Dombrowski’s decisions, or lack thereof, have grave implications for October and beyond
Major League Baseball’s trade deadline has ended. 4 o’clock EST on July 31 marked the end of buying and selling throughout the league. Any teams that are unhappy with what they got, or didn’t get, well, tough luck. The August 31 “waiver trade deadline” ended last year. The July 31 deadline is now the one date that separates the haves from the have-nots. The haves are viable playoff contenders, maybe even World Series victors. The have-nots are everyone else, those teams who, for some reason or other, have no chance of making it to the postseason.
This seems like a very clear dividing line. By now, teams should know what the plan is for the rest of the season. And yet, standing in the middle of these two sharply different factions were the Boston Red Sox. Though most clubs had already decided whether they were buyers or sellers, the Red Sox seemed trapped by indecision. Almost every club was active in the days and hours leading to the 4 PM deadline. Only the Red Sox, Dodgers, and Yankees were quiet.
Needs and Wants
The only area of concern for Boston was the pitching. The offense, the best in the majors, has done its job. The pitching, on the other hand, has yet to show up, and with just two months left in the season, it might not show up at all. To this point, the team has pitched to a 4.67 ERA, 20th in the majors and just barely ahead of Boston’s AL East rival, the Blue Jays. The team overall has a 1.357 WHIP, which ranks 18th in baseball. While the offense has been stellar, bad pitching has left the team in some pretty sizable deficits, and the club hasn’t been able to escape 3rd place in the AL East for more than a day.
The trade season actually began with Boston, ironically enough. President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski recognized that the back end of the rotation was a major issue. The starting rotation overall has posted an unacceptable 4.82 ERA. Red Sox starters have combined for only 41 quality starts, one below the league average. With Nathan Eovaldi on the Injured List for more than two months, Boston tried to fill his role with various spot starters. Those spot starters combined for an ERA over 7. The decision to move Eovaldi from the rotation to the bullpen when he returned only heightened the need for another starting pitcher.
To remedy this, Dombrowski traded for Andrew Cashner of the Baltimore Orioles in mid-July. 9-3 with a 3.83 ERA, he seemed like a good fit for a rotation in need of consistency. As of now, he is 1-3 with the Red Sox, pitching to a 6.11 ERA in that span. His sole win came in a 10-5 victory against the Yankees.
Relief Help Wanted
After the Cashner trade, it was widely believed that Boston would trade for at least one arm for the relief core at the deadline. The bullpen has struggled right along with the rotation, posting a 4.54 ERA. One of the largest criticisms against Dombrowski has been his inability to build a proper relief core. When it came to the Red Sox, he worked to design a bullpen that would be reliant on a strong rotation. The expectation was that the rotation would last longer into games than it has thus far. The bullpen, never designed to pick up the slack from bad starting pitching, has been stretched thin. That’s led to late-inning runs and ballooning ERAs.
Since Craig Kimbrel left for free agency, the Red Sox have been without a closer, and as such, had blown 18 saves before the deadline. As the deadline approached, the team sought to fix that issue first. Will Smith was an option, until the San Francisco Giants decided to push for October rather than sell. The Red Sox showed interest in Padres closer Kirby Yates, the Blue Jays’ Ken Giles, and Edwin Diaz of the Mets. Giles’ trade value dropped after he received a cortisone shot in his elbow, which put him out for a few days just before the deadline. The Padres simply took Yates off the board, and all the trade rumors surrounding the season’s best closer simply ceased.
Dealing for Diaz?
The removal of Giles and Yates left Edwin Diaz. The 25-year-old was traded from the Mariners to the Mets in the offseason. In 2018, he was the best closer in baseball, saving 57 games, the most in the majors. Experiencing a stellar breakout year, he posted a 1.96 ERA, a 1.61 FIP, and a 0.791 WHIP.
His 2019 has been drastically different. Since going to the Mets, he’s posted a 5.05 ERA, 3.93 FIP, and 1.463 WHIP. His Hits/9, HR/9, and BB/9 have all risen dramatically, while the SO/9 has dropped. Despite the issues, the Red Sox emerged as the front-runners in the Diaz sweepstakes. Originally, Boston wanted to trade third base prospect, Bobby Dalbec. Then, reports emerged that the Mets wanted outfielder Andrew Benintendi. That was too high a price to pay. Boston reportedly witnessed one of Diaz’s outings, and unimpressed, the club decided to move on.
The Trade Deadline Comes and Goes
With the closer market evidently barren, the Red Sox turned their attention to improving the bullpen in general. Several names, such as Andrew Chafin and Sam Dyson, were floated as possible targets. These guys weren’t overwhelmingly dominant, name-recognition type pitchers. Given Boston’s payroll situation and its depleted farm system, it’s likely that most of the guys the Red Sox looked at were just average, middle-of-the-pack relievers. Still, the relief core was in need of relief. If nothing else, having more hands on deck would’ve been a net positive. The Red Sox needed to move aggressively here. Instead, they walked away with nothing.
