For all the speculation leading up to Tuesday’s trade deadline — whether James Paxton or Adam Duvall or even Alex Verdugo would be traded, or who might be added to bolster the club down the stretch — the deadline passed with hardly a whimper from the Red Sox.
Aside from acquiring two depth bullpen arms in Nick Robertson and Justin Hagenman last week in a deal with the Dodgers for Kiké Hernández, the only other deal the Red Sox made was in acquiring infielder Luis Urias from Milwaukee for minor league pitcher Bradley Blalock, who likely wouldn’t have been protected from this winter’s Rule 5 draft.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said they considered some significant deals, but that none made sense in his mind, noting he wasn’t willing to “rob Peter to pay Paul.” So, aside from some injured players returning throughout August, the current Red Sox team, 57-51 and 2.5 games out of a wild-card berth, is the one that will carry them the rest of the season. Red Sox beat writers Jen McCaffrey and Chad Jennings discussed where things stand now for this in-between club.
McCaffrey: Chad, since you were in Seattle with the team the last few days, what’s the clubhouse been like? Do you sense frustration with a lack of deals, resignation or just indifference? I know Kenley Jansen had some remarks about using the “underdog” label Bloom threw out as motivation for the club.
Jennings: Deadline Day was a mixed bag in the clubhouse, but that’s probably to be expected. Some players naturally felt disappointed that the team didn’t add. Others felt grateful that the roster wasn’t torn apart. The vibe on Wednesday morning was good. In fact, that’s the first thing someone said to me when I talked in: “Good vibes today.”
I was a little surprised the “underdog” label got so much play considering the team is currently out of the playoff picture has been dismissed much of the season, but I guess it hits differently when the head of baseball ops says it.
Were you surprised to see them do so little? You and I obviously talk almost every day, and I think we were mentally prepared for almost anything from selling pieces to adding a long-term asset to another mixed-message deadline. I had my head around the internal logic of both buying and selling. I was kind of ready for anything, but I was pretty surprised that there was effectively nothing.
McCaffrey: I feel like this is a tight-knit clubhouse so that’s not surprising to hear about their “good vibes” on Wednesday. There probably was some relief to an extent that some of those guys stuck around. I do think some of those veteran guys like Jansen and Justin Turner are going to use the underdog label as fuel like Jansen said. I wasn’t necessarily surprised it got so much attention because while it’s certainly true in a literal sense, I think people were most frustrated by the fact they shouldn’t be underdogs, they have a $230-million (ish) payroll, and had the opportunity to flip that script. That’s probably where most of the angst comes from in my mind. Plus if there was no angst about something, this wouldn’t be Boston, right?
I wasn’t super surprised that Bloom didn’t do much, though. I thought he might add another reliever, but I don’t know, I didn’t think there would be one of those young, controllable starters coming. He’s been so cautious so it feels like any big moves would have been more surprising than staying pat. The Aaron Civale deal was probably the only starter that was moved that could have made sense, but the Rays gave up a top-100 power-hitting infielder in Kyle Manzardo, who’s close to contributing. Ceddanne Rafaela quite doesn’t fit that profile as a hitter and Nick Yorke doesn’t really either, plus he’s too far away comparatively. They probably would have had to give up Triston Casas or Jarren Duran to make that one work. That could have been a move Bloom was referencing in the “robbing Peter to pay Paul” quote. I think I was more prepared for a Duvall trade than anything, but clearly he didn’t like the returns they were being offered there either.
What do you think of Urias and how he’ll fit here?
Jennings: It’s interesting, because Urias could hit his way into being the team’s presumptive second baseman next season — he was certainly at that level the past two seasons — or he could play his way into being little more than optional depth. I think he’ll get a chance to prove himself one way or the other with meaningful big-league playing time.
After the trade, Urias was immediately optioned to Triple A, but that seems almost like a paper move. Because he was optioned at the time of the trade, the Red Sox could option him right away and not be required to keep him in the minors for 10 days. So, they could recall him this weekend. The team keeps saying his status is TBD, but I think they want to see what he can do.
It’s interesting that, after doing so little at the deadline, the Red Sox could have a completely new middle-infield combination with Urias and Trevor Story in the coming days. But who goes if and when that happens? None of Yu Chang, Christian Arroyo or Pablo Reyes has options.
