Offseason missteps have caught up with Red Sox

·14 min read

Aug. 7—Last year Chaim Bloom seemingly got every move right. Signing Kiké Hernández and Hunter Renfroe, trading for Kyle Schwarber, stealing Garrett Whitlock from the New York Yankees, all of those moves helped lift the Red Sox from last place to the American League Championship Series.

This past offseason he took a similar approach, and the results have been more mixed.

The Red Sox are not where they want to be at this late stage in the season. While they are only a couple of games out of the last playoff spot, they are also hovering around .500 and in last place in the AL East.

That isn't entirely Bloom's fault. The Red Sox have been wracked by injuries and in July saw nearly the entire starting rotation go down all at once, but Bloom also failed to address some obvious weaknesses, and some of the moves he did make haven't paid off.

It's too early to judge his trade deadline moves last week, but four months in we can confidently assess his big league moves from this past offseason. In summary, not bad, but not good enough.

Bradley Jr. trade an avoidable misstep

You can envision a scenario where last December's Hunter Renfroe for Jackie Bradley Jr. and prospects trade works out.

Bradley was coming off a wretched offensive season in Milwaukee but had enjoyed success in Boston and remains one of the game's best defensive outfielders. The two prospects coming in are well regarded and even if they weren't going to contribute in the majors this year they could still be useful pieces in a future trade.

But for the trade to be worthwhile, it should have been treated as what it was — a long-term move to build organizational depth at the expense of big league talent. In other words, there needed to be another move once the lockout ended to shore up the outfield so Bradley could be used as a late-inning defensive replacement, the role he's best suited for at this stage in his career.

That never happened, and the Red Sox are worse off as a result.

Bradley was released on Thursday, ending a disappointing second stint with the club that saw him bat .210 with a .578 OPS in 92 games this season, mostly as the starting right fielder. The Red Sox will be on the hook for his remaining salary, and as Alex Speier of The Boston Globe reported in his analysis of the deal's financial ramifications, the trade is also likely to mean the difference between the club finishing above or below the competitive balance tax threshold.

What could the Red Sox have done differently?

One alternate scenario, and in retrospect perhaps the best, would have been the Red Sox simply not making the trade and then still signing Trevor Story or a player like him after the lockout. The lineup would certainly look a lot better with both Renfroe and Story.

Another option, assuming the trade happened regardless, would have been to sign or trade for an additional player on top of the high-priced free agent the club aimed to sign. One version of this, the Red Sox still sign Trevor Story to play second but also sign Tommy Pham in the offseason rather than add him at the trade deadline. Another version, maybe instead of Story the Red Sox sign Kyle Schwarber or Seiya Suzuki to play in the outfield and make a less splashy move to supplement Christian Arroyo at second base.

Story good, not great

Bloom's big splash this offseason was signing Trevor Story, and while he hasn't been anything close to a bust, his first season in Boston hasn't been a rousing success either.

So far Story has been one of Boston's most prolific run producers, having posted 15 home runs, 58 RBI and 49 runs in 81 games, exactly half a season's worth of action that equates to a 30 homer, 100-plus RBI pace. He's also delivered Gold Glove caliber defense at second base and a solid 2.1 wins above replacement, and it's no coincidence that the Red Sox season turned around once he finally got going in May after a slow start.

But Story has also struggled with his consistency, and his .221 average, .289 on-base percentage and .423 slugging percentage are all far below his career averages. He's also likely going to wind up missing at least a month with a broken wrist after getting hit on the hand by a pitch back on July 12 in Tampa Bay, which isn't his or Bloom's fault but has been a major factor in the club's recent struggles.

Story is going to be in Boston for five more years after this season, so it's far too soon to draw any conclusions on him, but strictly looking at this year was he the club's best option? This past offseason he was one of five middle infielders to sign deals worth more than $100 million, along with Carlos Correa, Javy Baez, Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. Story was without a doubt a better option than Baez, who signed a nearly identical contract with the Detroit Tigers and has been a disaster, and his production has been more or less comparable to the other three, all of whom signed for a lot more money.

No complaints here.

