Should the Red Sox Sell?
Should the Red Sox sell this summer? Many Sox fans here at BTV seem to think so – we’re seeing a plethora of proposals with rental players going out the door.
So let’s take a look at the situation, what those players might return, and whether that strategy makes sense for them.
The Red Sox are off to a terrible start. As of this writing, they’re in fourth place, 13 games behind the hot-starting Yankees, with Tampa Bay and Toronto also looking like contenders ahead of them. Per Fangraphs, they have a 22% chance to make the playoffs – the 8th best probability in the AL. As a reminder, six teams now make the playoffs in each league, which means Boston would only need to pass two to sneak into the top six.
The problem is that the two ahead of them are way ahead of them – the Twins have a 54% chance and the Rays have a 64% chance. They’d have to surpass both of those. Impossible? Absolutely not. The season is still young, and lots of weird things can happen.
Then there’s the matter of the Red Sox roster. On paper, the lineup looks fairly strong. Four of the top six hitters have long track records of success – Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez, and Trevor Story. Two more are solid if a bit spottier – Alex Verdugo and Enrique Hernandez.
Unfortunately, only three of those six are hitting. Story, Verdugo and Hernandez are off to ice-cold starts. The next three below them are also weak – Franchy Cordero, Christian Vazquez, and Jackie Bradley, Jr. have never provided much offense, and they’re not doing so this year either. A playoff team could get away with Vazquez at starting catcher (indeed, the Red Sox have before), as there’s a dearth of good-hitting catchers around the league, but the other two belong on the bench.
So that means, to truly contend, Boston would have to fill at least two holes – 1B and RF. They probably need one more OF to move Hernandez to more of the super-utility platoon role he was more accustomed to with the Dodgers.
In other words, they really need three hitters – and then hope Story and Verdugo positively regress to their means (Story may be starting to do so).
On the pitching side, it’s even worse. At the moment, their No. 1 starter, Nathan Eovaldi, is struggling, as so far he’s put up -0.4 fWAR, and recently got shelled in a bad start. (ERA-based rWAR is only slightly kinder to him, at 0.1.) If you add his ROS Steamer projections to that, he’d end up with 2 WAR for the year.
Nick Pivetta, Rich Hill, and Michael Wacha are on pace for 1.8, 1.0, and 1.2 fWAR, respectively, if you do the same. That works out to a year-end total of 6 WAR from the top four starters. Most contending teams can get that from one or two guys at the top.
Then there’s the conundrum of Garrett Whitlock. Is he a starter or reliever? For our purposes here, it doesn’t matter, since he’s only a finger in the dike in either the rotation or the bullpen. He alone can’t solve either one.
Speaking of the bullpen – well, let’s not speak of it. It’s a horrorshow. The bigger names are all getting hit badly, leaving only Matt Strahm and a couple other journeyman relievers to help stem the bad tide. I’m not sure what’s going on with Tanner Houck, who had such a promising start to his career in the rotation last year, but if the plan is to use him as a swingman it doesn’t seem to be going well.
So on the pitching side, the Red Sox need at least two starters and a boatload of relievers.
Of course, they may actually get two starters for free, when they come off the IL. Chris Sale and James Paxton have the talent to help, but will they be healthy enough, and if so, when? Paxton is coming off of Tommy John surgery, and may be available after the All-Star break. If patterns hold, though, he may not be at full strength as she shakes off the rust. Sale is slowly recovering from a freakish rib cage injury, and is estimated to be back anytime between June and August. He, too, will likely be rusty in the best-case scenario.
In short, it looks like there are too many holes to fill across the roster to be buyers. Yes, things could turn around, but it’s going to require a lot of ifs.
Trade candidates: The rentals
Xander Bogaerts  can opt out of his contract at the end of this season, and it’s pretty clear that he will. If he stays, he would earn $20M per season from 2023-25. However, our model projects him to be worth roughly $42M, $39M, and $35M over that timeframe – way, way over that line. He would be foolish to leave that much value on the table, and his agent Scott Boras is no fool. So he’s walking.
And that means he’s a rental this year. He’s also the Sox’ best trade chip. He’d be an impact player with playoff experience, and there will be multiple bidders. Expect a return similar to what the Cubs got for Javier Baez last year.
J.D. Martinez [1.5] is also hitting well this year. The problem is that, as an overpaid DH, he has no surplus value. Remember, when you trade for someone, you trade for their contract, which in this case means you’re taking on the obligation to pay him his remaining salary – the prorated portion of $19.35M, depending on the date of the trade. Our model sees that contract as too steep relative to his (still excellent) production. That said, we know teams will pay up for impact players at the deadline, so it’s possible the Sox will get a lottery–ticket prospect to go with the salary relief, but that’s probably it.
Nathan Eovaldi [4.7] is the trickiest case. On the one hand, he still has surplus value based on his track record and, particularly, his excellent 2021 season. On the other, his cold start this year may turn off buyers.
The good news is, there are always teams looking for pitching help, and at the very least, Eovaldi’s history of post-season success could entice them. Some team could even use him out of the bullpen in the playoffs, as the Sox did when they won the World Series in 2018. So if he were traded today, he’d bring back a mid-tier prospect, maybe with a throw-in. But if his performance continues to go south, that could change for the worse.
Aside from those three, there’s not much. Matt Strahm [0.8] may be in positive-value territory by the deadline, and so could net a minor prospect. Christian Vazquez [0.8] could maybe be traded for cash or a lottery ticket in a best-case scenario to a team that needs a backup catcher. No one wants Jackie Bradley Jr. [-11.6] . Even if a contending team foresaw him as a late-inning defensive replacement, there’s little value in that in the market. The Sox would have to eat all of his contract just to get a lottery ticket. Neither Sale nor Paxton are tradeable right now, at least until their health questions clear up.
So the net return looks like, roughly, this:
- *Bogaerts – a 50-grade prospect, or a 45+ and a 45, or 2 45s and a lottery ticket.
- *Martinez – salary relief; maybe a lottery ticket; a bit more if the Sox eat money
- *Eovaldi – a 45 prospect, or a 40+ or and a 40.
- *Strahm – minor prospect
- *Vazquez – nothing
- *Bradley – nothing, unless the Sox eat all the money, and even then it’s just a lottery ticket
Is selling, then, the right strategy?
Look, it’s better than doing nothing. The Sox have three big rentals going out the door. They might as well get what they can for them.
And looking ahead, a lot of money is coming off the books after this season. Given the Sox’ history of spending, you’d figure they’d open up the checkbooks a bit more next offseason to replenish the MLB roster. The farm is not great, but a couple prospects could fill some holes – Tristan Casas should be ready to take over 1B, Bryan Bello deserves a shot at the rotation, and Josh Winckowski could help the bullpen.
Then again, it’s still early to make a decision on this year. If the ice-cold bats suddenly start hitting, if the starters wake up from their slumber, and if the relievers somehow find some magic? Yeah, maybe, but that’s a lot of ifs.
So, yes, given all that, the Red Sox should sell.