The trade deadline was a massive disappointment for the inactive Boston Red Sox but there are reasons why they didn’t pull the trigger on any deals.
The MLB trade deadline came and went without the Boston Red Sox doing anything to address their beleaguered bullpen. A reliable late-inning reliever capable of filling the void in the closer role was an obvious need. Dave Dombrowski cast a wide net in search of a solution, only to come up empty. What went wrong?
The Red Sox were on the fence about whether or not they should consider themselves buyers at the deadline. An encouraging series victory over the New York Yankees last weekend put them on the cusp of a playoff spot, creating an expectation that Dombrowski would be spurred into action. Yet when the deadline passed, he was still sitting on that fence gathering splinters.
The common conception is that this is a massive failure by Dombrowski. While it’s true he wasn’t able to complete his mission of upgrading the bullpen, this isn’t necessarily the grave mistake it’s being made out to be.
Identifying a need is easy. Finding a viable solution is another story. Dombrowski isn’t foolish enough to think the Red Sox don’t need a bullpen upgrade. He can spout the company line about how he believes in his guys but we roll our eyes at that statement when he follows by admitting he discussed potential trades with other teams. He simply found the asking price to be too high.
While that may sound like an excuse, there must be truth to the notion that sellers were asking for a ridiculous haul in return for top-tier relievers. We know this because none of the other buyers with bullpen needs were willing to pay that price either.
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Look at the relievers who were traded. Shane Greene was the best of the “proven closers” moved on deadline day. Greene is having a brilliant season with 22 saves and a sparkling 1.18 ERA. He also has a career 4.53 ERA and it was north of 5.00 last season. He could certainly help but Dombrowski couldn’t stomach giving up one of his few valuable prospects for a reliever who isn’t a sure thing. Anything less than a bundle headlined by one of their top handful of prospects probably wasn’t beating the offer from an Atlanta Braves team with a deeper farm system.
There were many other relievers traded at the deadline but none who we would have been overly excited about. Drew Pomeranz, Mark Melancon, and Roenis Elias have all spent stints in Boston that didn’t pan out. I’m not eager for a reunion with any of them.
Sam Dyson, Daniel Hudson, Hunter Strickland, Joe Biagini? All solid options who are better than the worst relievers in Boston’s bullpen. Technically, that makes them an upgrade. They were all attainable at a reasonable cost but they can’t fill the closer role. Acquiring any of those middle relievers wouldn’t be enough to make this a championship team and is, therefore, a waste of resources.
Leading up to the deadline, rumors swirled with names like Edwin Diaz, Ken Giles, Raisel Iglesias, and Kirby Yates. Those are proven closers capable of providing exactly what the Red Sox need and they all remain under control for at least one more season. This is the type of reliever Dombrowski targetted. They are also the options he found to be overpriced or unattainable.
Dombrowski came up short in his pursuit but is it really a failure when none of those pitchers ended up going anywhere? I would be furious if another team swooped in and acquired any of these options for a package the Red Sox could easily have competed with. That didn’t happen, which tells us that sellers weren’t realistic about the value of those closers or they weren’t really interested in dealing them.
MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported that the Red Sox inquired about a number of relievers, only to be told that teams liked prospects from other clubs more than what Boston had to offer. The only way they were getting a deal done for one of those top-tier relievers was “to do something stupid.” Getting an elite closer like Diaz would be great but not if it costs you Andrew Benintendi. Giving up Michael Chavis instead would also be tough to swallow. The Mets supposedly wanted major league-ready talent in return so that’s the type of offer it would take to pry Diaz away. Meeting those demands would be “stupid.”
Dombrowski admitted that he may have been a bit more open-minded about giving up precious assets if the Red Sox were closer to first place. Giving up the type of haul it would have cost for a true difference-maker would have been worth it if it put Boston over the top but adding a closer wouldn’t vault this team to the front of the contender’s list.
Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make. The bullpen pieces Boston could afford wouldn’t move the needle enough. Convincing teams to trade the star-caliber closers they ultimately hung on to would require a ridiculous overpay. Maybe that’s worth it if it makes you the favorite for a World Series title. It’s not worthwhile in order to secure a Wild Card spot.
If you want to blame Dombrowski, criticize him for last winter when he overpaid postseason heroes Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce rather than committing their limited financial resources to the bullpen. He put too much faith in Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier to handle the closer duties and it backfired. Those valid complaints are the reason we’re in this position.
Compounding those mistakes with more poor decisions doesn’t rectify the problem. Dombrowski can’t be blamed for other teams refusing to part with the pieces we wanted at the deadline. Instead of trashing Dombrowski for his lack of action, perhaps we should be applauding the restraint he showed by not overpaying for a moderate short-term fix that could significantly hurt the franchise for years down the line.