And so it begins.
Shortly before the first pitch of a contest against the Astros Monday night in Houston, the Red Sox made a dizzying move that sent longtime catcher Christian Vázquez across the field to the home dugout at Minute Maid Park in exchange for a pair of prospects.
That deal to ship out the longest-tenured player in the Sox organization was quickly followed by two more. By the time the game started, the Sox had landed catcher Reese McGuire from the White Sox in exchange for lefthander Jake Diekman and dealt for outfielder Tommy Pham from the Reds in exchange for a player to be named or cash.
One trade — dealing Vázquez for Enmanuel Valdez (a Triple-A second baseman who moves all over the field and who was recently ranked No. 12 in the Houston system by Baseball America) and outfielder Wilyer Abreu (No. 21) — represented a short-term subtraction and long-term addition. Adding Pham for virtually no prospect return represented an addition, while adding McGuire for Diekman represented both.
The trio of moves represented the start of what Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom described as an aspiration to keep the team in contention but also to fortify for the future — in essence, an exercise in the team having its cake and eating it, too. Follow-up moves in advance of Tuesday’s 6 p.m. trade deadline will determine whether the team is able to accomplish that tall order.
“It is an incomplete picture,” said Bloom. “Christian is playing at a really high level right now, and moving him is going to impact this club. We’re aware of that. We’re trying to help the club. We still want to make the postseason and we’re also trying to make the right moves for the organization. So the puzzle is incomplete right now.”
Bloom reiterated that the Sox do not plan to discuss deals involving Rafael Devers or Xander Bogaerts. But with the team concluding a horrific July with an 8-19 record that dropped the club to 51-52 on the year, the Sox became increasingly willing in recent days to make deals involving top players who will be free agents after 2022, most notably Vázquez, J.D. Martinez, and Nate Eovaldi.
Evaluators in recent days suggested Vázquez might be the most valuable of those three based on the dearth of available catching options and his strong performance this year. He’s hitting .282/.327/.432 with eight homers in 82 games, has excelled against big velocity, and has been a workhorse behind the plate, leading the majors in innings caught since 2021.
He also has experience stewarding a pitching staff to a title, something the 2008 ninth-rounder did in 2018. He’s also emerged as a leader, making a deal to part with him midyear an unpopular one among Sox players.
“This is one that I know hurts in the clubhouse. I’m very aware of that,” said Bloom. “I know this is something that’s not going to make anybody happy and that’s a credit to who Christian is, but also we’re aiming to get to a point and I’m hopeful that we will get to a point where we can look everybody in the eye and feel that we have a club that if we do play up to our potential, we can get to the playoffs and also that we’re taking care of the organization as well.”
The Sox believe they’ve served their future with the additions of Valdez and Abreu.
Valdez, a 23-year-old who has played mostly second, third, and left this year, hit .327/.410/.606 with 21 homers in Double A and Triple A this year. He has a chance to deliver above-average offense as a bat-first second baseman who also moves around the field a bit.
Abreu, a 23-year-old outfielder, hit .249/.399/.459 with 15 homers in 89 games in Double-A this year, showing enough power and patience from the left side of the plate to suggest a potential big league role.
“Both interesting bats who have bounced back of late,” said one AL evaluator.
“Good flyers,” said one NL evaluator.
With Vázquez departing, the Sox reconfigured their catching dynamic by acquiring McGuire from the White Sox for Diekman and a player to be named or cash considerations. McGuire, who was hitting .225/.261/.285 in 53 games as the White Sox’ backup catcher, though his framing skills grade well.
But McGuire came with a checkered past after he was arrested in 2020 for public masturbation in a Dunedin, Fla., parking lot and pleaded nolo contendere to a charge of disorderly conduct.
While the team expects McGuire to join Kevin Plawecki on the roster tomorrow, Bloom suggested the Sox could pursue additional catching help.
“There’s nothing else that’s imminent that’s up my sleeve right now, but some of this I think is best assessed after the deadline is over,” said Bloom.
Diekman (5-1, 4.23 ERA in 44 games) was signed this spring to a two-year, $8 million deal, with the Sox hoping he’d become a factor at the back of their bullpen. But a lack of command resulted in discomfort on the part of the Red Sox to use him in high leverage situations. That said, Diekman showed his best stuff of the season in recent outings, working at 97-99 m.p.h. with his fastball after the All-Star break, a performance that made him attractive to a White Sox club competing for the AL Central.
While the Red Sox dealt Vázquez for prospects and Diekman for a backup catcher, they also made a move to reinforce one area of their big league roster with the acquisition of Pham for a player to be named — not expected to be a noteworthy prospect.
The 34-year-old Pham became embroiled in a controversy this year, getting suspended three games for slapping Giants outfielder Joc Pederson over a fantasy football dispute. More relevant to the Sox’ decision, he was hitting .238/.320/.374 with 11 homers in 91 games for Cincinnati this year, including marks of .290/.371/.462 against lefties.
“He’s a good hitter. He manages an at-bat really well,” said Bloom. “That’s something that I think will be a huge benefit.”
More deals are almost certain to come as the team reconfigures while clinging to hopes of contention for the homestretch of the 2022 season and tries to better position itself for 2023 and beyond. What’s next?
“That’s the hot question,” Martinez — considered likely to move by Tuesday evening — told reporters before Monday night’s 3-2 win. “I think anything’s open now.”
Peter Abraham and Julian McWilliams of Globe Staff contributed to this story from Houston.