The 2021 Major League Baseball trade deadline was an absolute party.
Some teams cannonballed into the pool and started chicken fighting for the top players available. The Boston Red Sox took a more relaxed approach, dipping their toes in the water and dunking on a few occasions before ultimately retreating to their beach chairs Friday.
This isn’t to suggest no fun was had. Boston acquired an All-Star outfielder, Kyle Schwarber, from the Washington Nationals, and then added bullpen help by swinging trades with the Minnesota Twins and Pittsburgh Pirates for right-hander Hansel Robles and left-hander Austin Davis, respectively.
The Red Sox’s quick swim felt more like a casual cooldown relative to the rowdy splashing going on around them. But perhaps that type of measured amusement will prove responsible down the road when everyone’s asked to leave the bash and return home.
After all, Chaim Bloom’s stated goal as Red Sox chief baseball officer is to build a sustainable contender. Abandoning that long-term vision for the sake of spontaneity could have been detrimental to his efforts, especially with certain market factors producing higher-than-normal midseason prices for assets the Red Sox were rumored to be targeting in deals.
Now, as everyone towels off, let’s go over a few key Red Sox takeaways from the trade deadline.
1. Chaim Bloom LOVES Kyle Schwarber
Bloom was effusive in his praise of Schwarber, acquired Thursday night from the Nationals in exchange for pitching prospect Aldo Ramirez, calling the 2021 All-Star “one of the most impactful hitters that changed hands this week.”
“(Schwarber) has a chance to be as productive as anybody in the lineup,” Bloom told reporters Friday. “And we’re really excited for what he’s going to mean beyond what he produces on the field. This guy is a winner, an incredible clubhouse presence and we feel really good about what he’s going to bring to our mix.”
Schwarber, who’s working his way back from a hamstring injury, is a powerful left-handed hitter, evidenced by his 25 home runs and .910 OPS in 303 plate appearances with the Nats. That alone made him a worthwhile target, but it’s clear Bloom really values Schwarber’s makeup.
“This is someone who I would not bet against to really do anything he sets his mind to on a baseball field,” Bloom said, at times beaming about Boston’s new slugger. “This is a guy who blew out his knee and hit .400 in the World Series in the same year. So, I wouldn’t bet against him.”
The Red Sox plan to try Schwarber at first base, where they need help due in large to Bobby Dalbec’s struggles against right-handed pitching. While Schwarber has virtually zero experience at the position, Bloom sounds ready to gamble on the 28-year-old’s work ethic.
2. The Red Sox doubled down on their strengths
Bloom mentioned before the deadline the Red Sox might accentuate their strengths rather than simply plug holes. That proved prophetic, as Boston boosted its offense and bullpen, two bright spots amid this season’s success.
Neither Robles nor Davis is a household name. Their numbers don’t jump off the page. But the Red Sox sought to deepen their army of relievers, as doing so should help preserve the arms they’ve leaned on so heavily to this point.
Here’s more from Boom on Boston’s ‘pen pickups:
On Robles: “Robles is a guy with power stuff. Mainly fastball, changeup, but a power arsenal with really good stuff, a lot of experience. And as everybody has seen, our bullpen’s done a great job this year, and we wanted to back that up by getting them reinforcements, just to make sure we have as many good options as possible down the stretch. We’re excited for his power stuff playing in our mix with the already great crew we have down there.”
On Davis: “As for Davis, more of a classic left-handed reliever. This was an area we went in feeling like we could strengthen ourselves in terms of the depth of lefty relievers in the organization and in the upper levels of the organization. … He’s got a good fastball-breaking ball combination that we feel is going to help us, especially as we head down the stretch and we know we’re going to be facing some good left-handed hitters.”
3. Chris Sale’s importance can’t be overstated
Bloom acknowledged the Red Sox looked this week for ways to bolster their starting pitching, which has been decent for the most part this season but remains a potential pain point as Boston marches toward October. They simply couldn’t find the right match.
The silver lining, of course, is that Sale projects to return very soon, with his next rehab start scheduled for Saturday at Triple-A Worcester. That, in theory, could be enough of an augmentation to help carry the Red Sox through the American League and into the World Series. But Sale hasn’t pitched in a major league game since August 2019 — a season that was below-average by his elite standards — and therefore one’s optimism should be chased with a shot of caution.
The problem? The pressure on Sale to perform inherently increased with the Red Sox unable to obtain another viable starter before the deadline.
4. This was Chaim’s time
Bloom point-blank shot down a report that Red Sox ownership pushed for him to try to acquire Max Scherzer from the Nationals before the Los Angeles Dodgers landed the three-time Cy Young Award winner.
He also downplayed the role the luxury tax threshold played in his negotiations, acknowledging he obviously was mindful of Boston’s finances but wasn’t under any mandate to stay below the figure in order to avoid the repercussions of exceeding such.
“We were mindful of it. I think you have to be, because there are implications to crossing that line that go beyond just money, and some of those implications actually hurt our competitiveness and could hurt our talent base over time,” Bloom said. “So we were mindful of it, but it was never a hard line. We did explore a lot of possibilities this week that would have taken us over. We just looked at it as something that we need to factor in: Was it worth the cost? And ultimately, there were some things that we explored that we certainly would have done that for. But we just didn’t feel it was worth the cost in talent, let alone the additional effects of going over the line.”
5. The path just became much more daunting
The Tampa Bay Rays added Nelson Cruz. The New York Yankees added Joey Gallo, Anthony Rizzo and Andrew Heaney. The Toronto Blue Jays added José Berríos and Brad Hand. The Chicago White Sox added Craig Kimbrel and Ryan Tepera. The Oakland Athletics added Starling Marte.
The other American League contenders beefed up at every turn, which only makes the road to the postseason — and possibly through the postseason — that much more difficult for the Red Sox, who are clinging to first place in the AL East with a lot of work still to be done.