Hackett: Grading Red Sox after trade deadline

Jim Hackett
August 02, 2018 - 9:45 am

Kim Klement/USA Today Sports


The highly anticipated trade deadline has finally passed after more than a month of frenzied speculation and debate. The Red Sox acquired right-handed first baseman Steve Pearce back on June 28th, so if it has felt like the trade deadline conversation got a little long in the tooth it's because it had. That said, a lot has changed. The Red Sox have added talent and depth to their lineup and rotation, surged to a season-high 42 games over .500 and also suffered some challenging injury new, with Rafael Devers on the DL, a worrisome ding to Xander Bogaerts' wrist Tuesday night, and a surprise DL stint for Chris Sale. It's now time to assess exactly where the Red Sox stand.

Recent observations:

David Price: Since his Sunday night debacle vs. the Yankees in the Bronx on July 1, Price has adjusted his approach. In his last two games, his entire modus operandi has changed. Forever reliant on a blazing fastball requiring pinpoint control, Price often left himself no margin for error if he missed a spot. Since being in Boston he has been guilty of relying too heavily on his often brilliantly located fastball and when he's missed (say in any of his playoff starts or pretty much in any game versus the Yankees), he's missed big and paid the price with ugly outcomes.

However, in his last two starts, we've seen a different pitcher. Price is actually pitching with a plan and a strategy to keep hitters off balance. His recent pitch mix of well-timed changeups, sliders and the occasional knuckle-curve have been a breath of fresh air to watch and more importantly have been effective against hitters from both sides of the plate. A fastball that in previous years consistently gunned at 97 MPH now looks sneaky fast even though it's coming in more consistently at 92-93.

I've been really rough on Price in this space and not unfairly I might add, but I must say his last two starts have really encouraged me. If Price continues to actually "pitch" and executes similar game plans like he has in his last two starts, he may in fact be able to turn around his postseason woes. That's how stark of a contrast his approach has been of late. I've very publicly had no love lost for Price, but suddenly find myself far more confident in him than I have been at any point in his Red Sox tenure. If he keeps this approach up, I may even bet on him in October. That was unthinkable for me just a few short weeks ago. He's changed. If he can keep it up we could see improved big game results. Time will tell.

Catcher: I like Sandy Leon a lot. He calls a good game, can get surprisingly hot with the bat at key times and is a solid defensive catcher. However, I don't think the increased workload of late is helping him. He's catching a lot since Christian Vazquez went down , and over the last few games has had an uptick in passed balls during late innings. The bat has slipped back down too. I think he's being overused and a surging Blake Swihart is clearly primed to relieve some of that burden.

Swihart's batting average has climbed nearly 100 points in the last four weeks and I'd like to see more of him behind the plate. Playing catcher takes a hell of a toll on the body and Leon is looking a bit worn over. Here's hoping to see more of Swihart behind the plate in August. The Sox are 41 games over .500 and he's swinging a hot bat. The Red Sox would be well served to let this kid get some on the job training right now as they have a nice cushion and he's offering the luxury of a hot bat. At the same time you get Leon some much needed rest. This needs to happen.

New acquisitions:

Dave Dombrowski: The GM filled nearly every hole. He struck early for Pearce shortly after designating Hanley Ramirez for assignment, which was smart, beating everyone else to that potential market for the right-handed hitting depth the Sox needed. When the rotation got a little thin, he picked up a good young starter, Nathan Eovaldi, who delivered a stellar performance in his scoreless seven-inning debut on Sunday. Eovaldi could be a factor come October and if they can resign him, this trade would become a hell of move. Dombrowski added a veteran presence in the form of All-Star Ian Kinsler to shore up the second base defense, a concern I wrote about back in early June. Kinsler is a winning player, with a proven bat and suddenly is helping to fill a very real hole due to injuries at short and third.

The one move the GM couldn't swing was for another reliever, the team's most pressing need for months. On Tuesday the deadline came and went with no reliever to add and honestly, I'm not too upset about it. Dombrowski surely could have landed a reliever to fill that perceived hole but at what cost? Teams around the league have been hearing that the Sox need a reliever for months so that's got me wondering, how big were the asks from other teams versus the potential return?

I was all for getting a guy like Zach Britton, who would've cost a lot in terms of prospects, but when Tuesday morning came around and we started hearing about the likes of Brad Ziegler and others of that ilk, I was fine to stand pat unless the cost was nominal. Dombrowski has been around a long time and knows when the cost-to-value ratio is skewed.

Should the Red Sox need a reliever they can get one in August provided he can clear waivers. It's an extra step but it's certainly doable and has been done many times before. Additionally, the bullpen is performing pretty darn well right now, so to me there was no need to push it just to fill the need. As the pen has improved on its own with guys like Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes stepping up their games along with some new bodies like Tyler Thornburg and Ryan Brasier chipping in, I feel like this need has tempered a bit. I'm sure the GMs with relievers to sell were seeking an unbalanced haul from Boston. I have no doubt Dombrowski was actively looking and trust his instinct to fold this time around. I'm willing to see what August brings and am encouraged with the bullpen's recent improvement.

Trade Deadline grade:  A-


Chris Sale: I'm wondering if the Sox regret letting him start the All-Star game. Sale could obviously handle it, as his recent breathtaking performances have shown, but it's the missed opportunity of a prolonged rest during the All-Star break that strikes me. Had Sale gotten eight-to-10 days of rest (which was attainable), perhaps he wouldn't need this time on the DL. Obviously if this is not a minor thing then the Sox are screwed, but if the 10-day stint on the DL offers the rest required, then all should be OK. The late-season track record for Sale worries me, but I'm not throwing up red flags too hastily yet.

Devers: Less concerned here. My assumption and expectation is that Devers recovers and contributes after he heals.  Is there more here? Maybe, but I think it's unlikely.

Bogaerts: Now I'm worried. The X-Man has suffered this type of injury before. Scoff if you must at the peril of getting hit on the hand, but know this, a hitter can't hit with an injured hand. This isn't a Bogaerts pain tolerance thing, it's a structural thing. You need your hands and wrists strong and healthy to swing the bat with power. It's hurt him before; it's hurt Pedroia before and even stripped Nomar of power years ago. To the tough guys out there who laugh at this type of thing, it's not like tearing an ACL, but trust me, in baseball this type of injury can be a worst-case scenario. Here's hoping it's not too serious and that some ice, rest and treatment can help, because a less productive Bogaerts really hurts this lineup. The last time Bogaerts hurt his wrist he hit .232 with limited punch the rest of the way and the Sox will certainly need more.

One last thing I need to get off my chest. The trade deadline always gets people thinking long-term about reaching the postseason and improving your chances to contend. This season the conversation has been more intense about October than I can recall and it makes sense because this team has a legitimate shot and had some holes to fill.

However, now that the deadline has passed, here's some advice, worry about October in October and enjoy the ride. The Yankees come in for four games on Thursday. The Red Sox are 41 games over .500. They are a blast to watch and are in it for the long haul. Enjoy August and what I think is the best month of the year, September. Then if you want to get anxious in October about their chances, feel free, but this team is special to watch right now. Enjoy every minute that you can.