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Tomase: Are Red Sox buyers or sellers? Execs share mixed impressions

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Chaim Bloom

Here's how opponents viewed the Red Sox barely two weeks ago in advance of the trade deadline: as cautious buyers, focused primarily on relief help, not looking to make any big splashes.

But today? No one knows.

In conversations with rival executives from each league, a muddled picture of Boston's approach has emerged. One said it's his impression that the Red Sox remain open to buying and selling. Another said he expects them to sell, though he noted that's based on their recent struggles and not anything he has heard directly from Chaim Bloom and Co.

Within the Fenway baseball operations department, Bloom has stressed the importance of avoiding "binary thinking," per a source with knowledge of their deliberations. The Red Sox shouldn't limit themselves to buying or selling when they can do a combination.

That sounds good in theory, but it's also semantics. If the Red Sox trade a core veteran on an expiring contract, even if they receive big league talent in return, no one's going to label them buyers.

Tomase: Chaim Bloom has only one course of action over the next week

So now the question is how much the last two weeks have changed the calculus of what multiple sources believed would be a quiet deadline focused on the margins. In dropping nine of 10 against the American League East to fall to fourth place, a mere half game ahead of the Orioles, the Red Sox found themselves headed in the wrong direction at the worst possible time. They opened the month 10 games over .500 and after beating the Guardians on Monday to halt the hemorrhaging, moved just a game over.

 

There's a legitimate chance they enter next Tuesday's trade deadline trailing the Mariners, Guardians, White Sox, and Orioles for the final wild card spot, not to mention the Rays and Jays. They already know they won't see oft-injured ace Chris Sale until September, thanks to a broken finger.

Center fielder Kiké Hernández (hip flexor) hasn't suited up since early June. Now they'll be without slugging third baseman Rafael Devers (hamstring) for at least another week. Meanwhile, All-Star DH J.D. Martinez hasn't played in the second half because of a bad back, and All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts has seen his power sapped by nagging injuries.

"You've got to keep playing," manager Alex Cora said before Monday's game. "It all depends on how you want to see it or how you want to portray it. I can empty this (bottle) halfway and it's half empty or it's half full. We're, what, two games from the playoff spot, and we haven't played well for a month.

"I always try to put everything in perspective, obviously, and where we at roster-wise and team-wise and then you get up in the morning and we've got a big series against the Guardians. You beat them three out of four and probably the narrative Thursday or Friday is different than the one today."

In conversations with rival executives from each league, a muddled picture of Boston's approach has emerged. One said it's his impression that the Red Sox remain open to buying and selling. Another said he expects them to sell.

John Tomase

Though they stanched the bleeding on Monday behind a gutsy effort from Nick Pivetta and just enough offense, it will take more than one game to erase the stench of July. They've played some of the worst defense of Cora's tenure over the last 10 games, in particular, losing fly balls in the sun/lights/twilight, hitting runners in the back, misplaying popups, and failing to cover first or just missing the bag. Twice they've allowed runners to score from first on singles.

That lackluster play, even if much of it traces to players who opened the season in Triple-A, are playing out of position, or both, has put the Red Sox in a position where it's hard to make a compelling case that they'll be able to compete with the likes of the Astros, Yankees, and Blue Jays come October, if they even get there.

Their path is brutal. Of their final 65 games, only 16 will be against teams that currently have losing records. They face nothing but iron. Compare that to the Mariners, who get to feast on the soft underbelly of the AL West, and will only play 25 games against team with winning records the rest of the way.

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That's not the kind of math that encourages a chief baseball officer to spend like there's no tomorrow. The Red Sox could upend the market by making some of their looming free agents available, whether it's Martinez, right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, or catcher Christian Vazquez.

Even if they're not inclined to deal shortstop Bogaerts (who has a no-trade clause) and Devers, as CEO Sam Kennedy told WEEI on Tuesday, they still have a chance to flood the market with high-end talent.

 

Two weeks ago, the odds of that felt remote. But now? Anything is on the table.