The trade deadline has come and gone. It delivered one of the most active and star-laden deadlines in recent memory. Big names like Kris Bryant, Javy Baéz, and Joey Gallo all found new homes. Teams like the Washington Nationals and the Chicago Cubs held fire sales, getting rid of key veterans. Contenders around the league took advantage of those clubs, adding key pieces in preparation for summer pennant races. The AL East, mostly the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays were among the teams to make big splashes. Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox while not as active as their division rivals did snag slugger Kyle Schwarber from the Nationals in exchange for right-handed pitching prospect Aldo Ramirez.
The aforementioned Schwarber was the key addition for the Sox. Currently, he’s on the injured list after suffering a hamstring strain. He has been with the club on their recent road trip and has begun jogging and hitting. The left-hander provides some pop in the middle of the lineup. The Red Sox already boast one of the most productive lineups in the majors, ranking third overall in team OPS. Schwarber when healthy has been very productive this year. His 25 home runs rank seventh in the majors. 16 of those home runs came in his historic month of June, where he racked up National League Player of the Month honors.
Schwarber adds to the potential of the offense. It’s the club’s intentions on defense that are causing the most talk. While primarily being a left-fielder in his career, many are speculating the front-office made this move with the intention of having Schwarber fill their need at first base. The problem with that is Schwarber has only played one career game at first base, and that was in 2017. Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom told reporters that they will give him a “look” at first base, while also saying Schwarber is “excited” about that opportunity.
If he can get healthy, and take ownership of the first base duties, he would add some much-needed production to a position that has been a weak point for the Sox all season. Current starter Bobby Dalbec currently carries a 72 wRC+. That’s good for dead last among American League first basemen and second to last in all of baseball for first basemen with at least 290 plate appearances. Schwarber on the other hand boasts a 137 wRC+. If this ends up working out for the Red Sox, Dalbec could find a role as a bench bat that comes in to face lefties. While Dalbec is batting just .184 against righties, he’s much more effective against lefties at .261.
Trickle Down Effect
Schwarber’s arrival also raises some speculation about the future of top prospect Jarren Duran. If Schwarber returns and takes over in left field that would push Alex Verdugo to the primary center fielder while Hunter Renfroe continues to man right field. This would make Duran the odd man out and likely send him back to AAA Worcester. Since being called up on July 14 Duran has struggled to adjust to major league pitching. In 41 plate appearances, Duran is slashing just .158/.195/.316. While he has shown flashes of creating big plays, he’s really struggled against fastballs, hitting just .120. With utility man Marwin Gonzalez‘s return pending, the possibility of Duran being sent back down seems likely.
So how does Schwarber fit into the offense exactly? The Red Sox offense is known for attacking pitchers early in the count. Back in 2018, Jeff Sullivan noted that Alex Cora implemented what he likes to call selective discipline. This is an approach that has Red Sox hitters swinging at a great number of hittable pitches early in the count. This is still prevalent in 2021 as the Red Sox don’t mess around at the plate. The numbers show it as well. Heading into August, the Red Sox have the fourth-lowest walk rate in all of baseball at 7.7%.
Schwarber on the other hand is below league average when it comes to swinging in early counts. Maybe Cora’s philosophy will prompt Schwarber to swing more early in the count. This year Schwarber hasn’t chased many pitches outside of the zone. He is one of the few hitters with an elite barrel and chase rate. Being at Fenway Park could have an impact on his home run production as it is known that Fenway is known to suppress home runs from left-handed hitters.
Red Sox Add Bullpen Depth
As far as the less headline-grabbing trades, the Red Sox made some additions to the bullpen. Hard-throwing right-hander Hansel Robles was acquired from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for minor league right-hander Alex Scherff. Robles this year in 44 innings has posted a 4.91 ERA and a 4.81 FIP. He features a four-pitch arsenal consisting of a four-seamer, changeup, slider, and sinker. He utilizes his four-seamer the most at 52.5%. Hitters have been tagging that fastball pretty hard this year. His hard-hit rate on that four-seamer is at 68.9%.
Also acquired was left-hander Austin Davis from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for infielder Michael Chavis. Davis will reportedly be used against lefties, as they are batting only .105 against him this season. With the American League boasting some very potent left-handed hitters, Davis could prove very valuable down the stretch. His arsenal consists of a four-seamer, curveball, slider, and changeup.
Believe in the Future
It was clear that Bloom and the front office chose their future potential over the big-name acquisitions. While teams like the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Los Angeles Dodgers were willing to part ways with some of their top prospects, the Red Sox showed that youth mattered to them. In all likelihood, they would have had to part ways with the likes of Garrett Whitlock, Tristan Casas, Jeter Downs, Jarren Duran, or Tanner Houck in order to be in on some of the bigger stars like Max Scherzer, Joey Gallo, or Jose Berrios. It should also be said that they will be receiving an acquisition of sorts when they welcome Chris Sale back to the rotation sometime in August.
At season end it will be interesting to look back at this point to see if Bloom’s belief in youth and the group that put them in this position so far this year will pay off. If not fans will be looking back at this trade deadline as a missed opportunity of sorts to fix some of the team’s weaker points with starting pitching and first base.
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Kris Bryant, Javy Baéz, Joey Gallo, Kyle Schwarber, Aldo Ramirez, Bobby Dalbec, Jarren Duran, Alex Verdugo, Hunter Renfroe, Marwin Gonzalez, Hansel Robles, Alex Scherff, Austin Davis, Michael Chavis, Garrett Whitlock, Jeter Downs, Tanner Houck, Max Scherzer, Jose Berrios, Chris Sale