Let the deals begin.
It remains to be seen whether the Red Sox trade Mookie Betts this winter to stay in front of his potential (likely) foray into free agency after the 2020 season. But in an offseason of potentially seismic change, it seems safe to suggest that under new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, the Red Sox are about to start using trades as a roster-building strategy with far more frequency than in recent years.
Over three years under Bloom (as senior vice president of baseball operations) and general manager Erik Neander, the Rays were aggressive in using trades to reshape their organization in a fashion that dramatically distinguished them from the Red Sox.
The Rays’ deal-making took several forms.
They didn’t shy away from dealing face-of-the-franchise talents. Before the 2018 season, the Rays sent Evan Longoria to the Giants, a deal whose greatest significance to date has been the significant savings that were applied elsewhere (hello, Charlie Morton) at a time when Longoria’s production has been in decline.
More dramatically, at the 2018 trade deadline, Tampa Bay shipped Chris Archer to the Pirates for Austin Meadows (a 2019 All-Star), a potential ace in Tyler Glasnow, and top-100 pitching prospect Shane Baz. On the same day they dealt Archer, the Rays acquired outfielder Tommy Pham from the Cardinals, adding a multidimensional force at his low-point value.
The Red Sox took note.
“We observed within the division but from afar the creativity with which the Rays front office and specifically Chaim approached the trade market,” noted Red Sox CEO/president Sam Kennedy. “Obviously the Pittsburgh deal was one that we discussed [when interviewing Bloom] — how that came about, the thought process behind it.
“But he was quick to acknowledge that there’s been some good trades and some bad trades. He lamented, not a trade, but DJ LeMahieu as one that got away.
“The intellectual honesty and humility with which he approached the interview process was striking. And the creative thinking that we think he’ll bring to the table was an attractive quality.”
Bloom and the Rays identified talents on the ascent — and, in Longoria and Archer, shed players whose performance peaks perhaps had already passed. Yet those moves illustrate only part of the trade strategy employed by the Rays.
Neander and Bloom were elevated as the heads of Tampa Bay’s baseball operations department at the start of November 2016. According to data compiled from MLBTradeRumors.com and Baseball-Reference.com, the Rays made 65 deals over the next three years, with:
■ 44 trades involving players, draft picks, and/or international bonus pool money both coming to and leaving Tampa Bay;
■ 15 players acquired for cash considerations;
■ six deals in which Tampa Bay parted with a player for cash considerations.
The trade market was a frequent avenue for bullpen upgrades, whether it was adding Sergio Romo and Chaz Roe for cash considerations while swapping a swingman (Erasmo Ramirez) for a wipeout late-innings option (Steve Cishek) in a matter of days in July 2017, or dealing an opener (Ryne Stanek) as part of a trade for a reliever with soon-to-be-realized dominant potential (Nick Anderson) at this year’s deadline.
The frequency of deal-making suggested an organization looking not just to fill holes but to upgrade across the roster. Tampa Bay’s ability to compete owed in no small part to the quality of its depth, something cultivated by the constant efforts to seek upgrades.
“[Bloom] worked under [Andrew Friedman] for a lot of years, and from what I understand had done quite a bit of work on roster construction in the background,” Longoria said in September. “Now, being more at the forefront, obviously he’s done a really nice job putting together a team and being able to find the pieces to make them successful with the constraints that they’re always under.
“They’ve done what always made us successful there, which was add pieces — value pieces — that ended up being huge contributors.”
There also were whiffs. The Rays dealt Jake Odorizzi to the Twins before the 2018 season, when his value was relatively low, in exchange for infield prospect Jermaine Palacios. Odorizzi anchored the AL Central-winning Twins rotation this past year, while Palacios has seen his value crater. The Rays dealt outfielder Corey Dickerson — coming off an All-Star season in 2017 — for nothing of impact in return; Dickerson has continued to excel offensively the last two years.
Both moves can be viewed as the sort of cost-cutting forced by Tampa Bay’s operating constraints, but also offer a reminder that payroll purges come with risk. Even so, the larger portrait of the Rays’ trades while Bloom worked alongside Neander is one of upgrades both to the core and at the margins despite severe payroll constraints.
During the same period, the Red Sox took a very different approach to the trade market. They made a blockbuster deal in December 2016 — the Chris Sale acquisition from the White Sox — and also addressed midyear needs at the trade deadline. But outside of those typical peak periods of trade activity, they were reserved in their deal-making under former president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.
During the same time frame in which Neander and Bloom made 65 trades in Tampa Bay, the Red Sox made 21 deals — 16 involving players or international bonus-pool money moving in both directions, two in which they acquired players for cash considerations, and three in which they traded away players for cash considerations.
Under Bloom, that pace is almost certain to increase in Boston, regardless of whether the Red Sox keep or trade Betts this winter. With the GM Meetings looming next week, it may not be long before Bloom has a chance to start reimagining and reshaping the Red Sox’ talent pool using different avenues than the organization has traveled in recent years.