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Breslow On Deadline: Red Sox Committed To Picking A Lane


Breslow On Deadline: Red Sox Committed To Picking A Lane

There’s now just three weeks until the July 30 trade deadline and many clubs will have to decide whether to buy or sell or a mix of both. Red Sox chief baseball officer Craig Breslow recently appeared on today’s episode of the Fenway Rundown podcast with hosts Chris Cotillo and Sean McAdam, with Cotillo and McAdam both writing up columns at MassLive after the podcast.

Perhaps most notably, Breslow suggested that the Sox would pick a buy/sell lane, as opposed to trying to walk a fine line between the two paths. “The lane that we pick is going to be dictated by a host of considerations and none more meaningful than what is happening on the field,” Breslow said. “So I’m still adamant and committed to picking a lane. We’re going to get more and more information over the next couple of weeks. But the one thing that we can do that helps steer that direction is to win as many games as possible on the field.”

Choosing how to approach a deadline can be a tricky one for a front office executive, as Breslow himself highlights. “My job is different than the job Alex (Cora) has or the job that the players have, whereas they can be almost singularly focused on doing everything that they need to do to prepare to win that night’s game, I have to think about how we can best be positioned to win tonight’s game and tomorrow’s game and next year’s game. Trying to balance all of those things is is difficult at times.”

That difficulty sometimes leads decision makers to try to opt for a mix of buying and selling, something that Red Sox fans are surely familiar with. In 2022, the club was hovering around .500 as the deadline approached. Then-CBO Chaim Bloom traded Christian Vázquez to the Astros for Wilyer Abreu and Enmanuel Valdéz in the most clearcut “sell” move but also held onto impending free agents Nathan Eovaldi, Xander Bogaerts, Michael Wacha, Rich Hill and J.D. Martinez, while “buying” by acquiring Tommy Pham from the Reds and Eric Hosmer from the Padres.

That plan didn’t work out in the short term, as the Sox slid further back in the race down the stretch and also struggled in 2023, which led to Bloom being fired and replaced by Breslow. The Vázquez deal looks better in hindsight with Abreu becoming a valuable contributor while Valdez has served a multi-positional role on the club, but the hindsight also cuts both ways as the decision to not trade the other candidates looks unwise now.

Given the frustration of that deadline, perhaps it’s refreshing that Breslow is declaring that he will lean into one camp or the other, though he still hasn’t decided between the two paths. The club is 49-40 and currently holding the final Wild Card spot in the American League, with teams like the Royals, Astros and Rays not far behind. As Breslow mentioned, the results in the next few weeks will help him make his decision on how to play his cards prior to the deadline.

If the Sox remain in a playoff spot, it seems fair to expect Breslow will pick the buyer lane and he gave some clues as to what he might be looking to do in that scenario. He used the “You can never have too much pitching” cliché and also mentioned a right-handed bat as a possibility.

“You can never have too much pitching. You’re always an injury away or, a handful of unfortunate outings away from being in a hole and, at times when you don’t have starting pitching depth to get through the second half of the season, that places a pretty significant burden on a bullpen,” Breslow said of the logic of looking for pitching. In terms of the offense, he says that the club is “also pretty left-handed heavy (from an offensive standpoint). The chance to maybe look to add some right-handed offense could make sense.”

The Sox currently have a rotation consisting of Tanner Houck, Nick Pivetta, Brayan Bello, Kutter Crawford and Josh Winckowski. Houck was quite dominant earlier in the season but his results have slipped a bit in recent weeks. He had an earned run average of 1.91 after his outing on June 6 but a 5.19 ERA over his five most recent starts. That could be random variation but it’s also possible that there’s some fatigue setting in since his tally of 111 innings this year is already a personal best at the big league level. Winckowski and Crawford are somewhat similar, as neither has gone much beyond the 130-inning range before. Bello has a 5.19 ERA while Pivetta has good strikeout/walk ratios but with ongoing home run problems keeping his ERA above 4.00.

Overall, the rotation has been a strength this year, as Boston starters have a collective 3.59 ERA that is seventh-best in the majors. But there are some question marks in there and the depth isn’t amazing. That’s thanks in part to Lucas Giolito, Garrett Whitlock and Chris Murphy all requiring season-ending UCL surgery. Chase Anderson is in the bullpen as a long man but has a 4.89 ERA despite a very lucky .203 batting average on balls in play. Bryan Mata is on a rehab assignment but has mostly been pitching in stints of two to three innings. Brandon Walter has been on the injured list all year. Cooper Criswell has been pretty good this year but Brad Keller has had fairly tepid results.

All told, there would be plenty of sense in adding to that group, especially if any of their current rotation members are going to hit any kind of workload limits. Cora recently spoke to McAdam for a piece at MassLive about providing breathers to the club’s starters, though those plans haven’t been finalized yet. And as Breslow mentioned, an injury could happen at any time and increase the need. Some pitchers that could be available at the deadline include Garrett Crochet, Erick Fedde, Tyler Anderson, Griffin Canning, Yusei Kikuchi, Cal Quantrill, Austin Gomber and Trevor Rogers, among others.

As for the lineup, as Breslow said, it skews left-handed. Tyler O’Neill, Connor Wong and Ceddanne Rafaela are the only right-handed hitters on the club who have stepped to the plate 180 times or more this year. Getting another righty in there could balance things out but the most obvious spot to upgrade would be first base and the club could have Triston Casas coming back. “You go around position-by-position and you look at where we haven’t gotten the production that, that we would need,” Breslow said. “And obviously Triston is a huge loss that we need to overcome, but it seems like his rehab is going and we would expect him back.”

The Sox have received a tepid slash of .226/.316/.384 from the first base slot this year, which translates to a 94 wRC+ that is 19th-best in the league. That includes strong work from Casas, who slashed .244/.344/.513 in 22 games before landing on the injured list due to torn cartilage in his midsection. Dominic Smith has taken most of the playing time in the absence of Casas but has hit just .227/.327/.355. Both Smith and Casas are lefties, so the return of the latter wouldn’t change the lefty-righty balance but it should nonetheless upgrade the overall offense if Casas is healthy and back to his old self. Casas has not yet begun a rehab assignment but is taking dry swings and could progress to hitting off a tee this week, per Alex Speier of the Boston Globe on X.

If the Sox try to get another righty bat onto the roster regardless, some of the potential candidates would include Luis Robert Jr., Taylor Ward, Brent Rooker, Justin Turner, Danny Jansen and others, with other clubs perhaps pivoting to selling in the coming weeks and making other bats available.

As for whether the Sox could take on money at the deadline, Breslow was optimistic on that front. “Anytime that I’ve been around,” he said, “or been aware of this team being in contention, playing meaningful games, staring down a potential playoff run, the resources have been there. I don’t anticipate this even going any differently.”

Per the payroll data at Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Sox were among the biggest spenders in the league for most of this century but have pulled on the reins more recently. As recently as 2019, they had the top payroll in the majors but came into this year 12th with an Opening Day mark of $171MM. For competitive balance tax purposes, the club’s number is currently at $208MM per the calculations of Cot’s and $218MM in the eyes of Roster Resource.

The lowest tier of the CBT is $237MM this year, so the Sox should have ample room to take on money even if they want to stay under that line. Though that’s also contingent on Breslow’s framing of the club’s willingness to spend real dollars being correct.

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