Hill and Wacha have done their job

Rather than make a splash by landing one of the top free agent starting pitchers on the market, Bloom focused on building rotation depth by signing Rich Hill and Michael Wacha to one-year deals while taking a flier on injured starter James Paxton.

The jury is still out on Paxton, who is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and may not pitch this season, but Hill and Wacha have both worked out as well as anyone could have hoped.

Coming off a couple of down years with the New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays, Wacha has rediscovered his old St. Louis Cardinals form and at times has been arguably Boston's best starting pitcher. He's 6-1 with a 2.69 ERA on the year, but he has also been on the injured list twice and hasn't pitched since June 28. Hill also missed most of July with a sprained knee but has been a respectable No. 5 starter and a great veteran presence in the clubhouse.

Considering that the Red Sox have as many as nine starter candidates when fully healthy, you can't really fault Bloom's approach here. The Red Sox might have as much rotation depth as any club in the big leagues, but when almost everyone gets hurt all at once there's only so much you can do.

As for the starters Bloom let walk, Eduardo Rodriguez has only made eight starts in Detroit and hasn't been particularly effective since signing his five-year, $77 million deal. Garrett Richards hasn't been any good in Texas, and while Martin Perez is enjoying an All-Star resurgence with the Rangers, nobody could realistically have seen that coming after his last year in Boston.

Bullpen needed more work

The Red Sox bullpen was a weakness last season and while Bloom did make moves to address the issues, it's clear he didn't go far enough.

Matt Strahm has been a quality addition and Jake Diekman was solid before he was moved at the trade deadline for new catcher Reese McGuire. The Red Sox have also benefitted from moving Tanner Houck into the closer role and eventually Garrett Whitlock back into his old multi-inning super reliever spot, and John Schreiber has come out of nowhere to become a key piece himself.

But Houck, Whitlock and Schreiber can't pitch every day and the Red Sox other relievers haven't proven they can consistently get the job done. One of Bloom's other key offseason moves, re-signing Hansel Robles, did not work out, and if the hope was that Matt Barnes would get back to his All-Star form, that hasn't panned out either.

The Red Sox needed to sign at least one other late-inning arm, ideally a right-hander, and there weren't any shortage of those available over the offseason. One option Bloom could have pursued was re-signing Adam Ottavino, who was one of Boston's top bullpen arms last year and is having a great season with the New York Mets. Ottavino signed for just one-year, $4 million and currently has as 2.38 ERA in 42 appearances while allowing fewer than one walk/hit per inning pitched.

Obviously hindsight is 20/20, but the bullpen, first base and the outfield were all known issues and weren't adequately addressed. The good news is Eric Hosmer and Tommy Pham should help shore up the latter problems and as the pitching staff gets healthier the club should still have a chance to compete.

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Could Riley set market for Devers?

Earlier this week the Atlanta Braves signed third baseman Austin Riley to a 10-year, $212 million extension, which sets a new record for the largest contract in franchise history and will ensure Riley remains a franchise cornerstone throughout his prime years.

Besides making Riley a very rich man, the deal may also set a new baseline for a potential Red Sox extension with Rafael Devers.

In terms of their age, position and productivity, Devers and Riley have a lot in common. Both are 25 years old, have played key roles in World Series championships and boast remarkably similar rate stats, with dead even career batting averages (.285 vs. .279) and on-base percentages (.343 vs. .340) and identical slugging percentages (.522) entering Saturday.

The key difference, and the main reason why Devers has a strong case for a bigger deal than Riley, is he's been producing at an elite level for a lot longer.

Compared to Riley, who is in his fourth big league season and only really broke out last year, Devers has been a key big league contributor for nearly six years now. He's played in far more games (639 to 396), has over 1,000 more at bats (2,506 to 1,463) and a significant lead in career home runs (135 to 88). He also strikes out at a far lower rate and has significantly improved his defense, and in terms of Red Sox history he's put together a resume through age 25 that compares favorably to Ted Williams.

Will that difference help deliver Devers the $300 million contract he reportedly seeks? That remains to be seen, but $212 million should be the absolute floor at this point, and there's a good bet Devers will net a lot more than that.

