The Boston Red Sox are expected to be active buyers at the MLB trade deadline but dealing for a rental player may not make sense for this club.
Trade rumors are heating up with the deadline approaching at the end of the month. The Boston Red Sox plan to upgrade their pitching staff, whether it be the back of the rotation or with a late-inning reliever, but there are some obstacles in their path.
Many of these factors hindering their ability to make a deal are self-inflicted. The farm system has been depleted by previous trades that helped build last year’s championship team. Ownership is reluctant to add to MLB’s highest payroll if it means suffering the steepest luxury tax penalties again. Now we’re hearing that Boston’s options on the trade market could be limited by their hesitance to give up their few remaining trade chips for a rental player.
Tony La Russa, special assistant to Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, joined Dale & Keefe on WEEI on Thursday to discuss his opinion on the team’s pitching needs. While it’s clear an upgrade is necessary to remain in the playoff hunt, La Russa believes that trading for a player who will hit free agency after the season isn’t in their best interest.
"“You’re asking my opinion, I’ll give it to you: I’ve been down for two years now in spring training, observing (prospects), we’re definitely stocking the minor leagues again with legitimate prospects, and we do have a process if you want to make a deal,” La Russa said. “But I know that there’s a very strong sentiment that this is a good time to rebuild and refresh our minor leagues so we can keep making deals in the future, and if you want to try and make a one-shot deal for a guy that’s a free agent or something and give up some prospects, that probably doesn’t make a lot of sense for our club.”"
Ultimately, the decision isn’t up to La Russa. He does have Dombrowski’s ear though and his decades of experience as a player, manager, and in the front office gives credibility to his opinion.
He also has a point. Fans don’t want to hear it because they believe the Red Sox have limitless financial resources and they have no qualms about shipping out a package of prospects they’ve never seen. Sorry, that’s not how baseball works.
You need prospects to make deals and the Red Sox farm system is woefully thin on appealing trade chips. They need to restock, which can’t happen if they keep trading away prospects for a quick fix and depriving themselves of a first-round draft pick by spending deep into the tax.
We all want to see a winning ballclub every year but the key to sustainable success is combining a talented major league roster with a pipeline of prospects who can replenish the team with cost-controlled assets or be used as trade chips. Boston is loaded with star power at the big league level with only a couple of holes to fill. If they pull from their thin farm system to plug those holes now, it leaves them with even less for the future. When the payroll reaches its limits and the farm system becomes barren, a teardown and rebuild scenario becomes inevitable. Nobody wants that.
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La Russa’s vision is a practical approach to ensuring the Red Sox remain a contender for the foreseeable future. They aren’t the superpower they were last season but they are in the hunt. Building up their farm system rather than trading it away will help them stay in that position.
That doesn’t mean the Red Sox will stand pat at the deadline. La Russa is simply suggesting that if they do make a deal then it should be for a pitcher who can help them beyond this season.
The sting of giving up prospects is more palatable if they can acquire a starting pitcher to fill the No. 5 spot in their rotation this season and potentially replace Rick Porcello if he leaves in free agency this winter. Nathan Eovaldi would transition back into a starter next year in this scenario to fill the vacated rotation spot without requiring another move. They won’t need to overpay on the free agent market or shell out more prospects to acquire another starter if they get one now who will stick around to fill that spot.
There are several starting pitchers and relievers who the Red Sox should keep an eye on if they hit the trade market. Zack Wheeler and Madison Bumgarner may not be ideal fits for the rotation and they may need to seek alternatives to Will Smith as a bullpen target if Dombrowski listens to La Russa’s advice.
Teams are more reluctant to trade away players who aren’t on expiring contracts and the price will be steeper when the player isn’t a rental. Nobody said it would be easy to find an upgrade at the deadline but further depleting their weak farm system for a rental will only make their goal of sustainable success that much harder.