Trade Deadline Recap: Yikes, Kinda

The Red Sox get two relievers, trade Michael Chavis, and oh yeah Kyle Schwarber won't be healthy for a few weeks at least good times

The trade deadline has passed like a ship in the night, assuming that ship was on fire, shooting its guns off, and also inexplicably blasting Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns N’ Roses at 10,000 decibels. It’s almost easier to list who wasn’t traded than who was. For the Red Sox, their big move came last night, when they acquired Nationals outfielder Kyle Schwarber for minor league pitcher Aldo Ramirez (I wrote about that deal here).

The trade deadline itself brought two smaller trades by the Red Sox. First, they traded infielder/outfielder/bench guy/Triple-A shuttle dude Michael Chavis to Pittsburgh for left-handed reliever Austin Davis. Second, they traded minor league reliever Alex Scherff to Minnesota for right-handed reliever Hansel Robles.

That’s it. That’s the tweet.

It’s okay to be disappointed. I am, if I’m honest. Following along with the deadline, the Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays, White Sox, and A’s all made multiple impactful trades, pulling at the carcasses of the Nationals and Cubs, in particular. The Red Sox are in first place, but their path to the World Series just got more difficult, as did their path to a playoff spot of any type.

I’m not conceding the division. And if I did, who would care, it’s not up to me. But the path just got way more rocky, way more difficult, way more challenging, and it’s a good question whether or not this team with this roster is up to that challenge. But before we get into that, let’s look at the deals.

Red Sox Acquire Austin Davis

Davis is a lefty reliever with good stuff. He throws a four-seam fastball, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup, though he’s mostly shelved the change this season. Although he’s a lefty, he doesn’t really possess pronounced splits. This is, in this case, not necessarily a good thing, as he gets hit hard by hitters from both sides of the plate. That said, it’s not as if there’s nothing to work with. He does get strikeouts, K’ing 26 percent of the hitters he’s faced this season. He’s also walks almost 12 percent, so that’s not great.

There’s probably work to be done with his pitch mix. In 2020 his fastball, changeup, and slider all got torched, while he had lots of success with his curveball. This season, that’s all flipped around where the curve has been smacked around badly and the fastball and slider have been more effective (as I said above, he hasn’t really thrown the change much at all this season). So maybe, as Red Sox Stats says, they want to drop the curve and emphasize the fastball and slider. One thing to note along those lines is this season his fastball and curve have both been thrown in the strike zone a good amount (just shy of 60 percent), but the slider has gone from 62 percent in the zone in 2020 to 14 percent in 2021. Perhaps going to a ‘one in the zone’ and ‘one out of the zone’ approach could pay dividends.

Davis is under team control through the 2025 season, so if the Red Sox do make anything out of him, they can keep him around, and if not, he’s an easy DFA. Whether that’s the kind of guy you want to be acquiring right now, I’ll leave up to you to answer, but there is at least potentially something interesting here.

To get Davis, the Red Sox sent old friend Michael Chavis to Pittsburgh. Chavis is, of course, a former first round pick, but one that never really found a defensive home, and never really developed the ability to hit major league pitching. The book was out on him after the first month in the big leagues, that being throw him fastballs up, and he was never able to make that adjustment. Because of that book, the Red Sox couldn’t really justify giving him regular playing time this season, though he did play a good amount last season and in 2019. He seems like a good guy, and I got the sense he really did enjoy being a Red Sox, but there was just no path for him to continue in Boston. Hopefully he’ll have more playing time and more success in Pittsburgh.

Red Sox Acquire Hansel Robles

If this trade had been made in 2019, wow, sign me up! Robles had a fantastic campaign, striking out 26.5 percent of hitters and walking just 5.7 percent. He was worth over two wins above replacement that season alone, which is damn impressive for a middle reliever. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to duplicate that success since. Last season the walks more than doubled and the number of homers he allowed leapt up as well. This year the homers have calmed down a bit, but the walks are still up (12.8 percent) and the strikeouts are down a bit to 22.9 percent.

So he’s walking guys and not striking a ton out. Add in that he’s in the bottom three percent in terms of average exit velocity given up and hard hit percentage allowed, via Baseball Savant. All of which means this: batters have been crushing the crap out of him. Not what you want, clearly.

Like Davis though, it’s possible a tweak to his pitch mix could help him out a bit. Here are his pitches thrown by percentage since he came into the league in 2015.

Look at that pitch mix in 2019 compared to 2021. He’s gone from being a fastball/slider guy with the occasional sinker and very rare changeup, to a fastball/changeup guy with a rare slider and an almost nonexistent sinker. So you’d think, well maybe if he refocuses on the slider, right? Well, there’s a reason he’s gone away from the slider, and it’s that batters have hit .412 against it this season.

