Here's a question we haven't asked in years, really -- could the Red Sox be in the market for a rental this July?
Their fast start has already changed our view of the trade deadline. We assumed they'd be sellers, entertaining offers for everyone from closer Matt Barnes to catcher Christian Vazquez to DH J.D. Martinez. Some of us even made a little cottage industry over speculating on who might be moved.
Boston's 12-7 start has altered that equation, however. Accepting all caveats that it's still ridiculously early and injuries could wreak havoc, the Red Sox suddenly look like a club worthy of reinforcements.
This could be the first test of chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom to target top-end talent as opposed to the bargain castoffs he has impressively hit on this season, from second baseman Christian Arroyo to Rule 5 right-hander Garrett Whitlock to Japanese import Hirokazu Sawamura.
Of course, Bloom can't spend money unilaterally, which means this is really about embattled owner John Henry. With the Red Sox already approaching the $210 million luxury tax threshold, any overages must be approved by Henry, which adds a tabloid layer of intrigue to the summer that's sure to energize columnists and talk radio hosts.
Henry has taken an absolute beating over the last 15 months on both sides of the Atlantic, first for turning the Red Sox into "Tampa North" after salary-dumping MVP Mookie Betts, and then for his disastrous bid to start a new super league of European soccer powers that ended in shame with a groveling Henry releasing a hostage video apologizing for the fiasco. He may as well have eaten his own hat.
Could Henry be more willing to spend this summer as a gesture of goodwill to a frustrated Red Sox fan base that feels less prioritized with each passing soccer acquisition, LeBron James partnership, and Roush race?
It would certainly help him win back a news cycle or two, and it's not even clear that crossing the luxury tax threshold will produce long-term consequences, since a new collective bargaining agreement must be negotiated this winter and the penalties could change or be eliminated altogether.
Even if the Red Sox start facing penalties again, they're not as onerous as the owners would have us believe -- potentially a few million dollars out of pocket, a loss of some international bonus money, maybe a 10-spot drop in the draft.
CEO Sam Kennedy repeatedly has noted that the Red Sox have historically spent under Henry. Only two short years ago, they opened with baseball's highest payroll of roughly $240 million. Kennedy's implication is clear -- the Red Sox will spend again.
So why not now? One tantalizing name floated by MLB.com on Thursday is Nationals ace Max Scherzer, who could be to this year's MLB trade deadline what former Tigers teammate Justin Verlander was to 2017, when he joined the Astros at the old Aug. 31 deadline and promptly went 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA while helping Houston win the franchise's first World Series title.
This year's trade deadline is actually on July 30, and the soon-to-be 37-year-old Scherzer has full no-trade protection, thanks to his 10-and-5 service time rights. But with the injury-ravaged Nationals already in last place in a tough National League East and the clock ticking on his chances to add a World Series trophy to the one he won two years ago, the three-time Cy Young Award winner could be the prize of July.
He's already off to a 1-1, 1.80 start, with 33 strikeouts and only four walks in 25 innings, and he'd be a pure rental, since his contract expires this fall.
Imagine adding Scherzer and a rehabbing Chris Sale to the second-half rotation? That's a club that suddenly could challenge the Los Angeles Dodgers for a title. There would obviously be tremendous competition to secure Scherzer's services, with the division-rival New York Yankees in particular need of pitching reinforcements.
Anyway, the Scherzer discussion is merely a digression. The larger point is that the Red Sox are positioning themselves to make calls this summer instead of field them. What we don't yet know is how willing they'll be to pick up the phone.