Red Sox Notes: Deadline, Murphy, Payroll, Hosmer, Dalbec

As chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom had suggested in the days leading up to the August 2 trade deadline, the Red Sox resisted strict categorization as a “buyer” or “seller.” Boston dealt #1 catcher Christian Vázquez to the Astros, flipped reliever Jake Diekman to the White Sox for Vázquez’s replacement Reese McGuire, and acquired Eric Hosmer and Tommy Pham. While Boston reportedly listened to offers on J.D. MartinezNathan Eovaldi and Rich Hill, that group of rentals remained. So did stars Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers, neither of whom was apparently ever really available.

The unconventional approach was a response to the Sox’s status just outside the AL Wild Card picture. They sat two games back at the time of the deadline but had gone just 8-19 in July, leading to some calls for more dramatic action in either direction — either tearing the slumping roster down or more aggressively addressing its flaws. Alex Speier of the Boston Globe writes that the team’s more fluid approach to the deadline has confused various members of the organization, both uniformed personnel like players and coaches as well as some front office staffers.

Speaking with Speier, Bloom acknowledged the team’s atypical tack but expressed his belief the franchise wasn’t in position to act in a more specific direction. “I understand why people could look at what we did and scratch their heads. To us, it was pretty clear and pretty simple that the position we were in demanded a unique response.

Speier sheds some light on some of the Sox’s pre-deadline discussions that didn’t ultimately come to fruition. He reports the club expressed some amount of interest in controllable A’s catcher Sean Murphy while also juggling potential shorter-term upgrades. According to Speier, the Red Sox contemplated a run at impending free agent relievers, but the club ultimately didn’t add to a bullpen that currently ranks 26th in the majors in ERA (4.42). At the same time, Boston apparently wasn’t motivated to shed the salaries of players like Martinez and Eovaldi to dip below the $230MM base luxury tax threshold. With the deadline passed, the Sox now look almost certain to pay the tax in 2022. The actual fee will be fairly small — likely just a couple million dollars — but it’ll set the Sox up to pay escalating penalties if they exceed the threshold again in 2023.

Not forcing midseason payroll cuts to a roster a year removed from an appearance in the ALCS is certainly understandable, but one could argue the Red Sox should’ve more aggressively added in that case. Pham and Hosmer do address the team’s biggest weak points on the position player side — right field and first base, respectively — but neither veteran is having a great season. One week certainly isn’t enough on which to base firm conclusions, but a 2-4 stretch since the deadline has dropped Boston five games back in the Wild Card race and only increased the difficulty of a late-season playoff push.

The deadline shuffle did cut into the playing time of a pair of regulars who haven’t performed as expected. Boston released Jackie Bradley Jr. last week, ending his second stint in the organization after a .210/.257/.321 showing through 290 plate appearances. Bobby Dalbec remains on the active roster, but he no longer seems to be Boston’s primary first baseman. Hosmer and Dalbec have platooned since the former was acquired, and the left-handed hitting Hosmer will be in line for the bulk of the playing time in that arrangement.

Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe writes that Dalbec will begin working at second base in an effort to expand his defensive flexibility. The 6’4″, 227 pound infielder has never started a professional game at second base. Aside from a few mop-up innings in the middle infield, he’s played the corners exclusively. Dalbec conceded he has atypical size for a middle infielder but expressed confidence in his ability to handle the keystone adequately.

The 27-year-old also voiced a desire for regular playing time. “The more I play, the better I’ll do. It’s always been like that. I’m used to being an everyday player. It’s hard to have success when you get at-bats here and there,” Dalbec told Abraham. “I’m not the player I will be. This is all part of the learning process. In terms of the organization, I don’t know how they view me. I just want to help the team win. Honestly that’s all that matters. I don’t see myself as a platoon player, but right now that’s what I am.

Dalbec hit 25 home runs last season but struck out at an alarming 34.4% clip. The Red Sox nevertheless turned to him as the primary first baseman for much of the year, but he’s stumbled to a .205/.280/.369 line across 300 trips to the dish. Dalbec has made some modest improvements to his strikeout and walk numbers, but his contact quality and batted ball results have plummeted. After connecting on 51 extra-base hits in 133 games last season, he’s tallied 20 across 97 contests in 2022.

Both Hosmer and Dalbec could eventually lose playing time to top prospect Triston Casas, who returned from an injured list stint in Triple-A late last month. Recently named the #30 prospect in the game by Baseball America, the power-hitting Casas owns a solid .246/.350/.455 showing through 223 plate appearances with the Sox’s top affiliate in Worcester. The 22-year-old doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster until after the season, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he gets his first MLB look late this year if he continues hitting well with the WooSox.

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