May 15—Nothing has gone according to plan for the Red Sox so far.
Entering the weekend Boston had only won one of its first 10 series to start the season, falling well behind the rest of the pack and eventually all the way into the basement of the AL East.
This week the Red Sox began showing signs of life, but the hole they’ve dug for themselves won’t be easy to climb out of.
Maybe they’ll turn things around and get back into playoff contention.
But then again, what if they can’t?
It may still be early, but if the Red Sox don’t start making meaningful steps forward there’s going to come a point where the front office will have some tough decisions to make.
At that point the club would have two paths to choose from. On one hand they could follow the trail blazed by the Atlanta Braves, aggressively retooling the big league roster on the fly in hopes of shoring up its weaknesses and contending for a championship.
On the other hand, they could take the Chicago Cubs path and blow it all up, jettisoning the current core with an eye towards building for the future.
Given the roster’s current construction and the front office’s recent track record, I think we all know which path they’d end up choosing.
If the Red Sox become sellers the teardown could be swift and thorough, and if you thought the Cubs’ fire sale at last summer’s trade deadline was dramatic then you haven’t seen anything yet.
Xander Bogaerts. Nathan Eovaldi. J.D. Martinez. Christian Vázquez. Kiké Hernández. Jackie Bradley Jr. All and more are slated to become free agents after the season, and all could potentially be traded if the club decides the current group has reached a dead end.
Would the Red Sox really move all of them? It’s hard to say, but if things don’t start turning around soon fans should prepare themselves for the possibility the club could become unrecognizable by August.
Bogaerts a trade candidate?Let’s start with the easy ones. If the Red Sox become sellers Bradley would almost certainly be moved. The club could call up Jarren Duran and hand him the keys to right field, giving the top outfield prospect an opportunity to prove he deserves a spot long-term.
If Bobby Dalbec continues to struggle he could be traded as well, paving the way for top prospect Triston Casas to take over at first base.
Those moves would likely be welcomed, but what comes next might be tougher for fans to swallow.
The most difficult possibility to consider, without a doubt, is the loss of Bogaerts. The veteran has been Boston’s starting shortstop since 2014 and has played a key role in two World Series championships. He’s been a fixture in the Red Sox infield for nearly a decade and at age 29 could conceivably remain so for years to come.
But with the prospect of an extension looking increasingly unlikely and Bogaerts sure to opt out of his current deal in hopes of landing bigger money on the open market, there’s a real chance he could be traded at the deadline if the Red Sox are out of contention.
If Bogaerts is made available, he would likely be one of the biggest names on the trade block and could net a huge return. Last year when the Cubs traded Javy Baez to the New York Mets they got a top 100 prospect in return, and if the Red Sox got a similar talent for Bogaerts that player would immediately become one of the organization’s best young players.
Whether intentionally or not, the Red Sox have also set themselves up for a post-Bogaerts future too. If he were traded the club would presumably move Trevor Story over to shortstop and play Christian Arroyo at second base. The club could also call up top infield prospect Jeter Downs — one of the prizes of the Mookie Betts trade — to see what they have in him while top prospects Marcelo Mayer and Nick Yorke work their way up through the system.
The changes might not end there.
Both big league catchers could also be on the block, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Vázquez and fellow free agent to be Kevin Plawecki could each be moved. The Red Sox have two catching prospects on their 40-man roster in Connor Wong and Ronaldo Hernández and could opt to ride with one or both of them for the remainder of the season before addressing the position in the offseason.
As for Martinez, he’d be highly sought after, especially by a National League club looking to upgrade its designated hitter spot. Hernández could also help a contender looking for a versatile player with a proven postseason track record, though the internal options for filling their spots aren’t as obvious or appealing as with the other trade candidates.
In the interest of being thorough, we should acknowledge the possibility that if the Red Sox go full fire sale mode they could also trade Rafael Devers. But given that Devers is under contract through the end of 2023 it seems more likely the club would keep him and attempt to negotiate an extension in the offseason. If those negotiations failed then Devers could become a trade candidate then, but right now any move feels premature.
Big changes coming in rotation?
The biggest factor determining the starting rotation’s future may not be the club’s performance but the health of Chris Sale and James Paxton. The two veteran starters recently experienced setbacks in their respective recoveries from injury and aren’t expected to return until late June at the earliest, but if one or both are able to get back on the mound by the trade deadline it could open the door for a massive shakeup in the rotation.
Eovaldi, Michael Wacha and Rich Hill are all slated to hit free agency this offseason, and it’s no sure thing any of them will be back in Boston next year. Sale and Paxton’s return would prompt a significant rotation crunch, and if the plan is ultimately for the rotation to look something like Sale, Paxton, Garrett Whitlock, Tanner Houck and Nick Pivetta in 2023 and beyond, then shipping out the three pending free agents ahead of schedule for a massive haul of prospects might become appealing.
