Just when it seemed like the Boston Red Sox were on the verge of busting loose, they have merely held water in the American League East.
The Red Sox have climbed back above .500 and were 40-35 entering play on June 19, but they have hardly gone on that kind of run that seemed to be in the cards following the resurgence of the starting rotation and key position players like Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi.
Boston was 11-7 through their first 18 games in June. Although they had a +50 run differential through the first 75 games, the Red Sox still find themselves 6.5 games back of the New York Yankees. And with the Tampa Bay Rays also staying competitive, Boston may have to fight tooth and nail just to eek out a playoff spot one year removed from winning the World Series.
The starting rotation has recovered fairly nicely, though they could probably benefit from adding another veteran starter on an expiring contract. And the offense ranked third in the American League in runs scored entering play on June 19, which does not even account for the slow starts from the likes of Betts and Benintendi or the recent slump from Michael Chavis.
But the bullpen lacks a real closer. Boston was just 11-9 in one-run games, and ranked 26th in the MLB in terms of save percentage. They also had 14 blown saves, the second-worst mark in the bigs. Having let Craig Kimbrel walk in free agency this past winter, the Red Sox now find themselves in desperate need of a closer.
With all of this in mind, here are three potential trade targets for the Boston Red Sox prior to the July 31 MLB Trade Deadline:
1. Brad Hand
The Cleveland Indians figure to be one of the most intriguing teams to watch in the next few weeks. The Minnesota Twins have a stranglehold on the AL Central, and the Indians simply do not have the kind of offensive firepower that could put them over the top as World Series contenders.
Cleveland has a very concerted need to lock up superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor to a long-term extension, and they will likely look to deal if they find themselves in a more tenuous spot around the time of the deadline.
Hand has arguably been the best closer in all of baseball this season. He is 20 of 20 in converting save opportunities, and has a 0.88 ERA and 13.5 K/9 in just over 30 innings of work.
Not only would Hand fill a glaring need at the back end of Boston’s bullpen but he would also fill another void by giving them an impact lefty, simultaneously fitting right in with the rest of Boston’s strikeout-heavy group.
But given that Hand is one of the best relievers in the game, do the Red Sox have the kind of assets necessary to acquire such a premium talent? They have one of the worst farm systems in the league, and Hand’s team-friendly contract gives him that much more value.
If Boston wanted to make a realistic run at Hand, they would likely have to send big-league talent and a wealth of prospects to Cleveland in return.
2. Will Smith
Unlike the Indians, the San Francisco Giants will almost certainly be in “sell now” mode as they look to stockpile assets and bolster a weak farm system.
Like Hand, Smith offers yet another premium left-handed option. he has also converted all 19 of his save opportunities while racking up a 13.3 K/9. And Smith’s Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is actually much closer to his ERA than hand, so advanced metrics suggest he may be just as effective as Hand.
The Giants have dangled Smith for a number of years, and their bullpen continues to be a definite sign of strength. In this regard, they might not sell quite as high on Smith as the Indians might on Hand, especially considering that he is on an expiring contract.
Still, the question of whether or not Boston would have enough to acquire Smith is incredibly pertinent. The Giants need young pitching and outfielders, and the Red Sox can realistically offer one of those things. So Boston would have to blow San Francisco away with a number of prospects.
Are the Red Sox willing to continue to deplete their farm system in the pursuit of yet another title?
3. Matthew Boyd
If the Red Sox strike out on their marquee relief targets, they may turn their attention to the starting rotation. As previously mentioned, this group has rebounded nicely from an atrocious opening to the 2019 campaign, but they could use depth.
Boston is mostly going with a four-man rotation, with spot starters filling the final day. President Dave Dombrowski would be wise to–at the very least–look into the market for starting pitchers like Boyd.
Boyd has been a breakout star with the Detroit Tigers, posting a 3.35 ERA (and 3.00 FIP) through his first 15 starts in 2019. He would provide the Red Sox with yet another impact left-handed starter to match Chris Sale and David Price, and his contract gives him three years of team control.
The Tigers may not be quite as desperate to immediately acquire assets like the Indians or the Giants, so there may be a bit more flexibility in this regard. The Red Sox could even try to sell Eduardo Rodriguez with Nathan Eovaldi’s return in mind, or try to keep Rodriguez and maybe convert him back into a bullpen arm.
Any way you shake it, Boyd could be a pretty big get for the Red Sox if they fail to acquire a closer. Could they get a deal done? Only time will tell.