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If The Red Sox Are Going To Make The Postseason, The Next 30 Days Are Critical

The Red Sox could be a month away from being at full strength for the first time all season. How can Chaim Bloom maneuver the roster to get to that point while staying in the playoff race?

In roughly a month, the Boston Red Sox could be at something resembling full-strength once again.

Say what you want about Chaim Bloom (and we have all said plenty at this point) but the past couple of injury-filled weeks were not easy to get through from a roster construction perspective. As of last Thursday, the Sox injury situation looked like this:

60-day IL (7): Chris Sale, Trevor Story, John Schreiber, Zack Kelly, Wyatt Mills, Adalberto Mondesi, Yu Chang (None of these count towards the 40-man)

MLB 10 or 15-day IL (8): Tanner Houck, Garrett Whitlock, Reese McGuire, Corey Kluber, Richard Bleier, Pablo Reyes, Ryan Sherriff, Joely Rodriguez

Paternity Leave (1): James Paxton

Minor League IL (1): Bryan Mata

That left the Red Sox with only 30 healthy players on the 40-man roster — only THREE of whom were starting pitchers. The four available minor-league players, all at Worcester, were Bobby Dalbec, Enmanuel Valdez, Wilyer Abreu, and Ceddanne Rafaela; only two of those guys have major-league experience, and none are pitchers.

And yet, the Sox endured. The four-day All-Star Break of the long, winding road that has been the Boston Red Sox season comes at a high point of the year. The team went into the break winning 8-out-of-9 against the Blue Jays, Rangers, and A’s.

While a sweep of the A’s at home was mandatory to even get within a sniff of a playoff spot again, the other wins showed quite a bit of heart for a team that has not had a healthy roster for a long time now. Working with a three-man pitching staff, three of the nine games in that stretch were started by openers, and a fourth was started by Garrett Whitlock, who lasted just one inning — and yet the team still went 3-1 in those games. Alex Verdugo threw a man out at the plate to win a game; he homered in the ninth inning to win another one; a late six-run inning took down another; and Masataka Yoshida sent the team into the long break on a high note with an eighth inning, game-winning home run.

The Red Sox had to thread the needle to limp into the all-star break and they thrived in doing so, now finding themselves just two games out of a Wild Card race in which both the second and third wild card spots are attainable.

Fangraphs

But now let’s move to the next order of business: How does the team get through the next 30 days?

If they go into a tailspin again, which is entirely possible since this team seems to have a magnet that drags them back to .500 no matter what direction they are heading, then there should be a fire sale headlined by James Paxton. However, the team seemingly entered this season with the goal of winning, albeit while simultaneously resetting back under the Competitive Balance Tax. The Trevor Story injury after the main wave of free agent signings had passed was an unexpected setback, which unforgivably was not addressed in the seven months that followed, but the team is still in the mix and could actually look like a playoff team on paper by mid-August:

SP: Paxton, Sale, Bello, Whitlock, Houck (or Crawford)

RP: Jansen, Martin, Winckowski, Pivetta, Schreiber, Crawford (or Houck), Rodriguez, Bernardino

Starting Nine: Wong, Casas, E. Hernandez (or Arroyo), Story, Devers, Yoshida, Duran, Verdugo, Turner

Bench: McGuire, Arroyo (or E. Hernandez), Mondesi (lol jk), Duvall, Refsnyder

Does this roster make the team American League favorites? Absolutely not. But I still wouldn’t want to see James Paxton, Chris Sale, and Brayan Bello in a three-game series if I were the under .500 AL Central champion who undeservingly gets the 3-seed.

Many of those players (Story and three-fifths of the rotation) are upwards of a month away from a return, so there is another stretch of games upcoming that the Red Sox need to survive. The schedule will actually do the Red Sox and their three-man rotation a favor by baking in three off-days, and another series against the Oakland A’s in the 14 days that follow the All-Star break. With the August 1 trade deadline coming just a few days after that, here’s my starting rotation plan without any pitchers throwing on short rest through the trade deadline. Ideally, this can be torn to shreds when the team trades for a veteran starting pitcher before the end of the week:

We know that Chaim Bloom will probably wait until the last possible minute to provide reinforcements, but they will come eventually if this team treads water in the wild card standings — and the Sox do have the financial resources to bring those reinforcements in. According to @redsoxpayroll on Twitter, who tracks these things to the penny, the team’s payroll is at $227.14 million, leaving them $5.86M short of the $233M CBT mark. That’s estimated to be nearly double the amount that was available in 2021 when the team acquired Kyle Schwarber, whose $3 million prorated salary brought them right against the tax.

Bloom and company could choose multiple paths for help, but first and foremost, I would target pitching one way or another. Michael Lorenzen could be an affordable stopgap unless his “all-star” tag comes with a premium, as he was the obligatory Tigers representative this week. Lorenzen is 3-6 with a 4.03 ERA but carries just a 1.14 WHIP and would be owed less than $3M for the remaining third of the season. Lance Lynn is the owner of an unsightly 6.03 ERA and leads the major leagues with 22 home runs allowed. However, over the last 30 days his ERA is 4.40, with a 1.08 WHIP and a 37.0 K% which is third in all of baseball over that span for starting pitchers, trailing only Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow. The 36-year-old Lynn carries an $18.5M base salary ($6.2M prorated), but the White Sox would almost certainly eat most of that salary if it brought them back a prospect of any kind, while Lynn would certainly eat most anything you put in front of him. Also, Lynn is on a very similar “tale of two halves” season as he was a year ago.

Baseball Reference

Secondly, dealing from a position of strength on the major league roster, Bloom should attempt to move an outfielder for a middle infielder or a relief pitcher. At this point, I’m going to assume that “fixing shortstop” is out the window. They’ve waited this long; it must be Trevor Story or Bust. However, some help at second base is an option to platoon with Christian Arroyo. With the emergence of Jarren Duran in the outfield, either Enrique Hernandez or Adam Duvall would likely be a better fit on another team, even if that means moving one of them to a contender. Perhaps a deal with the Miami Marlins to send an outfielder as a short-term Jazz Chisholm replacement in return for infielder Joey Wendle. Or for one of those high strikeout, filthy left-handed relievers that shut the Red Sox down recently, like Tanner Scott (2.91 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 37.0 K%) or Steven Okert (2.53 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 35.0 K%)? Hell, I’ll even throw in Bobby Dalbec.

The narrative of this season has changed week after week for three-and-a-half months now, and anyone who thinks they know the final chapters is a liar and a thief. How the Red Sox front office handles the next 30 days while attempting to get back to full strength will determine the fate of the 2023 season.

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