The remainder of the month marks one of the strangest times on the baseball calendar, a fun-house mirror landscape of distortion that makes subtle flaws seem grotesque and that can make strengths appear unimpressive.
With 11 games in as many days building up to the trade deadline on the afternoon of July 31, the Red Sox face a period where their self-assessment is subject to sudden change. As of now, the Red Sox appear committed to upgrading their bullpen while taking a wait-and-see approach on adding starting pitching and infield help. But all of that could change.
It seems unlikely the Red Sox would back off their interest in adding to the bullpen, but if Tyler Thornburg shows enough flashes of his pre-surgery form in the next 11 games, the Sox’ outlook and urgency to add to their relief pool could diminish.
The more volatile outlook, the one that can shift almost nightly, will come with the team’s view of its starters. With Eduardo Rodriguez sidelined for an uncertain period, and with questions about how he will perform upon his return — it is worth noting that Rodriguez has struggled to regain confidence upon activation from past injuries — almost every start can serve as a catalyst for greater or lesser urgency to add to the rotation.
If Drew Pomeranz returns to the rotation and shuts down the Orioles and Twins next week while showing improved velocity, perhaps the Sox would feel confident in what they have. If he gets shelled, sirens might blare. One bad outing by David Price before the deadline could increase the urgency to add starting depth; three strong ones could create confidence moving toward July 31.
As Buster Olney of ESPN writes in a survey of a somewhat underwhelming trade market for starters, this is the time of year when small samples loom large — a notion that is true not just of evaluating potential trade targets, but also of a team’s own players and needs.
It is, however, also worth qualifying that statement. Last season, August proved an active time for player movement. Out-of-contention teams seemed happy to move salary, resulting in several well-known players — foremost Justin Verlander and Justin Upton, but also including starter Mike Leake, corner bats Jay Bruce and Yonder Alonso, and reliever Tyler Clippard —all moving in August.
A similar scenario of August player availability is expected to emerge this season. While the rest of July will feature a flurry of reliever activity, depth options will remain available into August — something that can buy the Red Sox more time in their evaluations of the health of Rodriguez, Pomeranz, and the rest of their rotation.
Even so, there are no guarantees about who will be available come August. July 31, as Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has noted, represents the last time that a team truly can control its roster fate. And so, with each passing game, the Red Sox’ view of their strengths and weaknesses will evolve in a way that defines the group with whom they look to compete for a championship.