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Inside the Red Sox trade deadline: Front office open to change, unwilling to force action

HOUSTON — Chaim Bloom took the first flight out of town on Wednesday. The Red Sox chief baseball officer had spent the previous two days encamped at Fenway Park for the trade deadline, but he flew out early to meet the Red Sox in Texas for a 36-hour, face-to-face accountability tour. Bloom wanted to explain to the team — and to Xander Bogaerts in particular, who had publicly expressed his concerns about the team’s deadline moves — why he would trade away a popular and productive everyday catcher, while also claiming that he wants to help this team make the playoffs.

“I saw some of the things that (Bogaerts) said,” Bloom said. “And even independent of that, he’s the first guy I would want to talk to, really, in this clubhouse.”

What Bogaerts said has probably been repeated outside of the Red Sox clubhouse as well. He said on Tuesday that the Vázquez trade caused him to question the direction of the Red Sox organization, and that it hurt more than it helped for a team still fighting for a wild-card spot. Bogaerts might have said more while the frustration was still fresh, but he stopped himself.

“I don’t want to say anything that later on I would regret,” he said.

Bloom’s flight was booked even before he read those quotes. He knew ahead of time this deadline might require some explanation, so he joined the Red Sox for their series finale in Houston, a 6-1 loss that dropped them back to .500, and he will stay with the team through batting practice in Kansas City on Thursday, after which he’ll fly back home. That’s a lot of frequent flyer miles just to talk, but the Red Sox moves did not necessarily speak for themselves. The Red Sox bought and sold, they added without gaining much obvious impact, and they committed to winning (sort of) while sitting in last place.

According to conversations with people inside the organization, the mixed reaction at the deadline was a reflection of the team’s uneven status this season. The Red Sox did not move decisively one way or another — they did not buy big or sell completely — but the team was not necessarily in a decisive position. It is neither a World Series favorite, nor a true playoff longshot. As of Wednesday, FanGraphs was giving the Red Sox a 32 percent chance of making the playoffs. As recently as Saturday, the same site gave them a 19 percent chance, an indication of how quickly those odds can shift. A month ago, they had nearly a 75 percent chance of playing in October.

“I think you have to be on some level responsive to the position that you’re in and make sure you’re making the right decisions for the organization in both ways,” Bloom said. “But like I said (Tuesday), I think chances to compete are precious, even if it’s not the chance we had a month ago. We still feel that it’s very doable and that we have the talent to do it, especially as we get healthier, that we have the talent to make a run at this, so we had to value that as well.”

Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. (Billie Weiss / Boston Red Sox / Getty Images)

The Red Sox were prepared to sell much more heavily at the deadline. Essentially, any veteran except Bogaerts and Rafael Devers was on the table, especially all of the pending free agents — a group that includes J.D. Martinez, Nathan Eovaldi and Rich Hill. At various times, the Red Sox front office thought more of them would be traded, but as Tuesday’s deadline approached, the offers on the table simply did not meet Red Sox standards. They were not in such a bad position that they had to punt on this season, and so they asked for player packages that would have been worth sacrificing that 32 percent chance of making a run.

The Red Sox felt the Vázquez package from Houston — for a pair of upper-level, bat-first prospects — met that standard, but down-to-the-wire proposals for Martinez and Eovaldi did not seem worthwhile. Same for less obvious trade possibilities like Hill, Michael Wacha and Kiké Hernández. Although Bloom said potential qualifying offers were not a major factor, it is worth noting Martinez and Eovaldi could be qualifying offer candidates this winter, and thus could have remaining value beyond this season.

It’s also worth noting that Martinez has not hit up to his usual standards, and Eovaldi’s velocity has been down roughly 2 mph in his most recent starts, two factors that might have affected the market’s willingness to meet the Red Sox’s asking price. Whatever the reason, the front office was not persuaded. The Mets, who were known to have interest in Martinez, wound up trading instead for the GiantsDarin Ruf, giving up a big league bench player (J.D. Davis), an up-and-down spot starter (Thomas Szupucki) and two prospects who ranked at the back of their top 30 according to Baseball America.

The Cubs (Willson Contreras, Ian Happ), Giants (Carlos Rodón), and Rangers (Martín Pérez, Matt Moore) were similarly unconvinced to trade some of their more obvious trade chips. The White Sox and Guardians — other outside-looking-in A.L. wild-card contenders — also failed to commit to one direction or another. The Orioles, despite their surprising relevance in the wild-card race, chose to sell rather than buy.

Ultimately, the Red Sox believe they made themselves marginally better in the short-term while adding farm system depth for the future (they acquired four minor league position players while trading away one minor league pitcher). There is an acknowledgment that they made themselves weaker at catcher, but the team believes a glove-first combination of Kevin Plawecki and Reese McGuire can at least handle the pitching staff and have an impact on the defensive side. It helps that McGuire is under team control for next year, adding some stability at a position where the Red Sox had very little beyond this year.

New left fielder Tommy Pham and first baseman Eric Hosmer could help make up for the offensive downgrade behind the plate. Hosmer had a 112 OPS+ in San Diego, which is slightly better than Vázquez’s 107 OPS+. Pham was slightly below league average at the plate in Cincinnati, but he’s still been better than Jackie Bradley Jr., who’s moving to a bench role now that Pham is in the fold. Alex Cora said he plans to have Pham, Jarren Duran and Alex Verdugo as his regular outfield alignment.

The Red Sox tried adamantly to find a bullpen upgrade, but again they found no trades to their liking. Some they felt simply weren’t worthwhile upgrades, while others weren’t worth the prospect price.

Despite being open to almost anything, the Red Sox never seriously considered selling high on their own breakout reliever, John Schreiber. He might not be good as he’s looked, but there’s underlying data to suggest his season’s not a pure fluke either, and so the Red Sox would have valued him as a legitimate difference maker with five years of remaining team control. They asked about other teams’ versions of Schreiber but encountered similarly high asking prices.

And so, although they expected to do more on the final day before the deadline, they wound up making only a buy-low trade for Hosmer and a couple of lower-level prospects on Tuesday. The fact Martinez, Eovaldi and others were not ultimately traded offered some measure of relief within the Red Sox clubhouse. They’d lost a popular catcher in Vázquez and a well-liked reliever in Jake Diekman while at least marginally upgrading right field and first base, their positions of greatest weakness. Amid the flurry of activity — and inactivity — they took two of three in Houston, their first series win in more than a month.

“It’s always a nerve-racking time, that’s the honest answer,” Hill said. “No one is safe in the room. Everyone is always up for the possibility of landing somewhere else. But it’s over, and we’re here, and we have a really good opportunity in front of us to make something happen.”

Everyone involved would like that statement to be more of a sure thing than an ambitious show of confidence. The Red Sox expected to be better than this. A month ago they were better than this. But this is where they are today — in neither a position of obvious strength, nor in a position of quiet resignation. The front office chose not to force themselves into one of those boxes, and the team’s action, and inaction, at the trade deadline reflected that reality.

(Top photo of McGuire: Thomas Shea / USA Today)

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