Earlier in the week, I wrote about some potential trade targets for the Red Sox’ bullpen. In the piece, I acknowledged that these were names to look at down the road, as teams are generally just having preliminary conversations at this point in the year. That’s if they’re even having conversations at all. That’s just the way things work in baseball. There are definitely reasons for it — mostly teams still deciding whether they’re buyers or sellers — but it makes things a bit frustrating for teams with needs right now.
This brings me to the Red Sox rotation, as you probably knew because you can read headlines and also look at pictures and also pay attention to the team. You know what’s going on. As a whole, the rotation has been fine. Steven Wright is the greatest pitcher since Pedro. David Price is looking like David Price again. Rick Porcello is the guy we thought he’d be last year. Eduardo Rodriguez was…fine in his first start back from the DL. Alas, that final spot has been something resembling a dumpster fire. Clay Buchholz has been Bad Buchholz. Joe Kelly has been Joe Kelly. Henry Owens can’t find the strike zone. Brian Johnson is dealing with some personal issues. Roenis Elias is fine, but when that’s your best option there are some things to be figured out.
It’s been an assumption for a few weeks now, but with Joe Kelly’s demotion, it’s becoming much more obvious. The Red Sox are almost certainly going to need to trade for a starting pitcher at some point. There is a Clay Buchholz sized hole in the rotation and no one in the organization to fill it. Unfortunately, teams don’t trade at this time of year. It’s possible that the Red Sox could try to break the traditional timeline and make a big splash in June, but that’s probably not the right move.
I will admit that, just because it’s not the right move doesn’t mean it has no appeal. There are clear and obvious pros to be weighed against the cons. To put it simply, an early trade means the team has the new player for a longer period of time. Looking specifically at this case, the hypothetical starting pitcher — we’ll call him Hich Rill — would get at least five or six extra starts by acquiring him early. Those could loom large at the end of the season.
Of course, other teams aren’t stupid. They know all this, and they adjust the price accordingly. However you slice it, the Red Sox will have to pay a larger price if they make a trade right now rather than in four-to-six weeks. Since team’s don’t have to trade him now, they are completely justified in asking for more in exchange for not taking the time to shop their player around the league. See: The Craig Kimbrel Trade. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — I didn’t mind that deal at the time — but it’s part of the math. It is worth mentioning the possibility of getting a good deal from a team that could’ve actually gotten more by shopping their trade chip around the league. There’s too many smart teams in the league to count on this, though.
On top of that, this is not an ideal trade market for a team in Boston’s position. There has been a ton of parity in the league in recent years, and that goes doubly this early in the season. There are simply fewer teams who are clear sellers, leaving those few sellers with a ton of potential trade partners. Basic economics tell you that this creates a seller’s market. One musn’t look any further than the Braves’ trade demands for Julio Teheran. He is a fine pitcher, but he was straight-up bad as recently as last year and they are saying they won’t deal him without getting a young, major-league ready bat in return. That sounds crazy, but if the market stays like this I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team bite.
Having to pay a lot in a trade isn’t in and of itself a reason to avoid making said trade. If a team is serious about contending for a World Series, they often have to make deals that hurt. It just comes down to whether paying that little bit extra for a few extra Hich Rill starts is worth it. Given Boston’s upcoming schedule, it’s pretty clear that it’s not. As has been pointed out in many places, the Red Sox won’t need to use that horrid fifth rotation spot again until June 18 thanks to some generously scheduled days off. From that point, they will probably only need a few starts from that slot until they get into the more traditional trade season and can likely get a more reasonable deal. Plus, this offense is good enough to cover up a weak fifth rotation spot for a few weeks.
None of this is to say Dave Dombrowski shouldn’t at least explore the possibility of making a deal right now. If Hich Rill is available for a reasonable price, pull the trigger right now. Unfortunately, chances are he’s not. There’s a reason many trades aren’t made this time of year. Thanks to a clutch schedule and a high-powered offense, the Red Sox should be able to make it through the next few weeks with the current rotation provided the rest of the starters stay reasonably effective. Eventually, it will behoove them to go outside the organization for another arm. There’s just no reason for them to be ultra-aggressive just yet.