After losing out on their top free agent target, the Red Sox have shifted their offseason focus to the trade front.
“I actually think the trade market could be a really good route to adding impact to our club,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom told The Athletic on Monday. “We are looking (into) a lot of significant moves there as long as we can do it in a way that isn’t just robbing Peter to pay Paul, that’s actually moving us forward in 2023 and giving us a chance to make a significant step forward from where we sit today.”
Where they sit today is better than they were two months ago, but still with substantial holes to fill. Kenley Jansen and Chris Martin have meaningfully upgraded their bullpen, and Masataka Yoshida gives them a new left fielder or designated hitter, but the Padres pushed the market for Xander Bogaerts well beyond the Red Sox comfort level, and so they lost their longtime shortstop. They still have a glaring need for a right-handed hitter, and an ongoing desire to add a starting pitcher. The free agent market has thinned, but the trade market has barely taken shape.
Bloom said free agency is still in play — the Red Sox, it seems, have quite a bit of money to spend — but the organization is ready to make a trade if and when that market becomes more reasonable. It began to thaw on Monday with the Braves deal for A’s catcher Sean Murphy.
“Frankly, the vigor of the free agent market has moved a lot of the asks in trades to a point where I think it’s been harder to make deals,” Bloom said. “But I think that will start to change.”
The Red Sox have spent three years trying to deepen their farm system. They’ve graduated some valuable, high-end talent to the major league roster, but Bloom said he’d rather not trade from that group. The Red Sox also have high-ceiling players in the lower levels who would be easier to trade if the return is immediate impact.
“I think there are deals we could make — especially if they involve young major league players — that might capture a headline but might not necessarily make you better,” Bloom said. “They might just add in one place and subtract in another. As I’ve said all along since getting here, we value being a consistent contender, and so guys that are in the pipeline are going to be a part of that in the years ahead, but what happens now matters. And for the right impact, absolutely we would be willing to, and really look to, use that stockpile of prospects.”
One interpretation: Just don’t ask for Triston Casas or Brayan Bello.
Is everyone in the lower levels on the table, including Marcelo Mayer, ranked as the 15th-best prospect in baseball in Keith Law’s midseason top prospects list? Bloom wouldn’t get into specific names, but it’s safe to assume that Mayer is among the players who would be incredibly difficult to move. Baseball America’s most recent Top 10 Red Sox prospects include six (Mayer, Miguel Bleis, Mikey Romero, Nick Yorke, Roman Anthony and Eddinson Paulino) who have never played above class-A ball, and another, Ceddanne Rafaela, who ranks as a Top 100 overall prospect and has never played above Double A.
Unless the Red Sox are going to spend lavishly on one of the remaining free-agent shortstops, or perhaps make a splash for the market’s top starting pitcher, Carlos Rodón, their best bet for adding big-league impact might be trading from that lower- level stash.
“I don’t necessarily know that it’s better, but it’s certainly in play,” Bloom said. “It has been in play, but as you pointed out, there hasn’t been much movement on that (trade) front. We obviously have to find a partner willing to line up on something that makes sense. For us to do what we’re hoping to do this offseason, I think the trade route really needs to be a part of it. That requires another club that is up for doing something — even if it comes at a cost — that still makes sense for us and makes us better. … It’s something we are very, very actively exploring.”
Bloom has worked for three years to build up that minor-league depth. Is he at all hesitant to give up significant parts of it?
“Not if it’s a good move,” he said.
Murphy was among the most notable names generating trade speculation this offseason, and his trade on Monday might have nudged open the floodgates. The Red Sox had been linked to Murphy in recent weeks, but the A’s asking price was believed to include some of the major league players Bloom is hesitant to deal with. Among the other notable names generating trade speculation is Pirates center fielder Bryan Reynolds, another player who would fit the Red Sox, but the Pirates’ asking price is said to be sky-high. The trade market for shortstops seems less robust, or at least it’s generated less attention. Would the Guardians trade Amed Rosario? Is Paul DeJong a worthwhile target from the Cardinals?
“We’re fortunate that we have multiple guys on this team that are really capable shortstops,” Bloom said. “And that gives us a really good place to start from as we continue to work through the offseason and put the best club together that we can.”
If the Red Sox do end up replacing Bogaerts internally, Bloom said Trevor Story is a more natural solution than Kiké Hernández.
“Kiké is our center fielder, and that makes a lot of sense for us to go forward with,” Bloom said. “So, of those two, I would put Trevor at short, but I think we are looking at different possibilities.”
The Red Sox’s unwillingness to commit 11 years to Bogaerts suggests they’re unlikely to meet the asking price for remaining shortstops Carlos Correa or Dansby Swanson either, but Bloom said he would be open to a shorter-term deal at a higher annual value like the one Correa signed last winter.
“I certainly wouldn’t take that off the table,” he said. “I don’t want to and shouldn’t get too specific on what we would or wouldn’t consider with any free agent. I don’t think it’s appropriate, but I definitely wouldn’t take that scenario off the table.”
Whether it’s ever put on the table is another issue.
Meanwhile, in the wake of Bogaerts’ departure, Bloom said the Red Sox remain committed to signing Rafael Devers to a long-term extension, and the loss of Bogaerts “only intensified” the organization’s desire to reach a deal.
“We have been and will continue to go to great lengths to make that happen,” he said.
Is there concern that losing Bogaerts makes it more difficult to extend Devers?
“I am certain that he was not happy to see Xander Bogaerts leave his team,” Bloom said. “But, I also know that he likes playing here, and at the end of the day, I don’t think any player is blind to the nature of this business. … When it comes to guys’ contractual situations, I think they have this hard-fought, hard-earned right to think about themselves and their families. I don’t know that there’s a player out there who doesn’t take that seriously when that time comes.”
Ultimately, Bloom said, the Red Sox were not caught off-guard by Bogaerts’ departure. At least not at the end. They suspected that his market had shifted beyond where they were willing to go, and they’d been laying groundwork to have paths forward if and when he actually signed elsewhere. Now, they’re on one of those alternative paths and seeing where it leads.
“Ultimately, we weren’t able to find that (match) with Xander,” Bloom said. “Obviously the market went to a place that we would not go. So, now it’s about trying to find those good matches elsewhere on the market, whether that’s through free agency or trade.”
And, at this point, the trade market might be their best way forward.
(Top photo of Ceddanne Rafaela: AP Photo / Abbie Parr)