Red Sox should prioritize offense, not pitching, at this year’s deadline
As the saying goes, you can never have too many arms at your disposal. Yet, as accurate as that is, the Red Sox have a legitimate problem within their lineup that could turn into a fatal flaw as time wears on.
Through their first 85 games, they are two games behind the San Francisco Giants — in the loss column — for the best record in the league. En route to their 53–32 record, they have been carried by an offense that ranks tied for seventh in the league in wRC+ (104). While their pitching staff has been better than advertised, the true №1 strength of the Red Sox has been their offense.
However, even when Sale returns, the Red Sox have some significant question marks rounding out the bottom of their rotation. Does Garrett Richards have anything to offer without sticky substances? Can Martín Pérez be a consistent innings eater? Which Nick Pivetta will be the one that takes the mound more often?
All of those questions are glaring ones that need to be addressed sooner rather than later. So why should this team be looking to acquire more bats?
Plain and simple: they have too many existing black holes in their everyday lineup to ignore them.
The Red Sox lineup, two through six, is one of the best in the sport. An order existing primarily of Verdugo-Martinez-Bogaerts-Devers-Renfroe have combined to a fifth-place tie with a 124 wRC+, trailing only the Blue Jays, Dodgers, Giants and Astros.
When you remove that section of the order, the Red Sox leadoff batter, then seven through nine, ranks 22nd with a 78 wRC+. On top of that, it’s tied for 23rd in OBP (.285), tied for 23rd in strikeout rate (27.8 percent) and 18th in wOBA (.290).
Baseball is a game of runs and, eventually, the heart of their order will hit a rut and someone needs to pick up the slack. While the likes of Bobby Dalbec, Kiké Hernández and Christian Vázquez have had their moments, it’s hard to feel much confidence that they can get it done in October, against the game’s best pitching.
There are a few directions they could go to address these issues. First off, giving someone like Marcus Wilson a chance or re-calling Franchy Cordero could pay immediate dividends. The former has slashed .259/.377/.488 with a 131 wRC+ in 47 games for their Triple-A affiliate in Worcester. Wilson provides a little bit of thump, as well as some speed, to a Red Sox lineup that could benefit from both. The 24-year-old positions himself primarily in right field but can also play some center.
As for Franchy Cordero, he’s gone down to Worcester and done everything the Red Sox have asked of him. In 31 games, he’s slashed .385/.471/.650 with a wRC+ of 195. Yes, he struggled mightily at the plate in his first 34 games at the big league level this season, but to punish him by keeping him down, despite his glaring improvement, would be of disservice to him and the Red Sox lineup.
He’s even started taking reps at first base, which is in line significantly with Bobby Dalbec’s struggles — primarily against righties (37.7 strikeout rate, 62 wRC+).
Another player they could look into as a potential reinforcement would be 35-year-old, switch-hitting first baseman, Carlos Santana. Not much justice has been done for his power stroke in Kansas City, as that ballpark isn’t known for being hitter-friendly. However, he’s slashed .244/.362/.405 with a wRC+ of 112 and an expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) of .367.
His .362 OBP would be third on the Red Sox (min. 150 plate appearances), his wRC+ would rank fourth, and his xwOBA would be fourth as well. But what makes him appealing, above all else, is his ability to take the free pass. He’s not much of a speed threat (13th percentile in sprint speed), but any time you can get a guy that historically walks almost as frequently as he strikes out, you jump to that opportunity. Especially since you can put him anywhere one through nine and know you’re getting a productive bat.
His swing also plays wonderfully at Fenway Park.
He has one more year of control for $10.5 million in 2022, which would likely jack up the acquisition cost. But being 35 years old already, Santana likely wouldn’t command the asking price of someone like Adam Frazier, Bryan Reynolds or Whit Merrifield.
Yes, there’s a good chance that Chris Sale doesn’t come back and start blowing hitters away like he was at the end of his 2019 season. However, simply having him at the top of that rotation, with guys like Eovaldi (first-time All-Star, Cy Young candidate) and Eduardo Rodriguez (rounding into form), there isn’t much cause for concern. Having bats that you know can pick up your staff if they struggle will alleviate some pressure on their shoulders and instill confidence that they can win games both 4–3 and 12–10.
Right now, their offense isn’t good enough to go into the postseason. Say what you want about Boston’s pitching staff (top 10 in FIP and 13th in strikeout rate and SIERA), but more game-changing bats will be available across the league than that of arms. Not only that, they’ll come much cheaper.
Remember, Boston is building something much greater than the result of the 2021 season. If bats will come cheaper than a game-changing pitcher, that’s the direction they will, and should, take.