Meet the new kids

In addition to the big league additions of first baseman Eric Hosmer, left fielder Tommy Pham and catcher Reese McGuire, the Red Sox also acquired four new prospects ahead of Tuesday's trade deadline, plus a player to be named later. Here's a quick overview of each prospect and what fans can hopefully expect from them. All stats mentioned are current entering Saturday.

Enmanuel Valdez, INF: A 23-year-old utility player from the Dominican Republic acquired for Christian Vazquez, Valdez is a bat-first prospect who has posted some impressive numbers at the plate throughout his professional career. This season he has 23 home runs and 82 RBI through 85 games split between Double-A and Triple-A and he's batted .325 with a 1.022 OPS on the year. Since his arrival with the Worcester Red Sox Valdez has already hit two home runs through his first three games.

Valdez is the most highly regarded prospect the Red Sox acquired at the trade deadline and prior to his arrival he ranked as the No. 12 prospect in the Astros organization. His Baseball America scouting report describes him as a complete hitter who can grind out at bats and punish mistakes, but also as a player without a position who will most likely wind up relying on his bat to succeed at the big leagues.

Wilyer Abreu, OF: Acquired alongside Valdez in the Christian Vazquez deal, the 23-year-old Venezuelan boasts a tantalizing combination of speed and power. Abreu currently has 15 home runs, 54 RBI and 23 stolen bases in 92 games at Double-A, and he has significantly improved his walk totals this season, helping him post a career-best .402 on-base percentage. He's also regarded as a strong defensive center fielder and a great overall athlete.

Abreu ranked as Houston's No. 21 prospect prior to the trade and in a lot of respects he has a similar profile to David Hamilton, one of the prospects Boston acquired in last offseason's Jackie Bradley Jr. trade.

Max Ferguson, INF: A fifth-round draft pick out of the University of Tennessee last July, the 22-year-old Ferguson has mostly played shortstop and second base since being selected by the Padres. Acquired alongside Hosmer, Ferguson is currently at High-A but has struggled at the plate since his promotion earlier this summer. His big calling card is speed, as Ferguson has recorded 56 stolen bases in 93 minor league games this year.

Prior to the trade Ferguson ranked as San Diego's No. 23 prospect according to Baseball America. He'll now play in Greenville and is likely still at least a couple years away from the big leagues.

Corey Rosier, OF: A 12th-round pick out of UNC Greensboro last year, Rosier is not considered a high-end prospect but still offers some intriguing upside. Having spent this entire season at High-A, Rosier has demonstrated an aptitude for getting on base (.381 OBP) and has nearly as many walks (57) as strikeouts (69). He's also got some serious speed with 35 stolen bases to go along with eight triples in 87 games. Rosier was also acquired in the Hosmer deal.

Roman Anthony one to watch

First-round draft picks always get the most attention, but when it comes to the MLB Draft it pays to follow the money. Based on that the Red Sox third selection, outfielder Roman Anthony, might be the most interesting player in this year's draft class.

Despite being selected No. 79 overall during the compensation phase of the second round, Anthony received the highest bonus of any Red Sox draft pick at $2.5 million. According to Baseball America that amount ranked No. 30 of all players selected, the equivalent of a first-round pick, and it made Anthony the second highest paid player relative to their draft position behind only Rangers fourth-round pick Brock Porter, who went No. 109 overall but signed for $3.7 million.

Mikey Romero, who the Red Sox picked No. 24 overall, signed for $2.3 million, and Cutter Coffey (No. 41 overall) signed for $1,847,500.

So who is this guy anyway? A left-handed outfielder out of Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School in Florida, Anthony is renowned for his prodigious power and athleticism. His Baseball America scouting report describes him as looking the part of a developing young slugger and that "there are few players in the class who can send a baseball as far as he can."

Paul Toboni, the Red Sox director of amateur scouting, said following his selection that they view him as much better than the 79th best player in the draft.

"He's a tremendous athlete," Toboni said. "We think he has a really good shot at sticking in center field and he has this profile where we think he's going to get on base, he sees the ball well but he also has tremendous power potential and that's a rare combination to find with a center fielder."

"It goes without saying his best days are ahead of him," he added later. "But I think even relative to those in his class he's still just starting to scratch the surface."

Email: mcerullo@northofboston.com. Twitter: @MacCerullo.