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Scattered thoughts on the Kyle Schwarber trade

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2021 T-Mobile Home Run Derby Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

In case you missed it Thursday night, the Red Sox did indeed make their first deal of the deadline season, adding a left-handed slugger in Kyle Schwarber in a deal with the Nationals. Boston sent out right-handed pitching prospect Aldo Ramirez. Here are some scattered thoughts the morning after the deal.

  • Well, I’ll start off by saying it sure is nice that the Red Sox didn’t do nothing. I’m not sure that was actually a real possibility, but I’ll admit to my lack of patience getting the better of me as Thursday went along and I saw all of the other contenders making additions. It would have been terrible if the Red Sox had done nothing, as a team with legitimate World Series aspirations has to make some sort of addition at the deadline. And the Red Sox did. I think they need to do more, which we’ll discuss a little later this morning, but they didn’t sit on their hands entirely, and that is a good thing, if only given my own paranoia.
  • I think you have to start this conversation about Schwarber, though, with the defense. Boston got him for his bat, of course, but you still need to figure out where to play people, and here it’s tough to be totally sure what they’re planning. It would make the most sense to play him at first base, but he hasn’t done so on a normal play — he technically slotted in there for a play in 2017, but that was coming in from the outfield for a five-man infield alignment — since playing in the Cape Cod League as an amateur. Theoretically he could also slot into the outfield against righties with Hunter Renfroe sitting. Last night I was of the mind that they were planning to just make him a first baseman, but the more I sit on it the more I think we’ll see him playing a little of first, a little of left, and a little DH. Alex Cora and Chaim Bloom have liked to mix and match their lineup a lot, and this gives them a premium bat to do that with.
Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
  • I also think Jarren Duran plays a little bit into this. The speed we’ve seen from the rookie has been electric, and we’ve seen encouraging flashes from the bat, but he’s clearly still adjusting to major-league pitching. As we’ve seen from many top prospects this year, most notably Jarred Kelenic of the Mariners, the jump from Triple-A to the bigs right now is as tough as it’s ever been. With Schwarber out for the next couple of weeks nursing a hamstring injury, I’m guessing this is a chance for Duran to show he can stay. If he can’t, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he’s sent down for Schwarber, with the latter actually getting more time in the outfield than anywhere else. That’s all speculation on my part, though.
  • We’ve gone this far without talking about Schwarber’s bat, but that’s a disservice because the man can mash. He was the story of baseball — non-Ohtani division — in June, smashing 16 homers in an 18-game stretch, which also included 12 homers in a 10-game stretch. The power is certainly the lefty’s calling card, but he also gets on base at a solid clip thanks to a walk rate that consistently sits in double digits. Overall, he’s an above-average hitter year in and year out with the potential to make massive impacts for stretches, and this Red Sox offense has been sleepwalking for a couple weeks now.
  • There are some negatives offensively for Schwarber, however. First of all, he strikes out a lot. That’s not as much of a problem in today’s game, especially when you have his power and patience, but we’ve heard Cora talk all year about the importance of making contact. With his 29 percent strikeout rate this year, which is only a percentage point higher than his career mark, there’s going to be some contact issues.
Tampa Bay Rays v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
  • Schwarber also have fairly significant splits. He’s been average against lefties this year, but over his career he has a 126 wRC+ against righties compared to a mark of 81 against southpaws. I’d suspect the Red Sox are going to be platooning him, which may mean Bobby Dalbec will have a role on this team after all. I’d prefer they get another righty who can play first with steadier production, but I’m not sold we’ll actually see it. The good news is Dalbec does have a 102 wRC+ against lefties this year, though it comes with a .377 batting average on balls in play, a 38 percent strikeout rate and a 3.5 percent walk rate.
  • Honestly, this feels more like a move for the postseason than the stretch run to me. Which is fine, because the Red Sox do have a substantial cushion for a playoff spot, though not so much for the division. That said, with a hitter who has the ability Schwarber has to get hot, it’s not all that hard to imagine him playing up his skills and being a massive part of the lineup come October. To me, that’s the ultimate hope here for the Red Sox, playing the semi-long game.
  • They’d better hope so, because as I mentioned above he is out for the next couple weeks with a hamstring injury. Given that Christian Arroyo just injured himself playing first base for the first time, it’s hard not to be scared about that. Paranoid? Perhaps. But also unavoidable, at least for me.
  • We should talk at least briefly about Aldo Ramirez. I’ll start by saying I don’t mind paying this price for Schwarber, who again can be a legitimate difference-maker come October. But I also wouldn’t say this is cheap. There’s some disagreement on where Ramirez ranks in the system, but I think I’m relatively high on him and think he can stick in the rotation long-term if he stays healthy. Again, I’m not complaining about the price the Red Sox paid, and teams in their position should be willing to pay market value for good players and not just wait for a steal to fall into their laps. But it isn’t a nothing price.
  • I will say, while I like Schwarber, I would’ve preferred a real first baseman. Again, that can still come, but it feels like a missed opportunity if it doesn’t. Carlos Santana was my top target, but it seems the Royals are intent on keeping him, so nothing Boston could do there. But if they could have pushed harder on Rizzo, I think they should have, and paid a lower price prospect-wise by taking on the contract. (Which they are with Schwarber, for what it’s worth.) That said, I think Schwarber is a better hitter, which makes the gap closer. It’s something like a B+ to a B- with Rizzo to Schwarber in my mind. There’s a difference, but not enough to melt down over. I may melt down if Santana does end up being dealt to a non-Boston team, though.
  • I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss first base defense, as it seems a lot of people are. It’s true it is not as difficult to play or hard to find as a good shortstop or any other up-the-middle player, but it’s still important to have someone you can trust at a position that is involved in more plays than anyone besides the pitcher and catcher. And that’s especially true with a Red Sox infield defense that can be shaky at times, to put it lightly.
  • An underrated part of this move is that it does improve the bench. Again, we don’t know what this roster ultimately looks like when the dust settles on the deadline, but at the very least when he’s healthy Schwarber pushes somebody that normally starts to the bench, or on a day when a lefty starts he joins the bench and provides a huge late-inning pinch hit possibility. That will help all the time, but particularly come postseason play.
  • Can we please stop talking about the damn luxury tax? The Red Sox reset it so they can go back over, and there’s a new CBA coming up that has the potential to totally change that landscape anyway. There is no good reason to be concerned about the tax as a fan, and it’s very good that the Red Sox didn’t make sure Washington ate the deal and had to pay an even higher price with prospects.
  • All in all, my quick reaction grade to this trade is about a B. Solid, and can be even better with the right follow-ups, but there needs to be more. Stay tuned later this morning for more on that subject.