With a third of the season gone, Boston’s needs are coming into focus, and Dave Dombrowski has never been one to wait until July 31 if the right deal comes around.
Last season, Steve Pearce came into the fold in June, Nathan Eovaldi a week ahead of the deadline, and Ian Kinsler the night before. It was a continuation of a trend since Dombrowski’s arrival in Boston: Don’t hesitate to deal early and often.
So what might be bolstered this year?
Here are three areas the Red Sox could use a boost:
— LEFTY MASHER
The Red Sox had this same problem at the start of 2018 — they aren’t hitting left-handed pitching particularly well. Coming into the weekend, Boston was batting .244 against lefties with 33.0% hard-hit rate that ranked 27th in the MLB.
The Sox aren’t doing damage.
Dombrowski remedied the problem last year with the addition of Pearce, and his regression seems the biggest reason — though not the only one — that they’re struggling against southpaws again.
A perfect addition in the No. 3 hole last season, Pearce batted .304 against lefties with serious power, posting a .959 OPS against them; the guy was World Series MVP for a reason. This year he isn’t hitting anybody.
But beyond that, the two hitters at the top of the lineup — Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi — aren’t faring well against them either.
After last week’s sweep of the Royals, Betts was still just hitting .206 against southpaws with one home run in 73 plate appearances. The reigning AL MVP is a career .303 hitter there with a .905 OPS.
A lefty himself, Benintendi was always going to have a tougher time in the left-on-left matchup, but he was homerless in his first 72 plate appearances, batting .208.
Dombrowski may sit back and hope water finds its level, but he could be proactive here, too.
— DEPTH STARTER
Perhaps this one is more of a luxury than anything, but the role tag-teammed by Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez last season has gone unfulfilled for more than two months in 2019.
It’s been a particularly glaring need given Nathan Eovaldi’s extended absence, as starters in his place have posted a 7.34 ERA. They’ve killed the bullpen, too, averaging just over three innings per start.
Of course, Eovaldi is on the mend and could return as soon as next week — and Johnson is making some serious progress too — but when has a team ever complained about too much starting pitching?
With Eovaldi’s injury history, David Price’s tendinitis, Chris Sale’s second-half concerns and Eduardo Rodriguez still seeking his first healthy season, a depth starter would be a mind-easing insurance policy.
— DOMINANT RELIEVER
You knew this one was coming, right?
Alex Cora’s bullpen approach makes plenty of sense, but it’s yet to fire on all cylinders because the Sox need another high-octane arm or two. It’s not a philosophical problem, it’s a personnel one.
Matt Barnes is becoming an elite reliever, there’s no doubt about that.
But beyond him?
Marcus Walden has been terrific — he’s this year’s Ryan Brasier — but it’s hard to put all of your chips on a player with such a small sample size in the big leagues. Brandon Workman, too, has been strong on the back end, but the variance in his velocity will always be a legitimate concern. He’s great if he can hit 94 mph with the heater, but what if it dips again?
Dombrowski seems most likely to add to the bullpen, so let’s take a look at three arms that may already be on the market.
Will Smith LHP, Giants
Status: Rental ($4.2 million, FA after 2019)
Dead last in the NL West, San Francisco is going to be an obvious seller and Smith is outstanding. He came into the weekend with a 2.38 ERA, a nasty 0.706 WHIP, and as a lefty, Smith would give the Sox an entirely different look on the back end. Not fazed by the ninth, he’d converted all 13 saves this year, though it’s not the only place he’ll pitch.
Ken Giles, RHP, Toronto
Status: Non-rental (6.3 million, Arb 3 after 2019)
A World Series champion with Cora’s old Houston Astros, the Sox skipper is very familiar with Giles. In the midst of a bounce-back 2019, Giles’ ERA sat at 1.08 on Friday afternoon. The Jays will be another obvious seller and don’t hesitate to trade with the Sox. See: Pearce, Steve.
Greg Holland, RHP, Diamondbacks
Status: Rental ($3.25 million, FA after 2019)
In the midst of his best season since leaving Kansas City, the three-time All-Star profiles as a perfect fit for Boston’s bullpen. The Red Sox are very familiar with Arizona GM Mike Hazen, but the Diamondbacks will likely need to lose some more ground before trading him. Sitting right around .500, they’re flirting with an NL Wild Card spot.
Chris Mason is a Red Sox beat writer for the Eagle-Tribune and CNHI Sports Boston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMason