Late Thursday night, the Red Sox made their first splash of the trade deadline season, grabbing Kyle Schwarber from the Nationals in exchange for right-handed pitching prospect Aldo Ramirez. I shared my thoughts on the deal earlier this morning, but some of the broad points are that Schwarber is a big-time bat who can help this team down the stretch and, more importantly, in the postseason. It wasn’t a tiny price, but it was worth it. But also, this can’t be the end of their moves for the summer. And that’s what I want to expand upon in this post.
The most obvious point in this favor is that Schwarber himself is not even going to be able to join the team for another couple of weeks. If paired with another move, I think that’s fine because, as noted in the linked scattered thoughts post above, he can be a big impact bat for the postseason. That said, while Boston has a relatively comfortable five-game cushion for a playoff spot right now, that is not insurmountable. More importantly, they are locked in a brutal division race with Tampa Bay right now, and in this era of the second wildcard winning the division is crucial. I can see the logic of getting a bat for the postseason, but you also need to make sure you get there, and get there beyond just playing in a single win-or-go-home game.
And that’s really the crux of the argument: They need to push to win the division. It is true, as a handful of fans will point out whenever they get the chance, that the Red Sox have gotten this far with the roster they have now. On the other hand, the competition also looks different with the other contenders all making big moves in their own right. That includes the Rays, who added perhaps the best pure hitter available this summer in Nelson Cruz. It was a close race before the deals, and Boston needs to keep pace.
As far as where they need to add, I would start with the pitching. They do get Chris Sale back hopefully in another 10 days or so, and while it is getting old hearing Red Sox coaches and fans saying “No one else is trading for Chris Sale” there is some validity to it. I haven’t necessarily thought they needed another starting pitcher, but a lot of that is couched in the fact that I am a bit higher on Eduardo Rodriguez bouncing back for the second half than other people are. After last night, it’s hard not to be at least a little shaken in that confidence.
And so, when I think about the Red Sox’ need for pitching, I’ve decided there are two scenarios with which I can be happy. One is that they get a star-type talebt for either the bullpen or the rotation. In terms of names that have been thrown out, that would be José Berríos or Craig Kimbrel. Obviously I’d love both, or someone else of that ilk I’m not thinking of, but I can live with the Red Sox settling for one or the other, and either would have a huge impact on this pitching staff. With Berríos, it’s self-explanatory as he pushes everyone in the rotation down a notch and comes in as a number two to a hopefully close-to-vintage Sale. With Kimbrel, he doesn’t affect the rotation directly, but by pushing everyone in the bullpen down a notch he makes that unit deeper, which in turn should allow for quicker hooks for the starters come postseason play.
The other direction I think they could go is to get mid-tier targets for both. They should get upgrades over what they currently have, of course, but they can go to the second and third tiers and grab help on both fronts. I think the cumulative impact between this route and getting one stud is roughly the same. As I am not privy to what the actual market looks like in terms of asking prices, I don’t feel great about saying one road is definitively better than the other.
Beyond the pitching, I do still think they need to find help at first base. They don’t need to go force Kansas City into trading Carlos Santana with some Godfather offer, but the easy comp to make would be a Steve Pearce type. It’s easier said than done finding that, but it would be big. This kind of acquisition would allow them to transition at the position for a couple of weeks while Schwarber rehabs, and then would provide a platoon partner for him after he does return.
In theory, they could roll with what they’ve been doing there for the next two weeks and live with that, but it clearly hasn’t been working. Bobby Dalbec in particular just looks totally out of sorts and has barely shown any flashes to suggest otherwise. One could point at his 102 wRC+ against lefties and use that to indicate he could be the platoon partner, but upon closer inspection he’s still striking out 38 percent of the time against southpaws with a 3.5 percent walk rate. His production is buoyed by a .377 batting average on balls in play, and you just can’t bank on that continuing. You could also point to Christian Arroyo as a platoon option, but he’s also using a high BABIP to put up most of his production (though to a lesser extent than Dalbec against lefties), and he’s also not a true first baseman.
As far as potential targets here, I think there are probably some of the Pearce ilk that are off my radar, but two of the “bigger” names you could slot in here would be Jonathan Schoop and CJ Cron. Neither are stars, but they are solid bats who would at least be more consistent than Dalbec. With Schoop, you also have the added bonus of being able to slide over to second base if necessary as well. He’s also been a lefty masher this year with a 157 wRC+ against them, though he’s had no discernible splits looking at the entirety of his career. Cron has always hit lefties better than righties, and this year is no different.
Beyond the potential for a star-level addition to the pitching staff, there isn’t really a specific player that I am looking for the Red Sox to get at this point. They’re in a good enough position where Schwarber could reasonably be the best player they add. The only thing that can’t happen is have him be the only player added. Winning the division is too important in this era of baseball, and the race is too close for the Red Sox to just roll with what’s gotten them here. There are holes on this roster that need to be plugged, and if Boston is serious about winning this year — which they absolutely should be — then more needs to come. And, for what it’s worth, I expect it will.