Those expecting a flurry of trade activity in Boston are likely to be disappointed as the July 31st deadline nears. While the team’s 9.5 game deficit in the AL East led some to conclude that the Sox might make some significant changes in the coming months, it appears that such moves are unlikely. In a recent interview, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington confirmed that the club will take a common sense approach to trade activity this summer.
”I don’t think blowing it up makes sense for where we are. There’s a lot of talent on the team. We’re right in the thick of the wild card chase. We’ve played very well since the beginning of May aside from the last week. I just think it would be foolish to start doing things that got in the way of giving us a chance this year. We’ll see how it goes. Like I said, we have to play well. We have to start winning games.”
Sure, Boston is well behind the Yankees, and winning the division is probably out of the question. But with the way May and June unfolded, the Sox are within striking distance of the wild card. And given the key players returning from injury, the second half should be better than the first. Jacoby Ellsbury is expected to come off of the DL today, his shoulder finally recovered from an unlucky subluxation that knocked him out of action this spring. Carl Crawford is set to begin a rehab assignment and is due back within a couple of weeks. Assuming there are no last-minute setbacks with these guys, the impact will be something akin to grabbing a big acquisition via trade; the Boston outfield will instantly be transformed into what it should have been all along.
Ellsbury and Crawford coming back should mean the end of Ryan Sweeney’s run, so don’t be surprised if the Sox try to move him for pitching help. But beyond that there shouldn’t be much action.
Even with the injuries endured in the first half, the Red Sox are the highest scoring team in the majors with 432 runs. That’s better than 5 per game, and more than enough to lead to a record much better than the 43-43 they’ve slapped together thus far. With a run differential of +43, Boston is a top 5 team in the A.L. Despite the horrific pitching, the club really is doing what it needs to do in order to be successful.
The key to getting back to the playoffs will be getting more out of an underachieving rotation.
The bullpen, which began the season with a March/ April ERA of 6.10, improved dramatically as the year wore on. Boston’s relievers have posted monthly combined ERAs of 2.37, 1.99, and 2.41 in May through July.
In contrast, the starters have continued to struggle, with the notable exception of a standout June (3.87 ERA in 27 games). May’s 4.89 and July’s 7.05 ERAs indicate that there’s a lot of work left to be done in order to get this rotation in shape. Fans might hope that the Sox acquire another quality arm, but it’s fairly slim pickings on the trade market. The prices for any premier starters who might be made available will be quite high, and given their existing payroll the Sox have to be cautious. Sure, we’d love to see Cole Hamels come to town if and when the Phillies decide to sell, but it’s not realistic.
It also may not be necessary. A look at the numbers they’ve posted shows that the Sox have been a bit unlucky this year. Pythagorean analysis says that the team should have 47 wins rather than just 43. The defense has struggled a bit, likely due to all of the shuffling and replacements, and a .294 BAbip against (batting average on balls in play) exceeds the A.L. average. That should come down as experienced veterans return and the team is able to field a consistent lineup.
If all the Sox do is move Sweeney for an arm– or even if they do nothing at all– they should be able to close the gap and get back in position to return to the postseason. Staying quiet at the trade deadline is probably the best decision in 2012.