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 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.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @MacCerullo.
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