ADVERTISEMENT

Jennings: Four spots Red Sox need to clean up in second half

July 14, 2017 GMT

No sense wasting time.

Just two days after the All-Star Game, baseball moved decisively into second-half mode yesterday with a Chicago blockbuster trade that sent starter Jose Quintana from the White Sox to the Cubs for a package of four prospects, one of them ranked among the truly elite in baseball.

With that, the hinges were knocked free, and the trade market was left wide open.

Time to figure out what needs fixing, what’s irreparably broken, how much it’s going to cost, and whether to take the plunge.

The Red Sox are good. They might be very good. But they could be better. Here are four things worth addressing either internally, externally, or by crossing fingers and hoping for the best:

THIRD BASE

Obvious problem, uncertain solution

Eight different players, including a catcher, an outfielder and a kid from Double A, have played third base for the Red Sox this season. The combination that’s worked best has been the unlikely duo of light-hitting Deven Marrero and inexperienced Tzu-Wei Lin.

ADVERTISEMENT

It’s been a mess, but how to handle it going forward remains a mystery.

Pablo Sandoval’s rehab assignment has to end by Monday. Brock Holt’s can last a little longer, but he too is closer to becoming an option at third. Jhonny Peralta’s brief tryout in Pawtucket ended yesterday when the Red Sox cut him.

Is there a solution somewhere in that murkiness? Probably not, unless the Red Sox decide they can weather the storm of below-average production at the position.

Jed Lowrie, Eduardo Nunez and Todd Frazier are obvious trade candidates, and Mike Moustakas could be as well if the Royals decide they’re out of it and the Red Sox decide they’re willing to pay for a high-end rental. It seems calling up top prospect Rafael Devers is unlikely at this point.

This decision really hinges on Sandoval, whose $95 million deal runs through 2019. Are the Red Sox willing to declare Sandoval a total loss?

ROTATION

Upgrading from within

David Price came off the disabled list on May 29, and four days later, Eduardo Rodriguez stumbled in the Baltimore bullpen and wound up on the DL himself. Those four days between Price’s return and Rodriguez’ injury are the only days the Red Sox have had their entire rotation healthy and active.

With Rodriguez ready to return from his right knee subluxation, though, it’s time to get the band back together, with a healthy Brian Johnson and a recently acquired Doug Fister as just-in-case depth.

Dave Dombrowski left open many possibilities for roster adjustments at the trade deadline, but he was blunt about his rotation.

“We’re not looking for starting pitching at this point,” he said. “That’s not a need for our club. I’ll stop at that point, but we’re not looking for starters.”

If the rotation is to be upgraded, it’s going to happen from within.

BULLPEN

Fix what isn’t broken

ADVERTISEMENT

Third base might be the Red Sox’ biggest problem, but it might not be the spot most ripe for reinforcements. The bullpen has been an unmistakable strength, but the final weekend before the break showed it to be vulnerable. Tyler Thornburg is lost for the year, Carson Smith might be as well, and these relievers could use a hand.

“That group, I think, has performed very well,” manager John Farrell said. “But still, we’re going to need to maintain not only their performance but continue to distribute by our bullpen to keep them fresh.”

Presumably, an impact reliever would not cost an impact prospect like Devers, and so the team could be aggressive in pursuing someone like Pat Neshek, Addison Reed, Brad Hand, David Phelps or some other experienced set-up man. White Sox closer David Robertson also seems available, though more costly, and alongside Craig Kimbrel would create a formidable, Alabama-based 1-2 punch.

POWER

Luxury or necessity?

The Red Sox have hit 92 home runs, fewest in the American League. Of the seven teams with fewer than 100 homers, the Red Sox are the only one with a winning record.

Is that a problem, or a quirk of the roster? And if it’s a problem, how best to address it?

If the Red Sox make a Mike Moustakas-sized splash at third base, it could kill two birds with one stone, covering the hot corner while adding a .559 slugging percentage. Todd Frazier would be a cheaper source of thump at third.

Beyond that, it gets tricky because first base, designated hitter and the outfield corners are already manned by capable hitters.

Speaking of which, the solution for more power could be the DH spot where Hanley Ramirez has just 13 home runs with a slugging percentage 60 points lower than last year. He hit 22 home runs in the second half last season, and he’s already shown signs of life with two homers and a .954 OPS in his past nine games.

Out of necessity, a power boost might have to come from within, and Ramirez is just the guy to provide it.