Eovaldi in particular could be one of the most coveted arms at the deadline, and if Wacha returns from the 15-day injured list and keeps pitching like he had to start the season he could turn out to be an incredibly valuable asset as well.
As for the bullpen, the unit is probably due for a complete overhaul at this point anyway.
Matt Strahm, Hansel Robles and Hirokazu Sawamura are all pending free agents and could conceivably be moved, and Matt Barnes might be a trade candidate as well if he manages to figure things out and rebuild his value.
Realistically everyone should be on the table in a fire sale scenario, and if things reach that point the club’s primary focus should be on figuring out who has a place in the team’s future plans and who doesn’t.
Triple-A swingmen like Tyler Danish, John Schreiber and Darwinzon Hernandez? Give them a chance to prove themselves. Same with 40-man pitching prospects like Connor Seabold, Jay Groome, Josh Winckowski, Brayan Bello and if healthy Bryan Mata. Whether it’s the occasional spot start, a multi-inning role similar to Whitlock and Houck or a straightforward move to the bullpen, offer as many opportunities as are appropriate and see how everyone responds.
Will all of this happen? Hopefully not. But if the worst case scenario comes to pass, fans need to prepare themselves for what might be on the horizon. This roster was built to be torn down, and if the Red Sox can’t fight their way back into the playoff picture odds are we could see a lot of familiar faces shipped out of town.
Sox paying for not signing closerOne of the main reasons why the Red Sox are where they are in the standings is because their bullpen hasn’t been able to hold leads late. Entering Saturday Boston led the league with nine blown saves and had only converted 40% (6 of 15) of its save opportunities, and on top of that the club also remained winless in extra innings (0-6) and well below .500 in one-run games (3-7).
Everyone knew the bullpen needed reinforcements, and not adding a legit closer has proven costly.
There are no shortage of players the Red Sox could have signed this past offseason who might have made a difference in the late innings, several of whom the Red Sox have already seen this year in other uniforms.
Take Kendall Graveman, for instance. The former Astros set-up man signed with the Chicago White Sox for three years, $24 million this offseason and has delivered a 1.76 ERA through his first 14 appearances. Or former Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, who signed for one-year, $16 million with the Atlanta Braves and has posted eight saves with a 3.00 ERA and 17 strikeouts through his first 12 innings.
Or look at the Los Angeles Angels, who signed three of the top relief pitchers on last year’s market and have been richly rewarded for their investment. Closer Raisel Iglesias (four years, $58 million) has a 2.13 ERA and eight saves through 14 appearances, Ryan Tepera (two years, $14 million) has a 2.20 ERA and a save through 15 appearances and Aaron Loup (two years, $17 million) has a 1.80 ERA through 15 appearances. Those three are a big reason why the Angels have spent most of the season so far atop the AL West.
Any one of those guys could have made a huge difference for the Red Sox, and even the more expensive options would have been worth the money if it meant locking down some of those early close losses.
As it’s turned out, the cost of standing pat has been much greater.
New England well representedSelection Sunday is only two weeks away for Division 1 college baseball, and several New England programs are projected to make the field of 64.
According to Baseball America, UConn is currently projected as a two seed in the Knoxville, Tennessee region, which would be a tough draw putting the Huskies in the same region as the No. 1 overall Tennessee Volunteers. The University of Maine, led by North Andover’s Joe Bramanti, is also projected as a four seed in the Coral Gables, Florida region, being the favorite to earn the America East Conference’s automatic bid. The third local program expected in the field is Fairfield University, which is projected as the four seed and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference automatic qualifier in the Stillwater, Oklahoma region.
In addition to the New England schools, Methuen’s Dom Keegan will also get another shot at reaching the College World Series. His Vanderbilt Commodores are projected as a two seed in the College Park, Maryland region and with a strong finish still have an outside shot of hosting a region of their own.
Hajjar a strikeout machineNorth Andover’s Steve Hajjar has made quite an impression over his first month with the Minnesota Twins’ Low-A affiliate. The former Central Catholic great is currently one of the organization’s leading strikeout getters, averaging more than two punchouts per inning with 29 over his first 14.1 professional innings.
Hajjar, a second-round pick out of the University of Michigan in last year’s draft, is currently 0-1 with a 3.77 ERA through his first four starts with the Fort Myers Mighty Mussels. His best outing so far came in his second start on April 20, when he held the Dunedin Blue Jays hitless over 4.1 innings while striking out 10 with two walks and one unearned run allowed.