It remains to be seen what the Boston Red Sox will be doing between now and the trade deadline, but in the name of naïve optimism, let’s assume they will ignore their horrid performance in the month of July and trade for some impact players.
There are several areas where the Red Sox could really use help, some of which have become embarrassingly evident over the last few weeks, some of which are due to a large chunk of the Opening Day roster sitting on the injured list and some of which are a bit of both. The most vital are first base, the outfield, the rotation, and the bullpen. So, you know, most of the team. Sorry, I said we’d be optimistic.
While the Red Sox have not been particularly lucky on the field recently, they are fortunate that there are many solid to great players who are seemingly available via trade that would help plug the holes on the roster. Of course, not all trade targets are of the same caliber, so let’s look at some players the Red Sox could target. Today we’ll be looking at first basemen and outfielders. Tomorrow we’ll look at pitchers.
For this exercise, instead of just listing every player potentially available, I’ll be choosing three players the Red Sox could target and categorizing them as either an ideal target, a realistic target or a backup target. Ideal targets are the best players who are reportedly available and who would require the largest return. Realistic targets may still require a hefty toll but are more within reach, and the backup targets are those who may be more easily available, whether due to age, performance, contract length, etc. While this is far from an exact science, it should give you a good idea of who the Red Sox may be (or should be) targeting if they decide to buy at the deadline.
Ideal Target: Josh Bell, Washington Nationals
You can’t get much worse than Boston’s current situation at first base. Bobby Dalbec and Franchy Cordero have failed to do much more than fill that spot on the lineup card, so the Red Sox could really use some help here unless they want to rush Triston Casas to Boston. Bell would fit the bill perfectly. Just shy of his 30th birthday, Bell is enjoying a career renaissance in Washington after a rough final season in 2020 with his original squad, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bell has been particularly excellent this season, with a 144 wRC+ and a .304/.388/.494 slash line. Bell’s name was thrown out there as a target for the Red Sox before last year’s trade deadline and he’s an even better fit this time around. The only thing that may keep him from coming to Boston is the fact that he’s the top first baseman on the market right now, meaning the Red Sox may just be outbid.
Realistic Target: Josh Bell, Washington Nationals
OK, so I am cheating a little bit here, but even though Bell is having a fantastic year, he isn’t the type of star level player who would be worth a king’s ransom like Juan Soto. Bell is a solid player still in his prime and would be a great addition for the Red Sox; in many ways, the fit seems too perfect not to happen. He’s also going to be a free agent after this season, so Washington should be motivated to move him. That could cause the Sox to hold off if they don’t think they can get back into contention, but if they are committed to this season, then Bell is the guy to add.
Backup Target: Dominic Smith, New York Mets
Smith is reportedly on the Red Sox’ radar and would likely require a far lesser haul of prospects than Bell. Ever since a promising run between 2019 and 2020, when he posted 2.2 fWAR over 139 games, Smith has been pretty awful. In this year alone, he has just a 67 wRC+ in 152 plate appearances. It’s unclear whether a change of scenery would make any difference for the 27-year-old, but with his ability to play a little outfield in addition to first base and the potential to get back to where he was a couple years ago, if the Red Sox don’t want to go big here, they would be smart to make a deal that likely wouldn’t cost all that much.
Ideal Target: Juan Soto, Washington Nationals
Soto is every team’s ideal target, but he’s also probably every team’s unrealistic target. The 23-year-old is an absolute super star with franchise-altering talent. His vision and discipline at the plate is better than just about everyone in the league. I’m going to stop throwing superlatives out because you don’t really need me to tell you how good Soto is, right? With someone this good and this young, it will take an ungodly trade offer to get the Nationals to part ways with Soto and I’m not sure the Red Sox can get there, even if they hand over Casas, Marcelo Mayer and the entire island of Nantucket. However, FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen mentioned the Red Sox as a potential suitor for Soto during an episode of baseball podcast Effectively Wild last week, so at least one other person on the planet thinks there’s a shot.
Realistic Target: Bryan Reynolds, Pittsburgh Pirates
Reynolds is also a really good outfielder, but he isn’t Soto good, making him more attainable even if the Pirates will still probably ask for a lot in return for his services. If the Red Sox can meet those demands (and, again, they will be heavy), they should do so because Reynolds helps solve a problem that doesn’t have a long-term solution. At first base, Casas is the future and the Red Sox can blame their rotation and bullpen woes on injuries. In the outfield, there is less room to be forgiving. Red Sox outfielders are tied for 28th in baseball in combined fWAR this season and although not having a healthy Enrique Hernández has been part of the reason, his absence alone doesn’t account for the production they’ve gotten (or haven’t gotten) there. Reynolds would be a great fit for this year and the future. The 27-year-old is signed through 2023 and has two years of arbitration eligibility after that. He also has a 121 wRC+ this season and if he keeps it up, it would mark the third time in his four MLB seasons in which he has had at least a 120 wRC+.
Backup Target: Robbie Grossman, Detroit Tigers
With Rob Refsnyder, Jaylin Davis and the recently acquired Abraham Almonte, the Red Sox seem to be going for a depth approach to solving their outfield issues. If they want to add someone else with a more recent track record of success, Grossman could work. He hasn’t been hitting very well this season, but he’s had a wRC+ of at least 100 in five of the previous six seasons, and if it doesn’t work out, he’s a free agent at the end of the year.
Note: All statistics are from before games on July 27.