Red Sox have gone too far to settle for 'lesser arms' at trade deadline

Alex Reimer
July 30, 2019 - 1:15 pm
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The $240 million Red Sox just took three of four games from the vaunted Yankees and finally appear ready to mount a legitimate World Series defense. The only thing standing in their way is their dearth of good pitchers in the bullpen. We’re not asking for Mariano Rivera, but how about Edwin Diaz? 

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Or Shane Greene? Or Raisel Iglesias? Is Ken Giles out of the question –– assuming his elbow is OK?

The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier reported Tuesday morning Diaz is an “unlikely” option for the Red Sox, contradicting ESPN’s Buster Olney, who reported Monday the Red Sox were the “suitors most invested in the chase” for the lanky flame-thrower. 

MLB.com's Mark Feinsand went even further than Speier, saying the Red Sox are now focusing on "lesser names." 

What an unforgivable punt that would be. 

It’s suspected the Mets won’t trade Diaz for anything less than a haul, considering they surrendered two of their top prospects –– including outfielder Jarred Kelenic, whom Baseball America ranks as the No. 25 prospect in the game –– to acquire his services last offseason. Even worse, wide-eyed GM Brodie Van Wagenen took on Robinson Cano and the $120 million remaining on his albatross deal for the privilege of outfitting Diaz in Mets orange. 

On “Get Up,” Olney introduced the idea of the Red Sox swapping Andrew Benintendi for Diaz. That would be too much. Even though Diaz is signed through 2022, his ERA does stand at 4.95 this season. His peripheral numbers –– 3.83 FIP, 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings –– suggest New York’s putrid defense is largely to blame for his struggles, but relief pitchers are volatile. As a rule, it is foolish to give up a promising young position player for somebody who will throw a maximum of 70 innings per summer.

But if the price for Diaz drops to Michael Chavis, who’s hitting .258 this month and has demonstrated little ability to command the top of the strike zone, then Dave Dombrowski should act. Rafael Devers is 22 years old and Xander Bogaerts is signed through 2026. The left side of the infield is set for a long time. Chavis is expendable, including well-regarded prospects Bobby Dalbac and 2018 first-round pick Triston Casas, both of whom play third base (though there are questions whether Casas will stick there long-term). 

Despite all of the caterwauling about Dombrowski’s penchant for trading away young players, the Red Sox are running out nearly an entire lineup of homegrown players. The only outsiders in the starting nine are J.D. Martinez and (sometimes) Brock Holt. 

Of course, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. are nearing free agency, whereas Bogaerts already inked his nine-figure extension. The Red Sox need their next wave of early 20-somethings to control for below market rates. 

But they wouldn’t trade their whole farm for Diaz. Plus, he is just 25 years old himself, and making a shade over $600,000 this season.

The Red Sox are apparently trepidatious about exceeding the $246 million luxury tax, which is probably why they’ve been more linked with Diaz than Giles, who’s making $6.3 million and has only one more year of arbitration before reaching free agency. The penalty for crossing over the third luxury tax threshold includes a 75-percent tax on every dollar spent beyond it, and a 10-spot draft-pick penalty. 

But neither argument is all that captivating, since John Henry is worth $2.7 billion and dropping 10 spots in the MLB Draft is rather inconsequential. 

It’s impossible to criticize the Red Sox for not spending enough money, since they’re sporting the highest payroll in baseball for the second straight year. But after going this far, it is a little strange to back away over a couple million dollars. It could be the difference between making the playoffs and staying home.

That reality is especially significant this summer, since the Red Sox will inevitably lose more pieces of their core over the next three years. Martinez could opt-out this winter, and Rick Porcello almost certainly isn’t coming back. Then you get to Mookie and JBJ. 

Pardon the cliche, but this looks like one of the last years of this current window. 

Make no mistake: the 59-48 Red Sox would have at least five more wins –– Lou Merloni puts the number at eight or nine –– if they had a competent bullpen this season. They would be in firm control of a wild card spot and within shouting distance of the Yankees for the AL East crown. The conversation surrounding them would be much different.

They feature the best lineup in baseball and one of the most decorated starting rotations on paper. And while it is hard to imagine making any sort of playoff run without a dominant Chris Sale, that’s kind of what they did in 2018. Sale only threw 17 innings in August and September and averaged less than five innings in his three playoff starts. Two dramatic scoreless appearances out of the bullpen, including the final three outs of Game 5, saved the perception of his October.

David Price, as loathsome as he is, is pitching better this season than last year. And Eduardo Rodriguez has been their best starter over the last six weeks. But even more importantly, those pieces are already in place. Dombrowski did his job. If the starting rotation continues to underachieve, that’s on them.

This bullpen, however, does not have enough guys. There needs to be at least one more reliable arm for Alex Cora to summon. At this stage, cost should not be prohibitive. 

Related: Would Edwin Diaz really be worth it for Red Sox?