6 ways to improve the Red Sox

The team has been quite active in advance of the trade deadline.

The Red Sox have lost three straight and five of their last six.
The Red Sox have lost three straight and five of their last six. –Jim Davis / The Boston Globe

COMMENTARY

As the non-waiver trade deadline fast approaches, the Red Sox find themselves in good position. Not an enviable position necessarily, but pretty good. If the season ended today, Boston would be guaranteed at least one playoff game, and they are within a series sweep of first place in the American League East. Still, there is work to be done to shore up the cracks in the team’s roster. Here is one man’s solution.

Promote Andrew Benintendi

Since Chris Young has gone down to injury, left field has been split by Brock Holt and Bryce Brentz. They have filled in well. There are teams with far worse left field situations, to be sure. But the Sox can do better simply by promoting Benintendi. He has done nothing that would quell the hype surrounding him since his promotion to Double-A, and projections see him as a better hitter than the Red Sox current options in left field. Here are Steamer’s projections for the rest of 2016:

Steamer projections for the Red Sox LF options.
Steamer projections for the Red Sox LF options. —Paul Swydan/Boston.com
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If you’re not familiar, wOBA stands for weighted on-base average, and is a catch-all advanced metric for offensive performance. You can read more about it here. Bottom line, the projections say Benintendi is easily the Sox’ best option in left field, and keep in mind that projections for minor league players tend to be conservative. There is a chance he could be a special player, and if the Sox aren’t going to trade him for pitching help (which they shouldn’t do) it’s time to get him to the Show.

Move Brock Holt Back to the Infield

Once Benintendi is up, and especially once Young returns, there will be no spot in the outfield for Holt. That’s OK. Bring Holt back to the infield where he belongs. He can make spot starts for Dustin Pedroia to give him more of a breather, and can rotate with Travis Shaw and Aaron Hill at third base. The Sox have pretty good depth all of a sudden, and while that might make it harder to find regular playing time for Holt, he’s shown himself ready to adapt to any situation.

When He’s Ready, Blake Swihart Needs to Go Back Behind the Dish

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We’ve discussed this before. There is no future for Blake Swihart in the Red Sox outfield. With Benintendi about to come up, and Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts already firmly entrenched, there are just no spots left. If Swihart is to have a future with the Red Sox, it will have to be as a catcher. And with his trade value so low, their best bet is to put him back behind the dish and see if he can flash the sort of production he did in the second half of 2015, when he hit .303/.353/.452.

The victim in the roster crunch would need to be Ryan Hanigan. Manager John Farrell has shown a reluctance to part with his veteran catcher, but there really is no place for him on the roster. Hanigan has been completely usurped by Sandy Leon. In his 17 games on the active roster since returning from the disabled list, Hanigan has started just four times. This is not the workload of a normal backup catcher, to say the least, as the workload between catchers is generally more like 60/40.

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It’s a small sample size to be sure, and could change if Leon cools off, but Hanigan’s place seems tenuous nonetheless. Better to use that spot for someone who might have a future with the team.

End Clay Buchholz Already

Relievers who can’t pitch on back to back days are generally not very useful uses of a roster spot, and as manager John Farrell admitted Tuesday night, that is exactly who Clay Buchholz is at this point. He hasn’t pitched in back-to- back games since moving to the bullpen, and given his general fragile nature, he probably won’t this season at all, if ever.

The club can talk all they want about how he is useful starting pitcher insurance, but the bottom line is that only four starting pitchers are going to be needed if the Red Sox find themselves in a postseason series, and none of those four spots is going to be occupied by Buchholz, because if he ends up as being one of the team’s four best starters between now and October, the Sox aren’t going to be making the playoffs.

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It’s time for the Red Sox to give that roster spot to a relief pitcher who can pitch on back-to-back days.

Trade For a Lefty Killer in the Bullpen

The problem with Robbie Ross Jr. is that the Sox want him to fill that lefty killer role, but he’s just not quite a lefty killer. I’m not sure what a step down from that is – lefty robber, perhaps? – but Ross is a step down. For instance, Ross has a 3.86 ERA and 2.92 FIP against lefties this year. That’s not bad, it will keep you on the roster. But it’s not blowing anyone’s skirt up. Moving him into a secondary lefty role or long man role, with Tommy Layne coming off the books in favor of a trade acquisition would be a better bet.

Luckily, there are a few relievers who may be on the block who both qualify for this role and shouldn’t cost a fortune. Those pitchers are the Brewers’ Will Smith (4.50 ERA, 1.76 FIP vs. lefties this year) and Tyler Thornburg (1.45 ERA, 1.53 FIP), the Rockies’ Boone Logan (2.25 ERA, 1.09 FIP), or if they really wanted to get crazy, old friend Andrew Miller (1.64 ERA, 1.96 FIP).

Don’t Fall Victim to the Starting Pitching Market

It would be great to get Chris Sale, wouldn’t it? It’d also be nice to have a farm system. While the Red Sox were able to get Drew Pomeranz for a fair price, in the days since his trade, the market for pitching talent has gone through the roof. The Sox wouldn’t really be sitting things out if they don’t trade for a starting pitcher – after all, they’ve already acquired Pomeranz and Brad Ziegler, and if they trade for another reliever that will give them three pitchers acquired in July. But aside from Sale, who I am not convinced the White Sox are actually going to trade, there isn’t another player worth what it would cost to upgrade over Eduardo Rodriguez.

Bonus: 25-Man Roster

Here’s how I would line the roster up for the rest of the season.

Infielders (6): Xander Bogaerts, Aaron Hill, Brock Holt, Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez, Travis Shaw

Outfield (4): Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Bryce Brentz*

Catcher (2): Sandy Leon, Ryan Hanigan**

Designated Hitter (1): David Ortiz

Starting Pitchers (5): Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright

Relief Pitchers (7): Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree^, Joe Kelly^, Robbie Ross Jr., Junichi Tazawa, Brad Ziegler, Will Smith/Boone Logan/Tyler Thornburg

* Becomes Chris Young when he’s ready to return

** Becomes Blake Swihart when he’s ready to return

^ Becomes Craig Kimbrel and Koji Uehara when they’re ready to return

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