Little was expected of the Red Sox this season. Still stinging from the Mookie Betts trade, one made wholly to placate cheap ownership, the general manager Chaim Bloom was saddled with the unenviable task of moving a homegrown, five-tool superstar adored locally and nationally. The return was a starting outfielder, a backup catcher who has recently begun his major league career, and a second baseman that’ll be seen in the Bigs next season most likely.
Not an impressive haul. But Bloom wasn’t trading Betts to shore up positions in need of addressing. Many teams in all sports fear what is called the luxury tax, crossing this threshold comes with penalties worth around $13 million for 2021 and potentially more until the team is out of the red.
John Henry is incredibly rich and could afford to pony up the dough. This is simply money he doesn’t want to part with for various selfish reasons. This was a salary dump. Only in baseball can a Gold Glove caliber outfielder, MVP and World Series champion in his prime is treated so unjustly.
Bloom did not move Betts more for the players given in return, it was to free up money to appease his owner, but also to get back to spending to replenish their depleted farm system. The money saved by not paying Betts, and trading David Price to the Dodgers leads to the signing of prospects like Jarren Duran and Connor Seabold. What Bloom hopes to set in place is a profitable minor league affiliate that’ll funnel a long term competitive pro team, similar to the earlier era Theo Epstein teams circa 2003 to 2009 when the Sox missed the playoffs only once. Consistency since then has been hard to come by. Mixed between four AL East titles and two world championships are last place finishes.
Not limited to spending on the farm, Bloom paid Hunter Renfroe, Kike Hernandez and Adam Ottavino. Bloom has put the money that should have been in Betts’ bank account to incredible use.
Right now they are in first place, albeit in an incredibly tight contest with the Rays hot on their heels. The two teams have traded first place a couple of times during the course of the season. While the Rays lost their ace Tyler Glasnow in June for the foreseeable future, the Red Sox hope to have theirs (Chris Sale) back and a young arm (Tanner Houck) returning too.
The soldiers have braved the perils of many games played on extremely short rest, many arms in their rotations haven’t been relied on this much in their careers. Hard throwing Nathan Eovaldi never was so relied on to go six or seven innings every outing. Eddie Rodriguez is battling fatigue and inconsistency. His fastball speed waxes and wanes his body healing from the ravages of Covid-19 of which he was diagnosed with last year and missed the entirely of the 2020 season. Garrett Richards lost his faithful sticky stuff and was forced to reinvent himself on the fly, throwing pitches he couldn’t have conceived of in his worst nightmares, a sixty-eight mile an hour curveball(?!) is not what the team paid for him to throw, but as John Adams once shrugged “Them’s the breaks.”
On the backend Nick Pivetta and Martin Perez have sometimes overachieved, rarely throwing out stinkers fourth and fifth starters in the rotation are expected to. Pivetta was a Bloom transaction after cashing out on Brandon Workman having an immaculate 2019 campaign, then traded to regain the relief pitcher a season later. Ironic considering the team Bloom fleeced (Philadelphia) is lead by former Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowski.
But as things stands, the Red Sox are one bat short and one or two arms short of minimizing their greatest flaws: durability and versatility. Their ninth inning man is someone who previously explicitly said to management he doesn’t want the ball in such a high-leverage situation, but the hard throwing Matt Barnes has been dominant and a lightning rod, making his first All-Star team this year. It was expected the former Yankee Ottavino would serve as the closer, but as an eighth-inning reliever he’s done more than admirably; plus he can double as a closer too. But the Red Sox need more.
Hirokazu Sawamura, Darwinson Hernandez and Brandon Workman are inconsistent and haven’t pitched well as of late. Josh Taylor and Garrett Whitlock are the only other reliable relievers. In the postseason having four arms is fine. But as we enter the dog days we need better stopgaps than the first three names I mentioned to keep the Red Sox from plateauing. This is why I’ve circled Craig Kimbrel.
The Cubs are sellers this year and while the Red Sox do not want to commit salary, Kimbrel’s 2022 is a team-option. If gotten Kimbrel adds flexibility and a much needed extra bullet in the chamber. His 0.59 ERA and 20 saves means the hard throwing 33 year old still has a lot to give. This’ll ease the workload on Barnes and Otto.
This division race is poised to go down to the wire barring a losing streak. The Red Sox are beyond fatigued and are looking forward to the break. Their arms are in need of reinforcements but the promised cavalry likely isn’t enough. Today the Red Sox are title contenders, this deadline will be a referendum on what one can really expect from Bloom. He’s never been a buyer before at this point in the season. Will he be cheap and trade for cost effective backend relievers or will he go for a big fish?
Perhaps a bigger question: will John Henry open up the checkbook?