BOSTON (CBS) — So here are the real questions: are the Red Sox bringing up Rafael Devers because they truly believe in him? Are they just desperate? Or was this all a last resort from the very beginning because the Sox are truly intent on staying below the luxury tax?
The right answer, of course, is likely a combination of all three. But it’s still worth discussing.
In case you missed it, the Red Sox promoted Devers from Triple-A Pawtucket yesterday following another loss to the mediocre Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. If you’re counting, that’s now 10 losses in the last 16 games for the Red Sox, who are 0-2-2 in their last four series and have seen their lead in the American League East trimmed to 2 1/2 games (one in the loss column). Beginning on July 5 with the final of a series in Texas, the Sox are batting .209 with a .587 OPS.
And so now here comes the 20-year-old Devers, whom the Sox were talking about a month ago as if he were destined to remain in the minors all season.
“The reports have been fairly consistent. We know he’s swinging the bat well, but this is a guy that we’re reluctant to move too fast with him,” manager John Farrell told reporters. “We’d much rather prefer that he just continue to progress as he has and stay on that course rather than force-feed it and jump too far ahead of ourselves.”
Farrell then added, according to reports: “He’s a great looking prospect, but there’s two sides to the game, and I don’t know that we ever assume that a player is just – you plug him in and they’re going to perform at league average or better. That’s a huge assumption going from Portland to [the majors].”
Apparently, it isn’t a huge assumption anymore.
And so, you ask, what changed in a month? The answer: not much. Devers is still hitting. He still comes with huge defensive questions. Apparently, all that talk about “two sides to the game” gets chucked out the window when you struggle to produce the power of a 9-volt battery.
If you’re confused, you should be. Since taking over the Red Sox about two years ago, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has acted swiftly, aggressively and decisively. In his first offseason, he acquired David Price, Craig Kimbrel, Chris Young and Carson Smith in the relative blink of an eye. Then came the Tyler Thornburg and Chris Sale acquisitions. Dombrowski has sacrificed ample resources – young talent and money – to put the Red Sox in what feels like a relatively modest championship window (three years or so), so there doesn’t seem any real reason to pull back now.
Which brings us to that luxury tax: exactly how much of deterrent is it?
And if it is a real deterrent, then why didn’t Dombrowski leave himself more room to maneuver as this trading deadline approaches?
Let’s go back to spring training for a moment. Before the season began, owner John Henry asserted the Red Sox’ desire to stay beneath the $195-million tax threshold, repeating a stance the Red Sox actually began last winter. Since that time, Dombrowski has said that he is under no “mandate” to do. That obviously leaves a gray in that area between something the Sox want to do and must do, but Dombrowski’s actions in recent weeks suggest he is executing the latter more than the former.
After all, he’s done relatively nothing, particularly as other teams (Washington, Arizona, the Yankees) have struck.
Again, compare this with how Dombrowski has acted in the past: swiftly, aggressively and decisively. Usually, he beats everyone else to the punch. Now his idea of improving the roster is picking up no-risk, low-cost, long-odds solutions like Doug Fister and Jhonny Peralta, which feels like the kind of stuff Theo Epstein did during a write-off 2006 season in which he acquired pitchers like the immortal Jason Johnson. A few years later, Epstein gave that kind of season an official term: bridge year.
But make no mistake, this is absolutely, positively not a bridge year.
Even though Sox ownership and management are currently acting like it is.
Look, Devers can hit. We think. If he ends up injecting life into the Boston lineup, great. Heaven knows the Red Sox could use it. Just remember that Mike Trout wasn’t Mike Trout during his first months in the majors in 2011. (He batted .220 with a .672 OPS in his first 40 games.) He blossomed a year later, but still needed a transition period, however brief.
As we all know, the Red Sox have a great deal invested in this season. They also have a great deal invested in the next two. It is entirely possible and even somewhat understandable if the Sox drew a line somewhere and decided that they weren’t going to invest any more big dollars into this team. Todd Frazier wasn’t (and isn’t) the kind of acquisition that could dramatically change the lineup.
Making decisions based on talent is one thing.
But making decisions on money? Well, that’s something altogether different.