At 40-40, the Red Sox sit 13 games behind the division-leading Rays but are a more manageable three and a half games back in the American League Wild Card chase. A month of strong play or a month of poor play would drastically alter the team’s postseason hopes, and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom tells Alex Speier of the Boston Globe that the team’s play over the next several weeks will determine the front office’s approach to the Aug. 1 trade deadline.
“If we’re able to play well, and that should make us more aggressive,” said Bloom. “…That frankly dictates how you go into the deadline and what you’re looking to accomplish.”
The Red Sox, like many teams in today’s MLB, walked the line between traditional “buyer” and “seller” at the 2022 trade deadline. Veterans Jake Diekman and Christian Vazquez were traded away, but Boston also acquired a big league catcher (Reese McGuire) in that Diekman swap and swung separate trades to acquire veterans Tommy Pham and Eric Hosmer. The Sox wound up hanging onto veterans Rich Hill, Michael Wacha, J.D. Martinez, Nathan Eovaldi and Xander Bogaerts despite all five being on the cusp of free agency. (Boston ended up narrowly exceeding the luxury-tax line, thus reducing their draft compensation for Eovaldi and Bogaerts, who rejected qualifying offers.)
Bloom’s wait-and-see approach is one being employed by many teams right now. The Red Sox are one of six American League teams within six games of a playoff spot. Over in the National League, there are another four non-playoff teams that are currently fewer than six games back from positioning themselves for a spot. Understandably, those clubs aren’t yet giving up hope on their season. Some may become sellers closer to the deadline, while others will surely play their way into clear-cut buyer status. Broadly speaking, given the parity throughout the league and the increased frequency with which teams are willing to cash in Major League assets who have dwindling club control, many clubs will take that same hybrid buy/sell approach that the 2022 Red Sox took at last year’s deadline. Boston itself could certainly do so again.
As is the case with many baseball operations leaders, Bloom spoke in generalities and didn’t detail what his club might seek on the market should they end up looking to add pieces. Rotation help is an obvious need in Boston, however, evidenced both by a 4.89 ERA from their starters (26th in MLB) and by the trio of starters on the injured list at present. Chris Sale, Corey Kluber and Tanner Houck are all on the shelf, leaving the Sox with a rotation of James Paxton, Brayan Bello, Garrett Whitlock and Kutter Crawford at the moment. That group has performed well of late, it should be noted, with Paxton in particular thriving now that he’s finally healthy. However, the depth beyond the current staff is thin, at best, and there are both health (Paxton) and workload (Whitlock) concerns among the bunch.
A timeline for Houck, who recently underwent surgery after being struck in the face by a comeback line drive, hasn’t been fully clear since he incurred that frightening injury. Sean McAdam of MassLive.com now reports that Houck is unlikely to return before August. The right-hander hasn’t thrown in two weeks and will still need additional time to recover from a procedure that inserted a small plate into his cheekbone. It’ll be a long enough layoff that Houck will need to build arm strength back up and go out on a minor league rehab assignment.
Houck, 26, has had an up-and-down season while seeking to establish himself as a long-term option in the Boston rotation. At the time of his injury, he was sitting on a 5.05 ERA through 67 2/3 innings, although his strikeout rate, walk rate, ground-ball rate and average on balls in play were all right in line with his 2022 levels, when he posted a tidy 3.15 ERA in a similar sample of 60 innings. Houck has seen more than twice as many of the fly-balls he’s allowed leave the yard this season, which is the primary culprit for the ERA spike. He’ll apparently have to wait at least five weeks before he’s able to return to the mound and correct that ugly trend.