GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox were quiet at the July 31st MLB trade deadline.
Given their current situation, though, it was a wise decision.
GM Ben Cherington told ESPN Boston’s Joe McDonald that the Sox “just didn't find something bold that made sense for us” and instead elected to make two relatively minor moves.
The Sox shored up their bullpen by acquiring left-handed reliever Craig Breslow from Arizona and shipped formerly-heralded prospect Lars Anderson to Cleveland. Beyond that, though, all was quiet on Yawkey Way.
While the Sox have traditionally used the deadline as an occasion to make big changes, they were wise to hold off this year. Here are 10 reasons why:
A mega-deal is only worth it if it is going to be the final piece to vault a team into a playoff spot. The Red Sox, at this moment, do not look like a team destined for the playoffs.
Even after getting players like Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury back from injury, the Sox have been wildly inconsistent. At 55-56, they bear all the characteristics of a mediocre team.
It doesn’t make sense for a team that has been treading water all season to make a trade out of desperation. In baseball more than any other sport, one player rarely can compensate for the inconsistency of the rest of the roster.
Even if the Sox were to make a late charge and secure a wild-card berth, that doesn’t guarantee them much. In fact, it would extend their season by a mere 24 hours.
The one-game playoff format means that the Sox would have no guarantee that they’d be playing October baseball. Had they given up top prospects for their biggest need (a front line starter), there’s a good chance that pitcher would have had no discernible impact on their chances of even making the playoffs.
GM Ben Cherington rightly determined that just getting to that wild-card playoff was not enough incentive to try to make a big move.
Although there were some strong bats available, the Sox offense did not really need an upgrade. They currently stand at third in MLB in runs, first in doubles and sixth in OPS.
They have earned all of these accomplishments while playing with a patchwork group all season that has seen the Sox field 26 different hitters over the course of the year.
With almost everyone finally healthy (David Ortiz excepting), there was no need for them to add another bat to their potent lineup.
The Sox bullpen, too, has been strong for the majority of the season and did not really need any upgrades. While top setup man Scott Atchison (1.76 ERA) has gone out for the year with an elbow injury, the Sox still have great depth.
Sox relievers have posted a 3.38 ERA, seventh in the AL and 12th in MLB. In addition to the current MLB roster, the Sox have reserves like Clayton Mortensen and perhaps Daniel Bard stashed in Triple-A Pawtucket in case the current unit falters.
The addition of Craig Breslow, while lacking flash, was a strong move that bolstered their depth. Beyond that trade, though, the Sox were wise to hold off on trying to obtain a big-name reliever.
Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz have either matched or exceeded expectations, despite occasional bouts of unevenness. Aaron Cook has proven to be a functional fifth starter, and the Sox have options like Derek Lowe available to them should they want to replace Cook.
The issue, as has been well-covered, has been with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. The Sox’s two alleged “aces” have performed poorly this year, and it is with them that the majority of the blame for the Sox’s lackluster record lies.
However, the potential these two have is also enough to warrant not making a big move. Players may have down years, but Beckett and Lester have enjoyed so much past success that they can be expected to turn it around.
It’s perfectly reasonable to expect a passable performance from them the rest of the way, which given the rest of the rotation is enough to stand pat at the deadline.
If it feels like the Sox are always waiting for key contributors to return from injury, that’s because they are.
The latest names to come off the DL will be Ortiz, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Andrew Bailey. While it’s a common refrain from GMs to say that these players will be like acquiring a big-time player, it’s equally true.
The contributions these guys can make likely exceeds what they could have found on the open market, and comes at no cost rather than one or more prospects.
While there were some intriguing options out there, ultimately there was not enough value for the Sox to pursue a huge acquisition. The return on acquiring players at the deadline, especially pitchers, is rarely great.
For every 2008 CC Sabathia (1.65 ERA in 17 starts with Milwaukee), there are many more 2003 Jeff Suppans (5.57 ERA in 10 starts with the Sox, left out of the playoff rotation). For the price it would have taken to get Ryan Dempster or Zack Greinke, the Sox would have been taking a huge risk.
Rather than gamble that they’d be getting more than a four-month rental and the player would perform, the Sox took the safer, more prudent path.
Just because the July 31 deadline is gone does not mean the Sox are done dealing. A player like Josh Beckett will undoubtedly clear waivers and could easily be traded before the August 31 waiver deadline.
While waiver deals are less common, the Sox in effect have another three weeks to determine if they want to be buyers or sellers.
With the call-ups of Ryan Lavarnway and Ryan Kalish, the Sox have already begun to infuse their team with some of their high-level prospects. These players often bring greater energy and enthusiasm than veteran players acquired in a trade, and the Sox were wise to hold on to them at the deadline.
In addition to those young prospects, the Sox have several other pitchers and hitters stashed in the minors that could be ready to help. Rather than going for names, the Sox wisely thought strictly about what these players would contribute.
As was seen earlier this season with Will Middlebrooks, minor leaguers can often make an immediate impact on par with the best veterans.
The Sox have taken a very forward-thinking approach under Cherington, and trading top young prospects for a veteran would fly in the face of that philosophy.
The team is not doing much damage this year with a core of veterans, and in the next year or two it’s highly likely they’ll look to clear out the old vanguard and bring in some fresh faces. Obviously, they can’t do that if they trade away all the young players.
While short-term fixes could maybe improve the team’s playoff chances this year, Cherington wisely determined that a wild card in 2012 was not worth mortgaging the organization’s future.