With the MLB trade deadline less than a month away, there are still a lot of things for the Red Sox to do before the deadline arrives. The MLB Draft is coming up, and the Red Sox need to decide whether they will buy, sell, or buy and sell at the trade deadline. Additionally, the Red Sox need to position themselves for 2024 and keep themselves under the CBT threshold to reset the luxury tax. So with all that and more in mind, here are five things on the Red Sox to-do list before the trade deadline.
Buyers Or Sellers At The Deadline?
When the trade deadline comes around, the big decision the Red Sox have to make is whether or not they will be buyers or sellers, or if they decide to once again do a little bit of both.
If the Red Sox choose to sell, they have players on expiring contracts such as James Paxton, Adam Duvall, and Kiké Hernandez who could be available. They also have veterans that either have an option for 2024 or are under contract through 2024 who could go, such as Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen, and Chris Martin. If the Sox buy, they have a strong farm system with an abundance of talent they could use to bring in players, especially with the amount of organizational talent they have up the middle.
However, the most intriguing option for the Red Sox is to both buy and sell at the deadline. As much as some are worried that buying while also selling doesn’t work, every single move the Red Sox made last year has worked out for them. The only problem was the moves they didn’t make, such as not getting under the luxury tax.
This year, if the Sox can successfully straddle the line between buying and selling, it is the perfect deadline strategy. They can bring in pieces in exchange for players who are on expiring contracts while also bringing in pieces that can help the team for the rest of 2023 and beyond. If done right, the Red Sox would get the benefits from both buying and selling. But if it goes wrong, they could end up with the short end of the stick, hindering the Red Sox’ ability to execute their plans for the present and future.
Give the Center Field Keys to Jarren Duran
Jarren Duran took over the center field spot from Adam Duvall while Duvall was on the Injured List, and it’s now time to remove any doubt that Duran is the Red Sox’ center fielder by trading Duvall at the deadline to a contending team in need of an outfielder. The Red Sox don’t really have a need for Duvall thanks to Duran’s success, and with four outfielders on the team (not including Duvall) plus Kiké Hernandez’ ability to play the outfield, the Sox could get value for a player that clearly will not be brought back after 2023.
A trade that could make sense is to return Adam Duvall for his third tour of duty with the Braves, who could use a fourth outfielder with the ability to platoon with Eddie Rosario or step into an everyday role in the event of an injury. In this proposed deal, the Red Sox would receive two minor league pitchers that the Braves drafted in 2018, righties Victor Vodnik and Brooks Wilson.
Vodnik, a 23-year-old, was a 14th round pick in 2018 and is currently the 13th ranked prospect in the Braves system, according to FanGraphs (also 10th in Braves system according to MLB Pipeline). Vodnik features a fastball that touches 100 mph, and a plus changeup, which could make him an intriguing relief option.
Wilson, who is 27 years old, is a really interesting prospect (if you can call him that), as he has barely pitched since 2021 due to Tommy John surgery, but is still the 19th ranked prospect in the Braves system according to FanGraphs. His fastball is around the low 90s, but his splitter received a 60 grade on the FanGraphs 20-80 scale, with a future grade of 70. He also features a curveball, giving him a potential three pitch mix that could work really well in relief if the stuff returns to his pre-injury levels.
If this trade were to happen, both Vodnik and Wilson could find themselves amongst some other exciting relievers the Red Sox have in the high minors that are getting ever closer to the big leagues.
Target A Proven, Controllable Bullpen Arm
Next on the list of things to do after trading Adam Duvall is to look at options for the rest of 2023 and beyond. One big need for the Sox heading into 2024 is a proven lefty reliever that can slot into the back end of the bullpen. Those kind of guys aren’t the easiest to find, as there aren’t a ton of them available. One option could be Aaron Bummer from the White Sox if they decide to blow it all up. In this proposed deal, the Red Sox would receive Bummer for minor leaguers Brainer Bonaci, Angel Bastardo, and Matthew Lugo.
Bonaci, Bastardo, and Lugo are both Rule 5 Draft-eligible this offseason, meaning they’d need to be added to the 40-man roster in order to remain with Boston. If the White Sox are blowing it up, they might have some 40-man spots open come this offseason, and although the 40 man crunch shouldn’t be too tight for the Red Sox, this trade gives them some extra room to work with.
Bonaci and Bastardo are both having good seasons, but both are still in High-A, meaning the White Sox might not even have to protect them by adding them to the 40 man. Lugo hasn’t had the best of years in Double-A while shifting from the infield to the outfield due to the abundance of infielders the Red Sox have in Double-A. A change of scenery where he could play the infield could help Lugo.
