Red Sox Call Upon Devers, Fill Glaring Need Internally

Happy Trade Deadline Week, folks.

T minus 175 hours, roughly, until the non-waiver deadline horn sounds.

This period, of course, represents the last, best chance for contending clubs to add pieces and fill gaps — and for sellers to spin off remaining assets. Dave Cameron updated his buyer-seller status list last week and things remain fluid. Just since that update, the Brewers’ playoff odds have declined by roughly 20 percentage points to 10%, so there’s still quite a bit of uncertainty in places like the NL Central, which will add an element of drama to the period. Teams must first decide how much they are willing to bet on themselves.

One of the clubs almost certain to bet on themselves before the deadline was the Boston Red Sox. Their third-base situation has represented one of the great positional voids of the 2017 campaign. The club released Pablo Sandoval last week, ending his pitiful tenure with the club. That move comes after having dealt 2017 breakout star Travis Shaw to the Brewers in the offseason in an unfortunate deal for Tyler Thornburg, who’s out for the year for a shoulder injury. The Red Sox have by far the weakest-third base situation among contenders.

Consider, by way of example, position-player units that rank 25th or worse in the majors among clubs with a reasonable chance of October baseball (numbers current entering Sunday):

Team – MLB Rank – WAR
Rockies – 30th – (-0.5)
Diamondbacks – 29th – (-0.3)
Nationals – 27th – (-0.3)
Red Sox – 26th – (0.0)

First Base
Yankees – 29th – (-1.2)

Second Base
Rays – 27 – (-0.2)

Rockies – 25th – (-0.1)

Third Base
Red Sox – 29th – (-0.7)

Left Field
Nationals – 28th – (0.1)

Center Field
Dodgers – 26th – (0.8)
Twins – 25th – (1.0)

Right Field
Rockies – 30th – (-1.7)

Boston’s third-base mark of -0.7 WAR has been exceeded only by a couple other positions among contenders. Addressing that negative production at third would allow the club to avoid the awful — a necessity, more or less, for clubs with designs on the postseason.

On Sunday, they did address it. Instead of entering the trade market, however — where the Red Sox have been connected to multiple players — Boston changed course on Sunday evening and will now reportedly call upon their top prospect, Rafael Devers.

Devers has recorded fewer than 40 plate appearances above Double-A. The bat is ahead of the glove. Steamer projects a .270/.311/.437 slash line but even that league-average-ish line would mark a considerable upgrade.

With Sandoval out of the picture, Brock Holt has received seven of the last eight starts the position. He has missed most of the season with a head injury and vertigo and is slashing a paltry .175/.277/.175. He does not look like a player to be counted upon. Tzu-Wei Lin also received time recently at third. He acquitted himself well, actually, producing half a win in roughly 60 plate appearances. But his success this year (at the majors and minors) is preceded by years of mere adequacy. It would be unusual for a club like Boston, with so much at stake, to rely on a fringe prospect.

Just days ago, Red Sox president Dave Dombrowksi was preaching patience in regard to Devers after the latter’s promotion to Triple-A. Per Meredith Perri of MassLive:

“Our guys just feel with his age, where he is and what he’s come through that it would be beneficial for him to go to Triple-A from a maturity perspective,” Dombrowski said. “Really, this year he’s been tremendous, but we thought it might be beneficial for him to see Triple-A and be part of that and see how he adjusts to that.

“I think that’s really important for him because when he makes contact the ball jumps of his bat, and he’s used the whole field which is very, very good. I think he’ll continue to do that. But (it’s) just kind of the comfort zone of going up to the next step and seeing how he handles it and how he feels. And does he continue to perform the same way or does he let that get to him a little bit more, which can happen in the development stage.”

So much for that.

Perhaps Devers, who slashed .355/.412/.581 in his first eight games in Triple-A, simply accelerated his own timetable.

One could arrive at that conclusion given Eric Longenhagen’s assessment of Devers from a prospect update in May:

I thought Devers’ noisy, pull-side ground-ball bat path might require adjustments at Double-A, but he might just be a freak who does things however the hell he wants because he’s so incredibly gifted. Devers doesn’t turn 21 until October and he’s hitting .324/.351/.606 in Double-A, keeping his body in check, and accidentally hitting bombs the opposite way.

Or from Marc Hulet’s own report earlier this month:

He’s not easily overwhelmed and seems to handle pressure well; his triple-A debut saw him go 4-for-4 with a homer. He has 19 home runs on the season but makes a solid amount of contact with just 55 strikeouts in 78 games (17.2% K-rate). Devers has the raw power to be a 30-homer guy in his prime. He’ll have to keep an eye on his conditioning to remain at the hot corner but he has a strong arm and should stick at the position for a while. He could eventually challenge Mookie Betts for the most talented home-grown player on the Red Sox.

Or from simply watching Devers himself:

So this likely isn’t a rash decision. If anything, it’s perhaps late in arriving. Dave made the case for Devers way back in May, and Devers has only improved.

It is, perhaps, an indictment of the trade market for third baseman — a market that dried up a bit when the Yankees preemptively struck a deal to strengthen their bullpen and add Todd Frazier last week, perhaps in part to keep Frazier away from the Red Sox.

The Red Sox didn’t need a long-term option at third base like Yangervis Solarte, who should soon return from an oblique injury. Stars like Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson, under club control through next season, figured to be too expensive in terms of prospect treasure, and an intra-division trade might have complicated matters. They also might not be available.

