Reevaluating the trade deadline: How did Red Sox really do?

·5 min read

Sep. 17—A narrative emerged after the trade deadline that the Red Sox hadn't done enough. It didn't help that the club fell into a tailspin right afterwards, the Yankees caught fire and the Red Sox fell from first place into a dogfight for the Wild Card.

Was that a fair perception? With the benefit of hindsight... it's complicated.

Since the deadline, Boston has gone just 20-23, and in total Wins Above Replacement added by new players, the Red Sox rank fourth out of the five remaining AL Wild Card contenders. Kyle Schwarber, Austin Davis and Hansel Robles have combined for 0.8 WAR as members of the Red Sox, with almost all of that coming courtesy of Schwarber (0.7).

The one team with a less impactful trade deadline was the Toronto Blue Jays, whose additions have added just 0.4 WAR. The team with the best deadline was the Oakland Athletics, whose additions have combined for 3.1 WAR.

Naturally we would expect Oakland to be cruising towards a playoff berth and Toronto to be fading from the picture, right? Not exactly. In fact, the opposite is happening.

Counterintuitive as it may seem, winning the trade deadline doesn't necessarily translate to winning the second half, and Boston's performance requires more nuance to explain than just "they didn't do enough." So how should we really evaluate the team's midseason moves?

Schwarber worth the wait

Schwarber being injured at the time he was acquired wasn't ideal, but since returning to action on Aug. 13 he has been every bit the impact player the Sox hoped he'd be.

Schwarber is batting .277 with a .411 on-base percentage and .877 OPS and has reached base safely in 25 of 29 games with the club. He's also come through in the clutch situations the Red Sox couldn't capitalize on before, posting an OPS of 1.048 with runners in scoring position and an eye-popping 1.714 with men on third and fewer than two outs.

Some of Boston's post-deadline acquisitions, particularly Travis Shaw and Jose Iglesias, have also come up big in key spots as well. Taking all of that into consideration, you really can't say Boston didn't improve the team at the deadline, and without the new additions it would have been much harder for the Red Sox to stay afloat through their September COVID-19 outbreak.

But that's not to say the Red Sox couldn't have done more, and if you want to criticize Chaim Bloom's moves, look no further than the bullpen.

Yankees best pickups not ones we expected

The Yankees are a great example of how under the radar bullpen moves can make a huge difference, and these little moves are the real reason why the Yankees had a better trade deadline than the Red Sox.

In terms of big ticket acquisitions, neither Joey Gallo nor Anthony Rizzo have been as good individually as Schwarber. Gallo has hit 10 home runs with 18 RBI, but he's also struck out 71 times and has a surprisingly low .699 OPS. Rizzo has posted a .780 OPS and a 0.8 WAR, but he hasn't gotten on base nearly as often as Schwarber.

The Yankees also missed big on starting pitcher Andrew Heaney, who has a 7.16 ERA and a -0.5 WAR while in pinstripes, but they absolutely cleaned out the Red Sox in the bullpen. New relievers Clay Holmes and Joely Rodriguez have been outstanding, with Holmes posting a 2.29 ERA, 0.763 WHIP and 0.8 WAR in 19.2 innings while Rodriguez has a 2.51 ERA and 0.3 WAR in 14.1 innings.

The Red Sox have not gotten nearly that production from Robles and Davis. Robles (0.0 WAR) has allowed tons of traffic on the bases while posing a 5.40 ERA in 16.2 innings, and Davis (0.1 WAR) has been solid but not exceptional with a 4.11 ERA in 15.1 innings.

Seattle and Oakland also added impactful bullpen arms at a relatively low cost, and given all the upheaval Boston's bullpen has endured between injuries, ineffectiveness and COVID-19 losses, the Red Sox really could have helped themselves by going after more or better relievers.

Sometimes you are what you are

Outside of the bullpen, it's worth keeping perspective on whether or not Boston's problems could have realistically been solved at the deadline no matter what the team did.

The club's biggest weakness is its defense, and that's a flaw that's baked into the current roster's core. Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez are all great offensive players who are limited defensively, and his great throwing arm aside Hunter Renfroe could fit into that category as well. You aren't sitting those guys, so any moves Boston could have made to bolster the defense would have only gone so far.

Toronto is the other side of that coin. The Blue Jays had a hit or miss trade deadline, landing a great starting pitcher in Jose Berrios (1.3 WAR) while missing badly on relievers Brad Hand (-0.6 WAR, cut after eight appearances) and Joakim Soria (-0.3 WAR). Even still, the club already had a plus-99 run differential the day of the deadline and have continued to prove themselves as one of baseball's best teams ever since.

So how did the Red Sox really do at the trade deadline? They didn't do nothing, and they could have done better, but only time will tell if what they did proves to have been enough.

Email: Twitter: @MacCerullo.

Email: Twitter: @MacCerullo.

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