What was Tommy Pham’s first thought when he found out he’d been traded by the Reds to the Red Sox?
“I was like, ‘Damn it, Chaim. We could have done this about [four] months ago,’” said Pham, referring to Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, whom he knew well from having spent a year and a half in Tampa Bay in 2018-19. “But I’m glad I’m here.”
Pham’s reaction reflected the fact that he could have been in Boston for all of the 2022 season. The 34-year-old was a free agent when baseball’s lockout lifted – and the Red Sox seemingly had an opening for a righthanded-hitting outfielder after trading Hunter Renfroe to the Brewers for Jackie Bradley Jr. and two prospects.
While the Sox had signed Rob Refsnyder to a minor league deal and theoretically had the option of playing J.D. Martinez in left (something that has yet to happen this year), they had only three true outfielders on their roster: the lefthanded hitting Bradley and Alex Verdugo, and righty Kiké Hernández.
Pham was coming off a so-so 2021 season (.229/.340/.383), but from 2017-20, he’d been one of the most productive hitters against lefties in the game (.312/.433/.499). And in his recounting, the Red Sox saw things the same way in March.
“We were close. We were close,” said Pham. “Chaim just didn’t pull the trigger, man. I wanted to come here.”
Pham loved the idea of playing for a team that he saw as being in strong position to contend, he welcomed a chance to return to the competitive crucible of the AL East, and he had strong relationships with members of the Sox. But the deal didn’t come together and at the end of March, Pham ended up signing a one-year, $6 million deal with the rebuilding Reds that included a $1.5 million buyout of a mutual option and a $500,000 bonus should he be traded.
Just over four months later, the Red Sox landed Pham one day before the trade deadline after he’d hit .238/.320/.374. The Sox saw Pham as a player who had consistently delivered quality at-bats while forging a 10.9 percent walk rate, had hit the ball extremely hard (among the top 10 in baseball in exit velocity), and who had performed well against lefties this year (.290/.371/.462).
The trade would cost the Sox little more than the remainder of Pham’s salary. (The Sox will send a player to be named to the Reds, but multiple sources suggest that the prospect is not expected to be a significant one.) Given that the team’s outfield production had been dismal all year (.244/.300/.382 at the time of the trade), the Sox saw Pham as a clear fit in their dual-track approach of looking for players who could upgrade their 2022 roster while also remaining open to dealing rental players.
Pham has now been with the Sox for 10 games, installed as the team’s leadoff hitter. In 46 plate appearances, he’s hitting .227/.261/.523 with three homers and four doubles while driving in nine runs. Most notable among those RBIs: On Friday night, with one out and runners on the corners in the 10th inning against the Yankees, when Pham stepped to the plate in a 2-2 game against Yankees reliever Lou Trivino.
Pham took a pair of sinkers off the plate, both getting ahead in the count and recognizing that the Yankees planned to keep attacking with sinkers to try to get a double play. When Trivino threw a 95 mile-per-hour sinker on the inner edge, Pham turned on it and pounded it down the third-base line, past diving third baseman Josh Donaldson, to propel the Sox to a 3-2 victory over New York. It was the third walkoff hit of his career, and his first since 2019.
“You couldn’t ask for anything else,” Pham said of his first taste of a Red Sox-Yankees game.
Manager Alex Cora has praised the impact Pham has made both with a more disciplined approach and with a competitive edge he’s added to the team. Though Pham laments his 17 strikeouts in 46 plate appearances (37 percent), he’s added a slugging dimension that had been missing from the lineup. His seven extra-base hits are tied for the 11th most by a Red Sox player in his first 10 games with the team.
“I love what he said the other day about, I’m hitting homers but I’m striking out too much; I’ve got to set the tempo for the big boys,” said Cora. “That’s the mentality we need.”
If the Sox are to make a move in the race for a wild card spot – they are currently seventh in the chase for three spots, four games out of playoff position – Pham likely will have to play a sizable role in that ascent. As much as that raises the question of whether the team might be in a different position had it signed Pham before the start of the season, Pham chooses to look at what remains in front of him and the Red Sox.
“I’m here now,” he said. “Fortunately, a lot of the teams that are in front of us, we have the opportunity to play them. So we can control our own destiny.”