Reimer: Time is right for Red Sox to be reckless at trade deadline

Alex Reimer
July 16, 2018 - 11:00 am

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

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Dave Dombrowski has already sacrificed most of the Red Sox’ farm system and pushed them right up against the luxury tax in order to build the best team in the American League. He might as well finish the job. 

The Red Sox own the best record in baseball (68-30) and are steamrolling the competition en route to a probable 100-win season. Their lead over the Yankees stands at 4.5 games heading into the All-Star Break.

Unsurprisingly, the Red Sox don’t have any real weaknesses. They lead the AL in runs scored and feature the best 1-2 combination in the game, Mookie Betts and home run leader J.D. Martinez. As Rob Bradford brilliantly notes, the Betts-Martinez tandem is more productive right now than any previous pair in Red Sox history, including David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. 

The Red Sox’ pitching is almost as dominant. They’re third in the league in ERA and Chris Sale leads the AL in ERA (2.23) and strikeouts (188). Craig Kimbrel is nearly unhittable at the end of games, fanning 62 batters in 40.2 innings.

Plus, David Price and Rick Porcello, two former Cy Young Award winners, are behind Sale in the rotation. On paper, the Red Sox are good enough to win right now. Dombrowski, who’s already added Steve Pearce to help against left-handed pitching, shouldn’t have to do anything else of major consequence. The playbook says to trade for one more reliever, and hang up the cell phone. 

But that could lead to the Red Sox blowing their best chance at a championship in years. It may never be this good again for a long time. 

It sounds funny to say the Red Sox are working with a limited championship window –– please pardon the terrible cliche –– because of their youth at key spots in the lineup. Betts and Xander Bogaerts are 25, Andrew Benintendi is 24, Rafael Devers is 21. But starting this offseason, the Red Sox will stand to lose integral members of their core. There’s no way they’re going to keep this together.

In four months, Kimbrel will be a free agent. Given that Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen each commanded at least $80 million on the open market, it’s likely Kimbrel, 30, will garner a massive financial commitment. With Sale and Martinez each expected to reach free agency in 2019 –– Martinez can opt out –– it would be unwise for the Red Sox to tie up that much money in a closer, even one as electric as Kimbrel.

Keeping both Sale and Martinez will probably require close to $400 million, if not more. Then Bogaerts and Porcello are up in 2020 and Betts hits the open market in 2021. Jackie Bradley Jr. will reach the end of his contract in 2021 as well. 

At the same time, the Yankees will probably only get better. They have one of the best farm systems in baseball and have tons of money to spend. That probability should only increase the Red Sox’ sense of urgency.

To state the obvious, trading years of Devers for three months of Manny Machado, at most, would be idiotic. The short-term upgrade isn’t worth the long-term sacrifice. Devers, in addition to his talent potential, will still be on his rookie deal for years to come. That gives the Red Sox more wiggle room to lock down Sale, Martinez, Betts, Bogaerts and other free agents on the horizon. 

Also, with Bradley hitting .308 since June 23, Boston’s lineup runs seven deep on any given night. The top of the their lineup is better than either New York’s or Houston’s as well. They don’t need to worry about more offense. (And if Devers is out for any significant period of time with his shoulder injury, Kansas City third baseman Mike Moustakas would be a better rental option.) 

The concern for the Red Sox entering October is starting pitching. Price, in case you haven’t heard, can’t be trusted in big games.  On top of that, the Yankees, Astros and Indians feast against left-handed pitching. That’s bad news for the Red Sox, considering they’ll likely start Sale, Price and Eduardo Rodriguez in any playoff series, provided Rodriguez returns from his “serious” ankle injury.

It would be costly for Dombrowski to pilfer a right-handed starting pitcher from a thin starter’s market. As John Tomase points out, the top two options are Tampa’s Chris Archer (3-4, 4.41) and Detroit’s Michael Fulmer (3-8, 4.11), both of whom come with warning signs. Archer hasn’t posted a sub-4.00 ERA since 2015 and Fulmer as seen his ERA climb for three straight seasons since being named 2016 Rookie of the Year. 

But that’s where Dombrowski gets creative. The man managed to land Max Scherzer for the relatively minimal price of Edwin Jackson and Curtis Granderson. Throughout his entire career, Dombrowski has been able to pull off the big trade.

There might not be a non-Machado blockbuster available for the Red Sox this summer. But if there is, Dombrowski should cast any trepidation aside. Yes, the farm system is barren at the upper levels. Yes, crossing the luxury tax would result in the Red Sox paying a tax rate of 62.5 percent and seeing their 2019 first-round pick get bumped down 10 spots.

But the Red Sox don’t have much more time to fully capitalize on this potentially historic team. They’re meant to win-now. 

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