There’s been so many changes to baseball over the last couple of years, whether it be due to the COVID-19 pandemic or planned changes that were going to happen no matter what, that it can be easy for some to be lost in the shuffle. For me, I think pushing the draft back to July and the effects that will have on the way the baseball season moves has eluded me. In the past, the end of the draft, which came about a week or so into June, marked he start of trade season. Focus on the draft would go away, and front offices would start to talk trades. Now with the draft being pushed to the All-Star break (a move that I like, for whatever that’s worth) the rhythm of the baseball season has changed and trade season just sort of shows up.
To that end, Kevin Goldstein published an interesting story over at FanGraphs this week in which he discusses teams making “reach out calls” in which they start to get a feel for what other clubs are thinking and who may be able to help whom. In that post linked above, Goldstein tiered out teams into buyers, sellers, and bubble clubs. The Red Sox landed on the buyer side, which makes sense considering they’ve been at or near the top of a very competitive division for the entire season thus far.
With that being said, I think real life includes more nuanced than just declaring oneself a buyer. There are levels to buying and different buyers are more willing to push their chips in than perhaps some others would be. Right now, I think it’s fair to say the Red Sox should be willing to at least make some minor additions to improve themselves around the edges. But as we turn the calendar to June and this team enters a brutal stretch on their schedule, we’re about to find out if they’re worthy of a more aggressive push to not only make it to October, but make a run once they hopefully get there.
This isn’t something that is often spoken explicitly, but it’s not too much of a secret that front offices need their teams to prove they’re worthy of greater investment at the trade deadline. We’ve seen it with recent Red Sox teams, including 2019 when they decided not to make a move after the team just never showed they were able to make that step in the months leading up to the trade deadline. Like I said, the Red Sox have already proven some things, such as the fact that they are not a dog of a team that should be sellers. But they have yet to prove that they are truly among the league’s best, and that is what this upcoming stretch can tell.
We know what this stretch is by now, I think, but just in case, here’s how things shake out. They are currently in the midst of a four-game series down in Houston against the Astros (and they have lost the first two games). From there, they head to New York to play the Yankees for three games, then host the Marlins for a make up game, and then welcome the Astros to Fenway for three games before playing Toronto four times and heading out to play Atlanta twice. That’s 17 games in 17 days, with at least 16 of them coming against scary competition. This also doesn’t include the back half of June, which includes matchups against the Rays, Royals and Yankees.
This is a chance for the Red Sox to prove that they can hang around with the best of the best. They don’t have to run the table and dominate this kind of competition, but they need to show they are not outclassed. Right now, they’ve shown they're good enough for, say, marginal improvements like a seventh-inning reliever or a back-end starter. This is their chance to prove they’re worthy of, say, a closer-type to pair with Matt Barnes, or a Max Scherzer-type to head the rotation, or a new full-time first baseman.
This is the time to prove that they are worth trading some top prospects for. That’s not to say the Red Sox should be looking to trade all of their top prospects and go all the way in, to be clear, but if they think they have a real chance at winning a World Series, that’s the point where you think about trading top 10 or even top five prospects for guys to get you over the hump. They aren’t there yet, but this stretch can change that.
This stretch can also change how they feel about pushing prospects. Right now, the timeline for their top three prospects (Triston Casas, Jeter Downs, and Jarren Duran, in whatever order you’d like) is based more on their development than anything else. That will always be a primary factor, of course, but if the team thinks they can be a help in the majors to a team that can make a real run, the timeline can be pushed up.
Maybe if they do well in this stretch, Duran is immediately called up even if there are still concerns on defense. Maybe if Marwin Gonzalez continues to struggle, they’ll be quicker to give Downs some run at second base. If Bobby Dalbec continues to struggle and there’s no attractive first basemen available at the deadline, they’ll put Casas on a timeline to be up in the middle of August to provide a stretch-run spark.
The Red Sox are not going to be made or broken by the 17-game stretch. They played well enough in the first two months of the season that they ensured that they can stay afloat for a bit with all of these wins banked. But as we slowly start to enter trade season and team’s start the self-evaluation process, there are different levels of buyers for teams to reach. The Red Sox are in the first level, and they have an opportunity this month to face off against some of the best teams in the league. If they can prove they belong in that company, then they could alter the way the front office approaches the rest of the season.