McCaffrey: That’s what I keep thinking about. They removed Kiké Hernández from the equation (who by the way is having a nice start in LA), but now Urias is in the mix so they’ve got some moving parts here. Story sounds like he wants to return this weekend, but Alex Cora seemed to suggest the decision hasn’t been made yet. Either way, his rehab clock runs out Aug. 9 so he has to be back next week. So you have to add him back to the roster and then you have to make room for Urias. Chang has been their best defender so far, but isn’t hitting much. Does he become expendable when Story gets back? Arroyo has had so many ups and downs, do they cut him loose? There will be a lot of moves in the coming days. And we haven’t even gotten to the pitching. Chris Sale threw his first rehab outing on Tuesday and the velocity was pretty good at 95-96 mph. It sounds like Tanner Houck is starting a rehab assignment this weekend and Garrett Whitlock isn’t far behind? What do you think is the best way to use these guys?
Jennings: Cora has been clear that Chris Sale is going to return as a traditional starter. His workload might be a little bit limited at first — especially if he comes back after just one more rehab start on Sunday — but if Sale’s going to be a starter, that might round out the rotation going forward with Sale, Brayan Bello, James Paxton, Kutter Craword and Nick Pivetta (or Pivetta after an opener; whatever you call it he’s getting the ball every five days).
So, the question becomes what to do with Houck and Whitlock?
Houck is going to start a rehab assignment on Saturday and will pitch another minor league game on Wednesday, but it sounds entirely possible he could be activated after that, and Cora floated the idea of someone piggybacking Sale. A left-right combo of Sale and Houck could be interesting every five days.
Whitlock, according to Cora, is going to start a rehab assignment either Sunday or Tuesday. Do they rush him back in a traditional relief role, or do they get him stretched out a little bit more? Cora said they want to avoid having all three come back with strict innings limits, so they might want to give one of them a little bit of time to stretch out to a normal starter’s workload. The key is that the Red Sox could have them all back in the second half of August when they play 16 in a row, a stretch that’s going to significantly test this pitching staff.
If that happens, the Red Sox could finally be at full strength for September. So, what do you think? Is this team going to be playing for Chaim Bloom’s job down the stretch? Is his job even in jeopardy? Should it be?
McCaffrey: August is going to be a significantly tougher schedule just by virtue of so few off days. They have that 10-game homestand followed by 16 straight with the first 10 on the road. It seems likely they won’t have the same success in August that they did in July, but if they can stay afloat, and actually start playing better against sub-.500 teams like they’ll have in Washington, Kansas City and Detroit, this might get interesting. And honestly, I know you and I have talked with Ken Rosenthal so many times about Bloom’s job security since Bloom was hired, but at this point, he’s so convicted in this approach, it feels like has to be pretty convinced his job is safe, right? He certainly isn’t making moves with desperation — almost the opposite, with his steadfastness to this plan. So I don’t know.
Things can change quickly, but especially with how this team has performed this year, even without any deadline reinforcements from him, I feel like ownership is in it for the long haul with Bloom and willing to see this play out. I just feel like if his job was truly on the line, he’d be operating with more urgency to put a sure winner on the field rather than see this young core plan pan out.
Jennings: I agree. Early on, I wasn’t so sure about Bloom’s job security, but now — even if they miss the playoffs — I think it’s a lot easier to see what he’s building. Or, at least, what he’s building toward. There’s an actual foundation in place. And everything he’s done to cut payroll and lose franchise mainstays has been done with ownership’s blessing, so I no longer think of Bloom as on the hot seat.
Or, at least, the seat isn’t as hot as it used to be.
For now, though, the only thing that matters is whether his plan is going to work for this season. You and I have worked together for a long time and established two basic truths: You always get stuck covering the super-long rain delay games, and you’re the only one of us who ever gets a prediction right. So what’s it going to be? Are we covering games in October, or should I book a vacation?
McCaffrey: Haha! Listen, some of my predictions come true, but … some of them definitely do not. I was with the team in 2021 in DC on that final road trip where every one of those games was down to the wire and they got in on the last day. I have a feeling, mainly because I’ll be on that Baltimore trip, that something similar is going to happen. I can see this team sneaking into one of those wild-card spots. So don’t book anything for October just yet.
(Top photo of Verdugo: Alika Jenner / Getty Images)