SEATTLE -- As the non-waiver trade deadline nears, the Red Sox find themselves not only on the clock, but also, at a crossroads of sorts.
While occupying first place in the American League East, they also have some rather obvious needs. The Sox desperately require an offensive upgrade at third base (which they very well might have received with Sunday's promotion of top prospect Rafael Devers), and could surely use some help in the back end of the bullpen.
The problem, of course, is that the Red Sox inventory of top prospects has been severely depleted by a series of trades made over the last two years. President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski has moved five (Mauricio Dubon, Anderson Espinoza, Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, and Manuel Margot) good-to-elite prospects in earlier deals, leaving little at the top end of the club’s development system.
That Dombrowski has sacrificed some of the team’s future for the immediate needs of the present is hardly a surprise. That’s been his approach throughout much of his career. And, it’s worth noting, he was hired by ownership 23 months ago with the implicit understanding that he would make the Red Sox relevant again after three last-place finishes in the span of four seasons.
“Of course you want to win,’’ said Dombrowski. “And when you’re in Boston, you’re not going into a rebuilding-type scenario too often.’’
But herein lies the conundrum: by committing to winning now – at the expense of periodically replenishing the major league roster from within – the Red Sox are all in, or at least, should be.
There’s a window for them to win, but it won’t be open forever. David Price could well leave after next season, and Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel – the latter two of whom were Dombrowski acquisitions, obtained for three of the five best prospects he’s moved – the year after that.
Having shifted into win-now mode, does it make much sense for the Red Sox to ignore some current holes in the roster? It’s exactly that half-way strategy that compromises both the present and the future. Simply put, it’s too late to stop now.
In Dombrowski’s first full season, the Sox won the A.L. East and made their first post-season appearance since their improbably championship in 2013. It turned out to be a quick visit, however, with the team swept by a superior Cleveland Indians club.
The Sox may yet win the East again, owing to the underwhelming competition offered by the rest of the division. But can anyone envision them getting by, say, Cleveland and Houston as currently constituted? Not with their lack of power, minimal production at third and unproven eight-inning options.
Merely reaching the post-season won’t be enough this fall. Given the size of the payroll, the commitment by the fan base and the deals that have been made to get them this far, the Red Sox need to, at minimum, play for the American League pennant for this year to be considered any kind of success.
While it’s a given that a select few prospects are considered virtually untouchable (Rafael Devers, Jason Groome), that shouldn’t preclude Dombrowski from being able to improve his team. Now that the Yankees have plucked Todd Frazier from the White Sox, there’s little demand for a long list of available third basemen, providing the Red Sox with some leverage in the market.
(It’s open to debate how much of an upgrade some of these options represent. Some available third basemen may offer better offensive production than the current platoon of Brock Holt and Deven Marrero, but perhaps not enough to warrant sacrificing much in return).
Admittedly, the relief market is far more problematic, with many more interested buyers than sellers. But every contender faces this same challenge. The cost of pitching is always inflated, no matter the year or regardless of market conditions.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Sam Travis is probably their best trade chip, but the Sox should be able to get help without including him in a deal (Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports)[/caption]
Unless he’s willing to deal Sam Travis, Dombrowski doesn’t have much to offer in the way of near-ready prospects. Then again, the Yankees last week landed Frazier and top relief arms (David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle) without involving any minor leaguers who had played above Single A. Rebuilding teams are more than willing to be patient if you offer enough potential in return.
Standing pat doesn’t seem like much of an option, because without the necessary improvements, the Red Sox aren’t built for a long October run. A potentially elite rotation won’t get the Sox far if it’s not augmented by a dependable bridge to Kimbrel, and an already inconsistent offense needs strengthening to overcome the quality pitching the Sox are bound to face in the post-season.
If the Sox don’t commit to giving themselves better odds in the playoffs, then everything Dombrowski has done to date will have been for naught. Now that the Sox are in for a dime, they had best be in for a dollar, too.
Like the song says: It’s too late to stop now.