A series win ahead of the August 2nd Trade Deadline could make the Red Sox buyers.
After a lackluster start to the season that saw the Boston Red Sox start 10-19, the team turned the season around on the strength of a 20-6 record in the month of June, climbing to 10 games over the .500 mark as the calendar turned to July.
The June hot streak showed us that the talent is there to make a deep playoff run if they can secure a coveted ticket to the annual October dance. The rash of injuries to both the starting rotation and bullpen can be held up as a justifiable excuse for the poor play in July. Nagging injuries to All-Stars Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, and IL stints for MVP candidate Rafael Devers and star free agent acquisition Trevor Story can help to explain the offensive woes.
With a revamped farm system under Chief Baseball Officer Chiam Bloom, the Red Sox not only possess top end minor league talent, but the prospect depth required to make moves of any magnitude at the trade deadline without having to gut the farm system out of desperation. The addition of a veteran starter to provide stability and depth to the rotation as key pitchers work their way back to health, and a reliable bullpen arm to help the team keep leads and close out wins looked to be the missing pieces to help the Sox get over the hump and secure a Wild Card spot in the new, expanded playoff format in 2022. Steady and consistent production from the first base position, an all too common theme over the last few years, could bring stability to lineup that’s proven to be potent over the course of their career. With health and some tinkering to the roster, the Red Sox have the potential to be a force as the season goes into the final months.
The month of July has changed that line of thinking both inside the organization and among the fan base. Beyond the 7-18 record after dropping Game 1 of the month’s final series against the NL Central leading Milwaukee Brewers, is a run differential (-81) that few teams can endure and still find themselves playing October baseball. Not only have the losses piled up, but a 5 game losing streak against AL East rivals New York and Toronto by a combined score of 67-13 seemed to crush any hopes of a postseason run, and they would fall to a game under .500 after Wednesday’s to Cleveland, falling behind the Baltimore Orioles for last place in the division in doing so.
A Thursday night win against the Guardians got the team back to the .500 mark, with an expanded playoff format for 2022, they sit just 3.5 games back of a Wild Card spot in the American League. With 61 regular season games remaining, the Red Sox are still in position to play meaningful games down the stretch. July’s final series against the Brewers in Fenway Park will likely define the Red Sox plans heading into the August 2nd Trade Deadline. A sweep in either direction probably firmly puts them in the camp of buyer or seller, while a series win could see them make a smaller mover to fortify the pitching staff or lineup. There’s also a scenario where they look to move a veteran impending free agent or two while adding smaller pieces to stay in contention for a final Wild Card spot.
With impending free agents Nathan Evaoldi, Christian Vazquez, and Martinez, along with franchise icon Xander Bogaerts expected to opt out of his current deal and elect free agency, the Red Sox could introduce a group of Trade Deadline “rentals” to the market that were not previously considered to be available. Even with only a few months remaining before becoming free agents, each would represent the kind of impact rental that could change the landscape of a playoff race. Of course, healthy and playing to their abilities, they can also help a Boston Red Sox team that’s still within striking distance of the last Wild Card spot secure a ticket to the annual October dance. Once at the party, anything is possible.
So, if the Red Sox, a team hovering around the .500 mark and just 3.5 games out of the final Wild Card spot were to add to their roster at the deadline, what would it look like? It’s nearly a guarantee that they wouldn’t find themselves in the sweepstake for generational talents like Shohei Ohtani or Juan Soto, the type of players that would require a massive haul of high upside young MLB talent and premium prospects. They likely wouldn’t make a move for one of the bigger name starting pitchers that are rumored to be available – Pablo Lopez, or Frankie Montas – requiring an organizational Top 5 prospect in return. Quality bullpen help always commands a premium (in the form of prospects) at the trade deadline, and while Dave Robertson, David Bednar, or Gregory Soto would go a long way in shoring up the back end of the bullpen, the price is likely too steep. Especially with reinforcements like Matt Strahm and Josh Taylor expected to join the suddenly formidable trio of John Schreiber, Tanner Houck, and Garrett Whitlock in the game’s final innings. The most logical move may be a reliable veteran bat who can play a corner outfield spot and/or first base.
Who’s available that could make a difference? Looking at the offensive side of the roster, a difference making addition could be found in Miami. All-Star injury substitution reserve, Garrett Cooper, has the defensive versatility to adequately play in an outfield corner, and has split time between the outfield and first base in 2022. He was named to the All-Star team as a replacement on the back of his offensive production this season, and enters the weekend hitting .280 with a .779 OPS. He has slumped mightily in July, hitting just .133 with a .509 OPS for the month, though he entered the month hitting .321 with an .854 OPS. His status as a rental, combined with his recent dip in production probably wouldn’t cost the Red Sox more than a back half Top 30 prospect in a trade. Similarly, the Marlins’ Jesus Aguilar would bring a veteran bat with decent power to the lineup, though Aguilar would be limited to first base defensively. Like Cooper, Aguilar is in the final months of his current contract before becoming a free agent. He’s currently hitting .248 with 12 home runs. A lower level prospect or cash considerations could likely pry Aguilar from Miami.
Pitching, in the form of a reliable starter or a bullpen piece has always carried a premium to the deadline. While Michael Wacha and Rich Hill are expected to re-join the rotation in early August, and off season acquisition James Paxton is expected to start a rehab stint as he comes back from Tommy John surgery, lengthy injury histories from all three will continue to loom if they’re to be relied upon later in the season. Perhaps a reunion with first time All-Star, Martin Perez, could be in the cards if Bloom were to seek rotational depth. If not Perez, the Sox could turn their attention to his rotation mate in Texas, Matt Moore, who has experienced a career year of his own. While both are rentals whose contracts expire at the end of the season, the organization would likely have to part with a prospect in the 10-15 range, and perhaps an additional top 30 prospect because of the premium that pitching carries at the Trade Deadline.
Of course, if the trend of losing continues entering the deadline, Red Sox fans should prepare for one or more of the group of Martinez, Evaoldi, Vazquez, Wacha, and Hill to be in another team’s uniform on August 3rd. Bloom has publicly stated that Bogaerts and Devers will not be traded, however, stranger things have happened.
After a surprise run to the ALCS in 2021, Red Sox fans placed similar expectations on the team for 2022. Hopefully the club can rebound to finish July strongly and cobble together the type of 2 week hot streak that revitalizes the season, and Red Sox Nation is treated to meaningful baseball down the stretch.