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Dave Dombrowski stuck to his word at the trade deadline

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After a relatively calm ending to the trade deadline for the Red Sox, some question, do the Sox have enough defensive depth to make a playoff push? Also, why did Dave Dombrowski, known for making gutsy but successful trades, lighten his notoriously hawkish approach? 

MLB: Texas Rangers at Boston Red Sox Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Dave Dombrowski’s first major transaction cycle with Red Sox Nation came to a close on Monday with the denouement of the non-waiver trade deadline.

On what is (now provably!) called "the most  underrated day of the sports calendar," the Red Sox’ President of Baseball Operations decided to achieve his typical "shock value" differently: he stuck to his word.

Dombrowski’s "word" can be tracked down in an interview he gave around a year ago for The Boston Globe, in which he disclosed how he envisioned the future of the Red Sox.

"Those guys" in this case refers, of course, to the Red Sox’ young core in the likes of Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. This "supplemental" approach was on display during the past few weeks with the acquisition of two relievers, (Abad and Ziegler), a middle of the rotation starter (Pomeranz) and two utility players (Hill and the short lived Martinez).

But amid Abad’s costly mistake to Cano, Pomeranz’ lengthy transition to pitching in the American league and a looming offensive slump, the question remains: How effective will this seemingly lackluster group be in aiding the Sox in their quest for October?

It’s alarming to realize that, were the season to end today, the Sox would merely be on the cusp of a playoff berth rather than actually headed to the postseason. But it’s critical to wake up from that nightmare because the reality is that the season is far from over. Two months are left in regular play and instead of looking up the nearest bridge after a couple frustrating losses, and a win where 13 hits only amassed 3 runs,  it’s imperative to understand the work that must be done.

When acquiring new pieces, the expectations should remain that it will take time for the new variables to fit into the equation. With that being said, Tuesday night’s eighth inning collapse, the offensive drought on Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and the failures of David Price and the defense on Sunday represent more than just "Hell in a Handbasket" or being "left out in the cold". The events of this week symbolize Dombrowski’s understanding of opportunity cost and desire to retain something he wasn’t blessed with in Detroit.

The Chicago native is rewarded for restraining himself from a familiar poisonous fruit featuring Carlos Beltran and Chris Sale.  His remuneration comes in the form of recent call-up and Double-A phenomenon Andrew Benintendi, a return-to-form from Wright, and Kimbrel’s strongest showing of the season.

Although this west coast trip has made it increasingly difficult to revere Dombrow’s moves, I still see the validity in his rationale.

Sale and Beltran are Talented, but risky

Chris Sale has the nastiest slider in the game, and Carlos Beltran has a track record for clutch post-season hitting, but both come with costs that could have hurt the current stability of the roster.

Aside from the status of both Chris Young and Blake Swihart, Red Sox Nation’s core position-playing roster has endured relatively few injuries, particularly looking at the starters. Beltran’s waning health in his left knee –– resulting in his inept play in the outfield –– is more than a concern when your home territory is Fenway Park. Yes, he could have dabbled in some DHing, but that would have taken time away from David Ortiz, and it doesn’t seem prudent to put faith in a player struggling with his knees, when he needs them so much to establish rotation in his swing.

Stability resides not only in health, but can stem from club dynamics. Sale’s latest insurgent behavior, which resulted in a toddler-caliber tantrum characterizes him with an ill-temper. In a town where the fried chicken and beer of 2011 (coupled with one of the worst collapses in team history) can become such a major story, one imagines it’s more a question of when Sale throws himself to the media lions than if.

Since the spring of 2016, fans have recognized the chemistry on this current squad and their ubiquitous desire to hoist the commissioners trophy as a sign of gratitude to David Ortiz. In other words, the Red Sox want to win for Papi and they always have.

In light of the current state of this 2016 Boston team, I can’t help but wonder if Sale and/or Beltran might have hindered this team rather than enhanced it, no matter their on-field talent.

Opportunity Cost  and Talent vs. Balance

The motives held by most franchises moving into the frenzy and utter chaos of the trade deadline are for their club to achieve a better balance. The recipe for buyers is to venture out and find a player who can either provide some more offense on a team with exceptional pitching and less-than-stellar hitting, or for a franchise to acquire another arm for a staff lacking depth on a roster with offensive prestige.

According to an analysis run by Neil Pain of Five Thirty Eight, "balance isn’t something for a team to seek at the deadline — talent is."

Pain makes the case that teams shouldn’t be acquiring bodies that seemly fit into a mold, and should instead acquire talent that won’t leave the organization worse than it was before.

A flagrant example of this is Baltimore’s recent transaction to land former Red Sox starter Wade Miley. To stick to Pain’s familiar verbatim, the O’s were sifting through the market to find a lefty that would "balance" their heavy right handed staff. Although Miley almost threw a no-hitter against Chicago, his aptitude is his longevity in games, and not necessarily how well he does in them.  His season ERA still sits way above 4.50.

This is one example where maybe Baltimore should have pursued some more natural talent even if the acquisition didn’t fill in the holes.

However, if you examine the Mets this season and last, they aimed for both talent and balance, which on the surface appears enticing. The flaw present in both their deals for Cespedes and Bruce was whom they gave up. Amid all of their recent injuries, both of the pieces they sacrificed to Detroit and now Cincinnati left New York a bit worse in regards to their pitching depth (Fulmer) and now their options at second base (Herrera).

Obviously, opportunity cost is a factor, and the Mets ceded two players whom could have helped them today. But without Cespedes, the Mets might not have made it  deep within postseason in 2015. But baseball comes with no guarantees, and this attempt at "balance" didn’t deliver a World Series win.

How Successful is Reaching for "Balance"?

What baffles me every season isn’t just that most of these "buying contenders" don’t achieve the ultimate goal in a World Series victory, but that even if they do, their mid-season acquisitions aren’t the ones doing the heavy leg work.

After delving into the past five years of MLB history, out of the Giants, Cardinals, Red Sox and Royals, it was the acquisition of Ben Zobrist last July which really contributed positively to Kansas City’s 2015 playoff run and World Series victory. All of the other major acquisitions from 2011-2015 including Johnny Cueto, Edwin Jackson, Jake Peavy and more produced underwhelming numbers.

My point is this—if a club wants to win a world series, being the most balanced and pulling off one blockbuster deal in an attempt to do so is often not terribly effective.

Neil Pain breaks down how aquiring new pieces at the trade deadline has been proven to increase playoff odds drastically, but World Series odds aren’t as jarring.
http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/should-your-team-buy-or-sell-at-the-mlb-trade-deadline/

What is so problematic about these impulsive decisions is how often teams who want to win now fail to consider how they can also be set up to win later. A deal can be impetuous; almost all of them are, but a smart move is one that shouldn’t make the team worse or plunder what can help them win in the long run. It’s one thing to bet on being able to put a contender around an 18-year-old who’s five years away, and another to envision plugging a High-A or Double-A star into an already successful framework in the next couple years. A team that is set to do well in the next few years shouldn’t blow it away spending for the benefit of four months.

So the reason I’m not annoyed with Dombrowski is this: his supplemental approach brought talent in an attempt to balance the team. But, he accomplished this without completely giving up the foundation that can help this organization win tomorrow.

The pressure remains for a team trying to reward its most iconic player for 13 years of invaluable service. But it is rational to consider that aside from hoisting a trophy in November, Big Papi would want the Sox to honor the youth they’ve developed in the past half-decade.