MLB’s version of Christmas is here: the trade deadline.
It’s that time of year when general managers stay awake through the night to work the phones, players brace for a seismic shift in the trajectory of their careers, and fans stay locked on to the Twitter feeds of their favorite reporters and the hashtag #HugWatch.
The Red Sox enter trade deadline day with a record of 56-50, good for fourth in the AL East but just 3.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. It has been a tumultuous year for the Red Sox whose trade deadline plans have fluctuated nonstop thanks to a confusing June, hot July, big series win over the Braves, and frustrating series loss to the Giants.
To buy or to sell? That is the big question to which we still don’t know the answer, even though the trade deadline is mere hours away.
The Red Sox could benefit from adding a starting pitcher. Specifically, the club is said to be looking for a young, controllable arm whom they can pair with Brayan Bello atop the rotation for years to come. Cleveland’s Aaron Civale made sense for Boston until he was dealt to Tampa Bay on Monday. However, there are still other options available. For example, the Mariners could move at least one of their young starters, namely Logan Gilbert or George Kirby. The Red Sox are in the midst of a three-game series against the Mariners right now, slightly increasing the likelihood of a Boston-Seattle swap. Meanwhile, Cardinals hurler Jack Flaherty is a rental but could represent another target for Boston. Mitch Keller (Pirates), Zach Plesac (Guardians), and Dylan Cease (White Sox) are also enticing but would require a much bigger prospect return since they are all controllable through 2025.
Don’t rule out the possibility of Boston trading a starting pitcher, either. There have been plenty of rumors surrounding veteran James Paxton. The 34-year-old is having a resurgence of sorts this season, but he’s set to test the free agent market in just a few months. The Red Sox might prefer to cash in on his strong year and fetch a couple of prospects today rather than let him walk without any compensation in November.
The final piece to consider here is that Boston could sit tight and treat their injured starters as de facto trade deadline additions. Chris Sale is nearing his return, as are Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck. Meanwhile, Nick Pivetta‘s recent success out of the bullpen earned him a start on Monday, and there’s a chance he could stay in the rotation down the stretch.
They say you can never get enough relief pitching. That remains the case for the Red Sox, but they do find themselves with a more stable bullpen than in years past. Kenley Jansen has given the team much-needed stability in the closer’s role. Chris Martin, Joe Jacques, and Brennan Bernardino have been welcome additions. Chris Murphy and Josh Wincowski have found success. John Schreiber returned from the injured list a week ago and has allowed just one earned run over his last 3.2 innings.
One name to watch as the Red Sox flirt with both buying and selling? Richard Bleier. Boston acquired the southpaw from the Marlins in exchange for closer Matt Barnes last offseason. He has been up and down this year, pitching to a 1.35 ERA in July but totaling 1.35 HR/9 and just 4.73 K/9 over the course of the whole season. Still, decent left-handed relievers are hard to come by and Boston has a surplus. There’s a chance Chaim Bloom takes advantage of the market and parts with Bleier.
The Red Sox have yet to find their everyday replacement at shortstop after Xander Bogaerts departed in free agency. The Kiké Hernandez experiment was such a failure that Boston traded him to the Dodgers last week. Pablo Reyes and Yu Chang have handled most of the shortstop reps and done a fine job anchoring the position until Trevor Story (elbow) returns later this week. But even with Story coming back, perhaps Boston would like to add more stability up the middle. The club has been linked to the Cardinals’ Tommy Edman, Paul DeJong, Nolan Gorman, and Brendan Donovan, but none of them will come cheap. Tim Anderson (White Sox) could also be an option, but it’s hard to argue that he’d be a worthwhile upgrade over Reyes, Chang, or Christian Arroyo.
Speaking of Arroyo, one might wonder about his job security ahead of the deadline. He has survived several roster crunches so far thanks to his mediocre defensive skills and occasional flair for the dramatic at the plate. However, with Story returning and Boston potentially adding a position player at the deadline, there mightly simply not be enough space on the roster for Arroyo or Reyes anymore. Rather than designating these depth infielders for assignment after the deadline passes, perhaps Bloom could flip one or both for a small return.
Moving to the corner of the infield, Boston is more than satisfied with Rafael Devers at third base and Triston Casas at first. Justin Turner, who has shown defensive versatility and a hot bat in his age-38 season, reportedly won’t be traded, either.
The Red Sox should also feel comfortable about their current catchers. Connor Wong has developed into an effective everyday player, showing off advanced receiving, blocking, and throwing skills behind the dish to pair with solid contact and speed on the offensive side. Jorge Alfaro is Boston’s current backup catcher but will lose his job when Reese McGuire returns from the injured list this week.
One final note on the infield: former top prospect Bobby Dalbec has hit exceptionally well at the Triple-A level, but there’s no room for him in the majors. Although he had debuted as a first baseman, Dalbec has spent most of 2023 at third base as the Red Sox hope to market his defensive versatility to potential trade partners. There is a very real possibility that Dalbec could be dealt on Tuesday.
Boston finds itself very comfortable with the current state of their outfield. After entering the season with his job on the line, Jarren Durran has emerged as an everyday player, earning the leadoff role, patrolling center field with ease, and turning singles into doubles quite often. Masataka Yoshida has been a worthwhile addition, too, making a case for American League Rookie of the Year thanks to his advanced approach at the plate. Meanwhile, Rob Refsnyder has hit lefties incredibly well (.470 OBP), working his way into a platoon role and earning a one-year extension through 2024.
Rumors have swirled surrounding the likes of Alex Verdugo and Adam Duvall. The two are very different players, with Verdugo being a young right fielder under control through 2024. He got off to a hot start throughout the first half of the season but is just 5-for-40 with a woeful .372 OPS since the All-Star Break. The 27-year-old possesses a strong arm in right field; offensively, he has flashed an advanced approach but lacks power. Verdugo also drew some negative attention in June when he failed to hustle out a ground ball and was benched for one game. A fresh start on a new team might benefit the outfielder, and a trade could fetch the Red Sox a solid return. Reports indicate that Boston has actually shopped Verdugo to other teams, but it remains to be seen if anyone will match their asking price. A Verdugo trade would indicate a sort of “waving the white flag” moment, perhaps losing some faith within the clubhouse and fanbase.
Duvall, meanwhile, has bounced around the league as a frequent trade deadline commodity, offering a power bat to contenders. The 34-year-old is making $7 million in 2023 and will be a free agent in November. He commanded national attention after slashing .483./.531/1.138 with four homers and 13 RBI through seven games in April, but he proceeded to miss two months with a broken wrist and hasn’t been nearly the same hitter since then. There’s a real chance the Red Sox could move on from him. The Phillies, who sent a scout to watch Duvall in San Francisco last weekend, represent a potential suitor.
And so a word of advice heading into Tuesday: buckle in.
The Red Sox, who could flirt with a combination of buying and selling, are undoubtedly one of the most exciting and curious teams to monitor over the next few hours.
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