Flash back two months, and most commentators and evaluators had completely written off the Boston Red Sox. Vultures were ready to pluck clean the arid corpse of a 10-19 team, with the likes of Nathan Eovaldi, J.D. Martinez and even star shortstop Xander Bogaerts seen as key prizes at the August deadline for a team scuffling for form and with no return in sight for staff ace Chris Sale, nor the season’s big pitching gamble James Paxton.
What came next was unanticipated. The Sox rallied over a six week period to take firm hold of the first wild card place a week out from the All-Star Break, with Sale making a long anticipated and much-hyped return to the mound for a game with the Rays.
Those following closely will know what happened next. The wheels fell off the pitching staff, with prospects and fill-ins including Kutter Crawford, Josh Winckowski and Brayan Bello taking to the bump as the team hit the skids against their key rivals in the AL East, including a pair of statement wins from the rampant Yankees in the Bronx this past weekend.
Not to mention the remnants of Chris Sale‘s pitching pinkie, dangling from his paw like something out of a David Cronenberg remake of Major League. So much for the ‘ace boost’…
This placed the Boston club back at a crossroads. Consensus had shifted to see them as deadline buyers. There were obvious holes to fill in right field, at first base and in the bullpen – the club were likely to be amongst the most aggressive suitors come the end of the month, with Washington’s Josh Bell and Arizona’s Christian Walker popular options amongst fans.
Instead, local media and fans are wondering if now might actually be the time to re-set and re-tool with Eovaldi and Martinez in demand, Christian Vazquez and Enrique Hernandez presenting sellable assets, and the futures of Bogaerts and third base megastar Rafael Devers in the balance.
Whether the franchise chooses one horse or the other is news enough in itself to fill the back pages of the Boston Globe for the next fortnight.
The ultimate decision will likely be shaped by a week of games against the Blue Jays, Brewers and Guardians. Their pitchers to face? Kevin Gausman, Alek Manoah, Triston McKenzie and Brandon Woodruff all likely among them.
So which is it to be? Buy or sell? Well, why not both…
Alongside obvious room for upgrade, the Red Sox also have their deepest farm system for quite some time, and a coming off-season roster crunch that will likely see a handful of viable big leaguers exposed to the waiver wire.
This is especially true of their pitching depth, where Brandon Walter, Chris Murphy, Frank German and the rehabbing Bryan Mata and Thad Ward all look close enough to major league ready for a team in a different window to the Red Sox.
This surfeit of fungible arms, allied to increased depth of talented and exciting ‘up the middle’ talent where Ceddanne Rafaela and Miguel Bleis have had notable break outs, would allow the club to make notable, longer-term upgrades at key positions whilst keeping hold of top prospects Bello, Marcelo Mayer and Triston Casas.
It’s not beyond the realms of imagination to see the Sox auctioning Eovaldi and Martinez to the highest bidder, whilst also passing on Hernandez and Vazquez to seek upgrades in their position.
A Sox side without some of its mainstays, but which adds Bryan Reynolds and David Bednar, or even a Frankie Montas and Sean Murphy combo, would be leveraging the present to safeguard the immediate future.
They have the depth outlined as well as the types of major-league ready, or ‘change of scenery’ talent which Pittsburgh and Oakland often looks for in Bobby Dalbec and Jarren Duran.
The Joker in the pack is Bogaerts, who holds an offseason opt-out aligned to a full no-trade clause. He’s made little secret of his desire to retire in Boston (his prominence in promoting Prince William’s Earthshot Prize from the field at Fenway this week only underlined that fact), but also of his expectation to be paid as handsomely as Carlos Correa, or at the very least, Trevor Story were this off-season.
Introducing #EarthshotBoston2022 🇺🇸
This December, we’re heading to the @CityofBoston for the second annual #EarthshotPrize awards ceremony where we’ll celebrate 15 extraordinary Finalists, and award five new Winners ✨ pic.twitter.com/Baq7gfi40M
— The Earthshot Prize (@EarthshotPrize) July 20, 2022
Most Sox fans think he deserves it, but are anxiously eyeing Devers too – if pushed most would favour the club betting on the baby-faced slugger over his infield partner; especially since Story can arguably field Bogaerts’ position better in any event, and the club already has the Aruban’s long-term successor in house, with Mayer tearing through the lower minors with Bobby Witt like alacrity.
It doesn’t take a daydreamer to consider that Bogaerts may follow in the footsteps of the club’s last iconic shortstop – Nomar Garciaparra – in leaving the club as part of a refresh, but before he felt his personal tale was told.
Whatever happens in the next 10 days, Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox front office seem well placed to dictate events at the deadline, with knock-on effects for the immediate and near future of both club and league.