As the morning of July 31 crept into the afternoon, teams all over the league hurried to complete trades before the approaching 4 PM deadline. All, it seemed, except for the Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox. It became increasingly clear the Red Sox were going to let the last opportunity to improve slip away, and a tweet from Mark Feinsand put the nail in the coffin:
With 10 minutes to go until the Trade Deadline, it appears that, barring any last-minute prices coming down, the Red Sox will not make any bullpen moves. Didn’t see that one coming.— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) July 31, 2019
Dombrowski held a presser soon after. It started with a heartbreaking, rather confusing, statement:
“We do not have any announcements. We did not make any trades. We had an opportunity to make a lot of trades if we wanted. It really came down to that we just felt the demands for what we were going to receive, we didn’t want to pay. It’s ultimately a decision we decided to make. There are some players we would have traded but we just didn’t feel the deals, with either guys’ abilities, the role they would play or the service time they had, we weren’t giving up the type of players (other teams wanted).”– Dave Dombrowski
Evidently, teams weren’t interested in what Boston was willing to offer. The Red Sox, for their part, weren’t ready to make a big leap in order to land their targets. Dombrowski then further explained himself and his logic. His decision to stand pat, he admitted, was due to the club’s position in the standings. That statement included a somewhat open jab at the club itself.
“If we were in first place, I would’ve been more open minded to more things,” said Dave Dombrowski. Said the team’s lack of success on the field made it not worth giving up a premium player or prospect for help.— Tom Caron (@TomCaron) July 31, 2019
The President blaming the ballclub for its lack of success is just a bad look. Dombrowski essentially declared that until they play better, they aren’t worth investing in.
Despite the negative turn of events, Dombrowski insisted that the team was still pushing for an October run.
“If we’re going to make it, it’s going to be the guys in the clubhouse. That is the case. We could add pieces to that but we have a very talented big-league club.”— Tom Caron (@TomCaron) July 31, 2019
He then suggested that, not only were the Red Sox in a good position, but that the bullpen was actually the source of envy for other general managers:
Dombrowski: “You cannot believe the number of clubs that called us about our bullpen guys.”— Tom Caron (@TomCaron) July 31, 2019
To be fair, if even one club called and asked about the Red Sox bullpen, it would have been unbelievable.
“We like our club. And actually, overall, we’ve been playing well for an extended time period. It’s just we have to continue to do that going forward. We feel confident in the group we have. We still have to go do it.”– Dave Dombrowski
The Consequences of Indecision
To some, Dombrowski’s comments could be taken as reassuring confidence in what Boston currently has. There’s no need to make a trade, because what’s already there is fine. To others, they might be taken as Boston waving the white flag. There’s no need to make a trade, because the season is finished.
So there it is. The Red Sox are still kind of, sort of, going for it. It makes very little sense. If the club is still pushing to make the playoffs, it doesn’t make sense to ignore any trade opportunities the deadline presented. Any chance to solidify the club should have been taken, even if the cost was less than ideal. If Dombrowski wants Boston to get back to the playoffs, then they need help. Stuck in third place since April, two or three games out of a wild card spot, the deadline was the last chance to reinvigorate the pitching staff.
If the season is more or less over and Boston has no hope of defending its title, then he should’ve just admitted as much and started selling off assets a week before the deadline. Boston’s farm system is barren. If the current core isn’t enough to establish a dynasty without outside help, and the outside help isn’t coming, then isn’t it time to cut losses, begin restocking the farm, and focus on the future? Instead, Dombrowski refused to take responsibility, blamed the club, and elected to ignore the problem, rather than simply admit he messed up.
Trouble on the Horizon
Doing nothing might be the worst decision Dombrowski could’ve made at the deadline. The team, marred by bad pitching, isn’t capable of playing in October. Being stuck behind the Rays might keep Boston out of October altogether. The Red Sox needed to make moves. A decision had to be made, whether to buy for October or sell for the future. Dombrowski’s failure to make that decision might’ve not only cost the team its chance to repeat as champions, but might’ve also cost them their future for at least one season.
As the deadline ended at 4 PM on July 31, it seemed like the trade season had largely been a bust. The biggest trade moved fireballer Trevor Bauer and outfielder Yasiel Puig from the Indians to the Reds, and vice versa. The trade season felt somewhat underwhelming until Ken Rosenthal dropped a bomb at 4:13:
BREAKING: #Astros get Greinke.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 31, 2019
The Houston Astros were already one of the top two teams in the American League. With one of the best rotations in baseball, they went out and got Zack Greinke, one of the best pitchers in the National League, from the Diamondbacks. Houston, already an amazing ballclub, didn’t need to do it. They already had an excellent chance of going back to the World Series. Nobody even knew that Greinke was on the board. That didn’t stop Houston from making the blockbuster trade of the year. They recognized an area for improvement, and they improved on it. As the Red Sox decided there was no need to improve themselves, it felt like the season had come to an end in just a single day. Better luck next year.
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Red Sox Tom is a Sox writer and Patriots fan. You can find him on twitter @PrimeJD.