After a wild weekend in the Bronx, the Red Sox find themselves with a 5.5 game lead in the division with 45 games to play. In their simulations, Baseball Prospectus has the Red Sox making the playoffs 97.4 percent of the time, and holding their current spot atop the division standings when all is said and done 76.4 percent of the time. Rafael Devers can apparently turn around 103 mph fastballs from (typically) lights-out left-handed pitchers for game-tying homers, Andrew Benintendi can almost single-handedly carry the offense to victory, and Chris Sale gets to throw pitches toward overmatched batters every five days. Taken together, it all seems pretty, dare I say, comfortable. So much so that I have started thinking about ways to round out the roster over the next couple of weeks (in advance of the second trade ‘deadline’) in preparation for putting together a playoff roster.
The central player in if and how the roster takes further shape is Dustin Pedroia. His return to the disabled list with the knee issue that has bothered him for the better part of the season raises a number of potential issues. John Farrell expects Pedroia back before the season’s end, which is great, but Pedroia’s comments sound less confident. If Pedroia can make it back fully healthy, and you accept my suggestion of the Red Sox being in a comfortable position, then he should take as long as he needs to get himself ready for October. There is no need for him to rush back to playing in two weeks. That would be shortsighted. While Pedroia has been one of the best hitters (.273 TAv) and all-around players on the team, the difference between Pedroia and his likely replacements, Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt, will be at most a win or two over the next six weeks. There are other effects, like how having Nunez play second base everyday reduces how versatile he can be, and in turn limiting potential off-days for other guys. But if Pedroia can get back for the playoffs that is the best course of action for the interim. Then come October, Nunez can resume his utility-ish role. So, take your time, Dustin. Get healthy and ready to rip in October.
Pedroia coming back to the team healthy in six weeks is obviously Plan A, but we should also consider the scenario in which the likelihood of him being healthy in time for October baseball is as low as his comments make it seem. Having Nunez as the starting second baseman for the playoffs, and adding Deven Marrero or Tzu-Wei Lin to the roster is not ideal. Rather, the team should consider acquiring a middle-infielder from outside the organization before August 31st (so that he is eligible for the playoff roster). Doing so reinstates the indirect effects of Nunez’s versatility (e.g., off days for guys like Devers and Xander Bogaerts down the stretch), keeps Holt from getting overused, and should provide a credible bat. It is unlikely that Nunez keeps up his current level of offense, and, all nice stories and two decent weeks of play aside, Marrero and Lin are not the guys you want to be sending to the plate very often in a playoff series.
The options for players to acquire are limited – and the whole waiver process could put the kibosh on the Red Sox making anything happen. But there are a few interesting names out there. Ian Kinsler would head the list but he was already claimed by a mystery team (that wears Red Sox?) on his journey through waivers, with no transaction coming to fruition between the Tigers and the Mysteries. The next two players I think are interesting (and could be available due to their contract status) are Brandon Phillips, and old friend Jed Lowrie. Phillips, playing for the Braves this year, is hitting .286/.329/.430 (.265 TAv) on the year, and, while not great with the glove at this point in his career, is around average. There are luxury tax concerns with the Red Sox adding Phillips, as he is owed around $2 million more this season. The Cincinnati Reds are paying basically all of his salary while he plays in Atlanta, but I am not sure that would continue if he were sent to Boston. Lowrie has hit better than Phillips so far this year (.270/.346/.438; .272 TAv), is projected to hit better the rest of the way, and would be a smaller financial hit: he is owed around $1 million more this season. Neither Phillips nor Lowrie has to come over and set the world on fire. They merely provide a dependable everyday option that keeps flexibility within the roster that should be valuable down the stretch and come playoff time.
While we are here, I will note that if the Red Sox get to poking around the Athletics’ roster, they should put mind to acquiring Rajai Davis. I would love to see the Red Sox go with 14 position players on their playoff roster(s) in order to make space for a guy like Davis to be a burner off the bench. It is lazy, but to sell the idea I will make the obligatory Dave Roberts reference. You might remember that he had a nice postseason moment as the team’s speed threat off the bench. Also, if Rajai were added, he and Devers could discuss hitting huge home runs off Aroldis Chapman. It really would be an all-around win for the team. I am going to be sad when they post a 13-pitcher playoff roster.
Much of this might ring as putting the cart before the horse, but these sorts of seemingly minor roster moves could have tangible benefits. A plan should be in place for a Pedroia-less October. Of course the difference between a Lowrie or Phillips and Marrero or Lin could be nothing or even negative, as variance in small series/samples is considerable. Maybe Davis isn’t ever presented with an opportunity to steal a base in a critical moment. But betting on the better players and being ready to with a guy who can get that important stolen base is a better approach, and due to Pedroia’s uncertain status and the roster rules, that means thinking about these issues now.
Photo by Kim Klement – USA TODAY Sports