Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com: Oct. 17, 2018 – Source: Elsa/Getty Images North America
The 2019 Boston Red Sox are experiencing a severe World Series hangover. At 45-40, the team is trailing the New York Yankees by ten games in the AL East. In fact, they dropped two to the Bombers in London over the weekend. On an international stage, the flawed Red Sox bullpen was exposed by arguably the best lineup in baseball.
Following the embarrassment, calls to concede the season and sell off short-term assets were bountiful. In other words, people are giving up on the Red Sox. While the disappointment is justified, the cries to surrender the 2019 season are not. Boston still fields a formidable group that is as talented as most. With a little fine-tuning in the bullpen and some luck, the Red Sox could turn this season around.
Even though it feels like the Sox are not even close to playoff contention, they’re only 1.5 games away from the second Wild Card spot. According to Fangraphs, the squad has a close to 60 percent chance of making the playoffs and a little over five percent shot at winning the World Series.
To context the latter, the Red Sox have the seventh-best odds in the league at winning it all. It may not be where most envisioned the team would be at this point, but it is ahead of quality teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals. None of those squads are thinking about blowing up their ‘19 chances. So, why is Boston being clamored to do so?
Obviously, expectations were higher for the Red Sox. For a lot of teams, 1.5 games out of a Wild Card spot would be cause for celebration and a license to buy at the deadline. Take away the belief about how this team should be doing and this season doesn’t feel so mediocre.
For example, the 2018 Los Angeles Dodgers were 46-39 at this point last year. That’s one measly game better than this year’s Red Sox. Of course, L.A. ended up in the World Series. They lost the championship to a team that looks — at least on paper — largely similar to this 45-40 Boston Red Sox.
Boston’s lineup has been virtually the same. Though Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Andrew Benintendi have regressed, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and Christian Vazquez have recovered a lot of their lost production. Their position players have the fourth-highest fWAR (15.7) and sixth-highest wRC+ (108) in baseball.
Even the rotation has been solid with the fourth-best FIP (3.93) and sixth-best fWAR (8.3) in baseball. David Price and Chris Sale remain a dominant 1-2 punch, while Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez have been serviceable as 3-4.
It’s been the bullpen that is responsible for the team’s underperformance. Though even that group has a middle-of-the-pack ERA (4.44), which is shocking if you’ve watched this team. It’s clear Boston’s bullpen needs help, but overuse has been one of the biggest drivers of its ineffectiveness.
Matt Barnes, Colten Brewer and Marcus Walden each appeared in 13 games over the last 30 days. They don’t have a quality 5th starter, with Nathan Eovaldi and Brian Johnson on the injured list. However, if they return, whether it’s in the bullpen or rotation, those are two quality arms eating innings. That fact alone should save Barnes from running a 9.00+ ERA in a single month.
With that said, Eovaldi, Johnson and even Heath Hembree’s returns will not preclude another valuable Red Sox pitcher from sustaining an injury. Boston should invest in pitching depth. It doesn’t have to be Shane Greene or Will Smith. It could be someone like Tony Watson, a decent lefty in the San Francisco Giants bullpen who would be a considerable upgrade over Josh Smith or Mike Shawaryn. Even someone like Andrew Cashner would be inexpensive and could be the solution if Eovaldi is destined for a relief role. They just need pitching.
On the flip side, if the Red Sox decide to sell of their short-term assets they would not be looking at much in return. Rick Porcello, Mitch Moreland, Steve Pearce and Brock Holt all do not have much trade value. Porcello may net you a mid-tier guy, but the other three will not. There hasn’t been a market for decent position players for years, let alone ones who are mostly platoon options.
Who else can you sell? J.D. Martinez? Well, that is impractical because it is unclear whether or not he will opt-out of his contract. Based on how he has performed this year and the grueling, lengthy free agent process he endured last time around, it is very plausible he stays with the Red Sox. Admittedly, though, you could get a slightly better mid-tier prospect for him than Porcello, probably. Still, a half year of JDM did not get the Detroit Tigers much when they did it two seasons ago.
Jackie Bradley Jr. could be another guy, with his contract expiring in 2020. Yet even if the Red Sox do a mini-sale in ‘19, they are still looking to be competitive next year. Trading away JBJ, or even JDM, does not make you better for that season. It makes you much worse.
Look, statistically, Boston could even stay pat, erratic bullpen and all, and still have a 60 percent chance of making the playoffs. Things could change in the next few weeks, sure. Boston could lose ten of the next 15 or so games and be in a more dire position. With 77 games remaining, however, this is not the time to think about selling. This is the time to invest in medium-sized pitching staff upgrades. With those, you effectively have the team that steamrolled 2018. That team still exists. It’s just lying dormant, waiting for an arm or two to save the day. This season is not close to being over. Let’s stop acting like it is.