Former Red Sox Jed Lowrie is likely available — and has been better than Frazier to date. Perhaps Lowrie would still be of interest to fill a utility role. Asdrubal Cabrera, Zack Cozart, Howie Kendrick, Eduardo Nunez: all four were options, as well.

In short, it was not a market with exciting, realistic natural fits for the Red Sox. So in the final week before the trade deadline, the Red Sox opted for an internal option over possible external upgrades. And it’s quite possible that Devers offers more upside than any outside help. And it’s quite possible the Red Sox might have patched one of the greatest remaining holes among contenders.

But don’t worry fans of trade activity, contenders have plenty of other voids to fill.

A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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6 years ago

It is also possible that the Red Sox thinks the price on all the third base options is too high, and is promoting Devers now to show other teams they will walk away if the price on someone like Nunez or Lowrie doesn’t come down. I don’t know how likely this is, but it’s at least worth considering.

6 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

The price is extremely low on bats and those 3B according to reports across the respected national media and the JD Martinez trade. Dombrowski is lying about that.

6 years ago
Reply to  Ryan

Well, the price is low on outfield bats. But maybe the other teams think Boston is so desperate they’re aiming high, and Dombrowski is trying to let them know he’s not that desperate. Again, I really don’t know how likely this is, but it’s just so…unlike Dombrowski to not trade for someone at the deadline with a gaping hole like this.

6 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

DD already spent all his allowance at the candy store, and now it’s making his stomach sick. Sure he also swiped a golden ticket that’s putting up Pedro-in-his-prime numbers, but he’s still gonna barf a bit on his way to the chocolate factory.

6 years ago
Reply to  bananas

To be fair to Dombrowski, the three pieces he’s traded from the farm to get have been first, third, and fifth on the team in WAR on the season.

Moncada’s about the only one of those players I’d expect will ever perform as well as Sale and Kimbrel in the long term, and Pomeranz has been a pleasant surprise this year.

6 years ago
Reply to  0bsessions

Pomeranz has been a nice surprise, and it’s nice to see Kimbrel return to being himself. And I actually sort of-kind of agree with Dombrowski’s MO that prospects are overrated if you have an owner who is willing to spend gobs of money. It’s just that I wouldn’t be surprised if there was another move coming.

6 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I’d honestly be pretty shocked. The Sox have some decent names to move, as far as prospects go, but no real depth. Moving for any 3B that’s apt to give you anything more than Devers will give you realistically costs someone like Groome simply because they have such a big gap from him to their next level of prospects and it’d be the only way to top a team that maybe has more depth, but less at the very top.

The only alternative to moving the likes of Groome would be something targeting quantity over quality (Something like Chavis, who has been good this year but is high risk, Dalbec, high ceiling but so new and not as good this year, and Shawaryn, a P with good upside but so far away), which is just as bad because then you have nothing left.

6 years ago
Reply to  0bsessions

I was actually thinking of Chavis or Shawaryn or a comparable prospect as a likely piece to go. I guess I’d be surprised if the Giants got a better offer than that for Nunez. I think that Lowrie probably should net a better return, but not sure if he will. Maybe the Giants and A’s figure that there will be a market because they’re both utility guys.

6 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

That’s the thing, though. I’d consider Shawaryn a non-starter for Nunez, I feel like he’d be better suited as a long-term relief project (Those K numbers) or as a filler piece in a bigger trade down the line. Same for Lowrie, who I don’t trust to stay healthy.

The Sox, realistically, will have to overpay for any mediocre piece because of their lack of depth and overpaying for a mediocre piece is something that you shouldn’t be doing unless you think you’re WS favorites (And I can see the Sox being contenders for the WS if their bats regress to norm, but they still have an uphill climb against either the Astros or Dodgers).

2017 is starting to resemble 2010 in that the team has the pieces to conceivably make the playoffs, but throwing prospects away to supplement those pieces when they’re not playing to their potential is a waste.

Cool Lester Smoothmember
6 years ago
Reply to  0bsessions

Yeah, part of the reason the Yanks sniped them on Frazier is that the Sox don’t really have any depth to deal from in the Rutherford tier.

6 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I agree, most prospects are very overrated. There are very few that are not and even they don’t always pan out. You also have the flip side, not all stars were top prospects, so you can still have a really good player that most people don’t want in a trade. Moncada might be useful in the future but he’s far from a Bryce Harper quality prospect that you know is going to be an above average player.

6 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

What about the gaping Red Sox hole at catcher?

6 years ago
Reply to  Johnston

There is no gaping hole at catcher. I watch every game and the Red Sox catchers pass the eye test. The Sox are content with the defense that Leon and Vasquez give them, especially in controlling the running game. While not quite league average hitters, they both add a little with the bat.

6 years ago
Reply to  bosoxforlife

We must be watching different teams, “not quite league average” is a pretty generous statement about the way these two hit.

Its not like theyre defensive wizards either.

6 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

That’s my take as well. Bringing up Devers now gives Boston a bit more leverage in trade negotiations, and I imagine they still want to add a veteran alternative.

6 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

They have a depleted farm system and the owner wont allow them to take on too much salary for fear of going over the LT Threshold. Not much they could do. Also, they arent getting great production out of Moreland (toe) and XB (hand) so might want to divert chips elsewhere