team has had a lot go Wright so far (I’ll see myself out) and it remains to be seen whether their hitters can keep their torrid pace and their pitchers can rebound. The team ought to figure out their bullpen woes, however, and if Dombrowski can do that or add an impact player elsewhere without giving up Moncada, Benintendi, Devers, Espinoza, Travis, Kopech, or (God forbid…) Swihart, I will gladly cosign.