So what to do? I don’t have a prescription to fix this problem, but presumably the Red Sox have something because as it stands now, they’ve added a well below average reliever. I get wanting to add quantity before the deadline, and maybe that’s what this is, but I’d rather they just brought up Kaleb Ort from Triple-A. They can still do that, of course, and maybe they will. If Robles doesn’t pitch better than he has this season (and last), they’ll probably have to.

What This All Means

So that’s it. That’s what the Red Sox did at the deadline. They got two sub-par relievers and Kyle Schwarber. What they gave up for the relievers is fine (what they gave up for Schwarber is fine, too). Chavis had little trade value what with his strikeout problem and lack of defensive position. Alex Scherff, who went to the Twins for Robles, is an interesting relief prospect, but wasn’t going to make the majors this year or, likely, next, and was going to have to be added to the 40 man roster this off-season, and it’s debatable whether or not the Red Sox had room for him. I have no issue with dealing either guy.

The problem, such that it is, is the Red Sox didn’t really do much to improve the spots on their roster that badly needed improvement, at least head on. Then there’s what happened around them, and while they made moves, they definitely suffer by comparison to their AL playoff hopeful brethren. So let’s try to look at this objectively, or as objectively as I can muster at the moment.

Chris Sale…

The Red Sox are getting Chris Sale back shortly. How healthy and effective he’ll be remains an open question, but he’s also Chris Sale and you probably don’t want to bet against him. Now, he’d be coming back whether or not the Red Sox added a starter so there’s that, but it’s also true he represents an upgrade in a spot where the team needs it. So there’s that, too. They also have six starters at the moment not including Sale, which isn’t necessarily a reason not to add one, but does mean they have some flexibility there.

Further, when Sale arrives, that will push out one or even two starters, depending on whether or not they’re going to stick with the six man rotation. Depending on who exits the rotation, it’s possible they could represent an improvement in the bullpen. For example, I’ll pull a name out of a hat and let’s see… oh, Garrett Richards! If it is Garrett Richards, he moved to the bullpen in San Diego last season and pitched well, striking out 26 percent of hitters and walking just five percent. Maybe he’s an above average reliever hiding in the bush. Maybe not. Maybe Martin Perez is. Maybe not. We’ll see!

Other Options

Beyond all that, they still do have Kaleb Ort and Connor Seabold in Triple-A, both of whom could, if needed or desired, come up and pitch out of the bullpen. So there are options, and there will be even more options when Sale returns. None of these options are going to be as good as, say, Craig Kimbrel, but none of these options cost what Kimbrel did either.

Kyle Frigg’n Schwarber

And let me not forget Kyle Schwarber, the biggest by far of Boston’s deadline moves. Schwarber is one of the best hitters who got moved. By FanGraphs wRC+, he’s on par with Xander Bogaerts and JD Martinez in terms of hitting this season. He’s been that good a hitter in 2021, so this is a serious addition to the lineup. He’s been a better hitter this season than Hunter Renfroe, Jarren Duran, or Alex Verdugo. He’s obviously been a far better hitter this season than anyone who has played first base for the Red Sox in 2021.

Actual Optimism (I’m sorry)

That brings me to perhaps my one point of true optimism here. Chaim Bloom spoke to the media today (Friday) and it sounded like both the Red Sox and Schwarber were prepared for him to play first base as much as possible. He’s never played first before, so there might be some growing pains, and perhaps it won’t work. But, it’s good they’re going to try. That’s the position of biggest need, and Schwarber would instantly turn that spot from a massive negative to big positive, at least offensively.

Would it have been perhaps better to get an actual first baseman? Yes, in a vacuum it would’ve been. But maybe a better first baseman wasn’t available for the cost. Maybe this maybe that. It doesn’t really matter. At this point they have who they have and they have to make it work.

So In The End Did They Do Enough?

If Schwarber can play first base, then maybe they did. I’d have said before the deadline that they needed to add someone who can hit at an above average level and who can play first base. Schwarber could fill that bill. I’d have said I’d like them to add bullpen depth. I’m underwhelmed by both Davis and Robles, but they both do count as bullpen depth. I’d have said I’d love for them to add a good starting pitcher. Not to parrot the team line here, but Chris Sale is about to come back from Tommy John surgery and he’s been a very good starting pitcher in his career. No, they didn’t trade for him, but he’s going to be added to the roster. Labels.

In a strange way, maybe they did do enough. Clearly it depends on what you want. The 2021 season is the bird in hand. They are in a good spot, probably unexpectedly. They wanted to improve the roster, but not at the expense of 2022 or 2023. I think if you gave Bloom truth serum, he might say that they’re still building the roster and they want to take great pains to not blow that up or stunt that growth. Next season is important too.

I promise I’ll shut up after this: if Schwarber can play first base, he fixes their most glaring problem. If Sale is healthy and he’s still “Chris F’n Sale” he fixes their second. If Sale is healthy and they can move Tanner Houck to the bullpen full time, he fixes their third. Adding Schwarber, Sale, and Houck to a first place team isn’t bad. I’m not sure it’s enough, but it might be.