One year ago today, Dave Dombrowski acquired the World Series MVP and no one noticed.
The trade that sent Single-A infielder Santiago Espinal to the Blue Jays for first baseman Steve Pearce barely registered. Didn’t the Red Sox need bullpen help? Why was Dombrowski wasting his time with a platoon player?
We soon saw the method to his madness. Recognizing a deficiency against left-handed pitching — which felt like a secondary concern, but in retrospect was clearly a primary one — Dombrowski acted aggressively to land one of the most consistent right-handed mashers on the market.
He figured Pearce would come in handy against New York’s CC Sabathia and Aroldis Chapman, as well as Houston’s Dallas Keuchel. A World Series featuring Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, and Alex Wood turned out to be a bonus, and Pearce destroyed Dodgers pitching to the tune of three homers and eight RBIs in five games, earning himself the aforementioned MVP award in the process.
A year later, the Red Sox need a lot more than a part-time player to augment a roster that has produced disappointing results. But the Pearce trade remains instructive. While acquiring a reliever or two or five feels like the obvious plan of attack, might Dombrowski be thinking differently? And if so, what are some areas of need we’re not considering that he might address?
Let’s take a look at three of them.
1. Fifth starter
We’ve made the case before, but part of the reason the bullpen is so brutally taxed is because the Red Sox have failed to average even three innings out of their fifth starters since Nathan Eovaldi went down in April.
A reliable arm would ease the strain of Eovaldi’s absence in ways that the parade of Triple-A filler has not, and it would allow left-hander Brian Johnson to fill a long role in the bullpen.
Depth isn’t a bad thing for this rotation, especially considering Chris Sale’s history of second-half breakdowns, David Price‘s iffy elbow, and of course Eovaldi’s uncertain status. Lest we forget, Eovaldi didn’t seem like a necessity last year, and he ended up playing an instrumental role in the World Series run.
One name to watch: Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd, whom the Red Sox reportedly scouted recently. Dombrowski has already acquired him once — in a deal involving David Price, no less — and he has three years of team control remaining.
Boyd has some home run issues — he allows one per game — but he’s 5-6 with a 3.72 ERA and is averaging a career-high 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
2. Backup outfielder
In a perfect world, someone like Rusney Castillo (remember him?) would fill this role internally. Instead, that responsibility falls largely on the shoulders of DH J.D. Martinez, who has battled back issues all season. Manager Alex Cora would prefer not to play Martinez so much in the outfield, but he has started the last two games in place of Andrew Benintendi, who’s battling a nagging injury himself.
With Pearce (back) on the IL and Brock Holt in and out of the lineup, the Red Sox have found themselves thin beyond starters Benintendi, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. And even when Pearce does return, his production has been so woeful (.180-1-9) that he’s in danger of being DFA’d.
One possible trade partner is Pittsburgh, which ranks eighth in the wild card standings and can dangle cheap veteran switch hitter Melky Cabrera or the more expensive Corey Dickerson.
3. A Steve Pearce type
Speaking of Steve Pearce, if the one they have doesn’t get his act together, they should consider acquiring his replacement. The Red Sox hit right-handers 30 points better than left-handers as a team (.273 vs. .243), with an OPS swing of 82 points (.813 vs. .731).
Rookie Michael Chavis hasn’t been the answer, hitting just .175 vs. southpaws, and starter Mitch Moreland generally plays against righties when he’s healthy, which isn’t often enough.
Red Sox shut out in terms of All-Star Game starters
A perfect fit as a first baseman/outfielder who murders left-handed pitching at a reasonable price is Baltimore’s Trey Mancini, who’s in the midst of an All-Star-caliber season. He’s hitting .298 with 17 homers and a .904 OPS overall, and .307 with a .942 OPS vs. left-handers.
The prospect cost for Mancini would be steep, because he’s Baltimore’s most desirable asset, but he’s only making $576,000, only becomes arbitration-eligible this fall, and is only 27, smack in his prime.
Mancini could address the last two issues on this list by himself, with the added bonus of being worthy of everyday at-bats no matter where he plays.
So while bullpen may be the most obvious need, don’t be surprised if Dombrowski tinkers elsewhere around the edges, too.
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