Bummer has a proven track record of being a solid setup man in the big leagues over the past few seasons. Over the course of his seven-year career, Bummer has put up a 3.42 ERA and a 3.25 FIP over 242 career innings. In 2023, Bummer has a very nice 2.70 FIP, but he’s posted a 6.35 ERA in his 28.1 innings of work. However, a lot of that is due to some blow ups early in the year. In his last 18 appearances, Bummer has pitched 16.2 innings with a 3.24 ERA and a 2.04 FIP. Even with some of the rough outings, Bummer has yet to give up a homer this year, and has only given up 14 in his 262 career appearances.
The other plus to getting Bummer is his contract. Bummer is under team control through his age 32 season in 2026, as the 5-year deal he signed prior to 2020 contains team options for an extra two years. Bummer’s 2023 salary is just $3.75 million, and his 2024 salary is just $5.5 million. The team options for 2025 and 2026 are $7.25 million and $7.5 million, respectively. For what Bummer is, that is not at all an expensive deal to take on. This would give the Red Sox a lefty that they can rely on in late-inning situations, which is a big need for 2023 and beyond.
What To Do With James Paxton?
The hardest decision for the Red Sox as the trade deadline nears is deciding what to do with James Paxton, and there are a few options on the table. They can decide to trade him, they can keep him while looking to extend him, or they can do something a little more clever, which we will get to later. But a good starting point is to discuss a trade.
The Sox could get a decent return if they decide to trade Paxton, as there would be many teams looking to add Paxton. A potential James Paxton trade could see him going to the D-Backs for two prospects, outfielder Jorge Barrosa and lefty pitcher Yu-Min Lin.
At 23 years old, Barrosa is an exceptional defensive center fielder with plus speed, who has walked more than he has struck out in Triple-A this season while posting a 105 wRC+. Barrosa is ranked 10th in the D-Backs system by FanGraphs (12th by MLB Pipeline).
Lin is a 19-year-old lefty pitcher that is ranked 19th in the D-Backs system by FanGraphs (10th by MLB Pipeline), who has posted a 2.59 ERA in 12 High-A starts in 2023, striking out 73 batters while walking only 18 in 55.2 innings. In this deal, Lin would kind of replace Bastardo in the Sox’ High-A rotation while Barrosa would add a 40-man outfield option who can play the rest of 2023 in Worcester, creating an amazing defensive outfield duo with Ceddanne Rafaela.
Obviously, the Sox could choose to not trade Paxton, which would likely mean that they’d like to extend him. However, the third option might be the most interesting one.
The Red Sox could choose to keep Paxton at the deadline and give him the qualifying offer upon season’s end. Paxton is eligible to receive a qualifying offer, and the one-year QO eliminates any long-term risk that a potential longer term extension would come with. It is crucial for the Sox to stay under the CBT threshold, as their compensation pick if Paxton were to depart would be before the third round. The potential of this compensation pick would make the qualifying offer worth the risk of missing out on a trade return for Paxton. If the Sox were to go over the CBT (which they have no reason to do), that compensation pick would instead be after the fourth round, which would not be sufficient value to avoid dealing Paxton at the deadline.
Having Paxton around is interesting for the moment, but it all depends on what the trade market is. If they can get a really good offer for Paxton, they should take it. If not, they can ride out 2023 with him and give him the qualifying offer in hopes of him returning on the one-year QO in 2024, which is a year the Red Sox are expected to go over the CBT threshold.
Lay Groundwork for Extensions
Heading into the All Star break and the trade deadline, it is a perfect time for Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox front office to start looking at extensions for Alex Verdugo, Brayan Bello, and Triston Casas. All three could potentially be big pieces for the next Red Sox championship team, and they have all been impressive in 2023.
Verdugo is in his penultimate year of team control, he’s been the Red Sox’ best player to-date, and he should be an All Star. Bello has shown flashes of being a future ace, with an impressive 3.08 ERA in 13 starts and an exceptional 2.33 ERA in his last 11 starts, which is fourth best in all of baseball among starters who have made 10 or more starts since April 29. Casas is hitting .223/.325/.395 with a 96 wRC+ for the year, but since the start of May he has hit .264/.346/.442 with a 114 wRC+.
All three players have a chance to stick around in Boston for a long time, and the Red Sox need to start laying the groundwork to extend them if they haven’t started already. Verdugo has already stated that he wants to talk extension with the Red Sox, and Casas has said he’s open to talks as well. And don’t forget that Brayan Bello is close with Pedro Martinez, and he’d probably love to stick around with the team Pedro is most known for playing with. The Sox have more than enough resources to make these deals happen, and there is no reason at least two of these three shouldn’t be locked up on long term deals by this time next year. It is now up to them to go out and get these deals done.
Those are the five things the Red Sox should do before the trade deadline. There are tons of decisions to come, but I have faith that Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox front office will make the right decisions. If there’s anything you think the Red Sox need to do before the trade deadline arrives, make sure to tweet it out and tag me @derrik_maguire and @BleacherBrawl to let us know your thoughts.