Red Sox

Unless Sox suddenly feel differently about his potential, trading Devers seems illogical

Unless Sox suddenly feel differently about his potential, trading Devers seems illogical

BOSTON — The biggest problem with trading Rafael Devers now would be selling low.

Trading away Devers with five years of control remaining is not the drawback to focus on when discussing whether the Red Sox should be willing to move Devers this deadline. Because almost universally, when a team with a chance to win looks to upgrade, it has to sacrifice controllable talent.

Even the Justin Verlander trade last August, one the Astros certainly do not regret after winning the World Series, had questionable math: Daz Cameron, the top prospect in the deal and the son of former Sox outfielder Mike Cameron, could give the Tigers years of strong all-around production.

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"The math doesn’t necessarily ever work when you’re trading for an elite player, trying to accomplish short term goals,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said last year. “You give up a lot of future value, and we did in this deal. We were pretty disciplined about looking at all of our alternatives and trying to pick the deal that we give up the least amount of future value for the most amount of present value. And I think we were able to do that. But you know it goes beyond math when you’re trying to win a championship in the short term.”

It does, indeed go beyond the math: it’s about how many ways one can upgrade a team, needs, windows. 

Sources with knowledge of the Red Sox thinking were dismissive of the idea the Sox would move Devers. Let’s consider why: in the case of Devers and the Sox’ third base situation, the issue settles on the type of player Devers projects to be, should be and will be. Most indications are that he is well better than he has shown at the plate in his first full big league season. 

In a hypothetical world, if the Devers you see today is the one he will be going forward — without significant improvement — the Sox would be justified in moving him. His 13 errors are tied with Jurickson Profar for the most in the majors. (FanGraphs’ defensive rankings doesn’t dock Devers too much, and he has made some fine plays even as he’s botched some routine ones.)

Five years of control of that player, or something like it, is worth giving up for Machado. Devers this year is slashing .235/.286/.698 with 10 home runs in 276 plate appearances. His 74 strikeouts are 12th most in the majors.

There’s no doubt the Sox would be better off with Manny Machado in 2018.  The Sox have the second worst production at third base in all of the majors per Baseball-Reference.com.

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But if Devers were producing as he did in 2017, with an .819 OPS, .284 average and 10 home runs in 240 plate appearances, the upgrade to Machado’s .957 OPS this year for half a season would not come to close to full value for Devers.

So it comes down to a matter of talent evaluation. If Devers is the player the Sox have long believed him to be, and the player he has shown he can be already, then moving him is a mistake. But if he is not that player, if their internal projections are starting to change, then moving him while his value is still very high could be smart.

The central issue is the one that every front office has: player forecasting. In this case, with a thin farm system, gambling that Devers would disappoint would be highly risky. But that's the only way a trade has any logical jumping off point: if the Sox think Devers is something other than the All-Star caliber player he's been described to be. There's no indication their thinking has changed, or that it will.

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Chris Sale appears poised to make his real 2019 debut, and Alex Cora called it

Chris Sale appears poised to make his real 2019 debut, and Alex Cora called it

When it comes to Monday's start against the Tigers (weather permitting), you're either with Chris Sale or Alex Cora.

Sign me up for Team Cora.

Let's explain: Last week in New York, Sale lost his fourth straight outing to open the season. This one differed from its predecessors in that Sale routinely hit 97 mph and featured better action on his slider. Command remained an issue, however, and the Yankees teed off for seven mostly loud hits and four runs in five innings, including a homer by Clint Frazier, in an 8-0 victory over the Red Sox.

Afterwards, you could choose from two options. Cora took the long view. Sale threw hard and rediscovered most of his arsenal. We'd be seeing the perennial Cy Young candidate real soon.

"I'm not going to be surprised if his next outing he's right where we need him to be," Cora said after the whitewashing. "Stuff-wise, compare it to the first three -- the velocity was there, the slider was a lot better, he's very close to the quote-unquote real Chris Sale."

Then there was the Sale approach of self-flagellation.

"It sucks!" he said. "I'm not going to sugarcoat it. I just flat-out stink right now. I don't know what it is. When you're going good, it's good. When you're going bad, it's pretty bad. You know, show up tomorrow, put on the shoes and get back after it."

Did he share his manager's confidence in a quick turnaround?

"We better (expletive) hope so," he declared.

So which is it? Cora's optimism or Sale's fatalism?

There was simply more to feel good about than bad last Tuesday, no matter the final numbers. The Sale who struggled to throw 89 mph fastballs in Oakland -- thanks to illness, we now know -- had us worried about the health of his shoulder. He finished last year injured and then started this one throwing like Frank Tanana. Not good, especially in light of a five-year, $145 million extension. His transformation from machine-gunner to tactician was at least supposed to wait until the new deal actually kicked in next year.

Sale didn't exhibit those same underlying physical issues on Tuesday, though. He threw 23 fastballs of at least 95 mph and six times topped 97. Per Baseball Savant, he hadn't thrown a single 95-mph fastball all season.

The problem was location and the Yankees unloaded, ripping seven balls with exit velocities of at least 100 mph. Five of them went for hits, including Frazier's homer, which came on a hanging changeup. Sale also hung a slider to Mike Tauchman, who bounced a double into the right field corner.

New York's other five hits came on fastballs. As a means of comparison, Sale allowed an average exit velocity of only 84.7 mph last year, which ranked fifth among starters.

"Need to get results," Sale said on Tuesday. "Doesn't matter how hard you throw or how fancy, you need to throw up zeroes."

While that's true, we need to see Sale's starts in context. Last week's was the first that featured something approximating his healthy arsenal. Given his track record -- six straight top-five finishes in the Cy Young voting, three straight All-Star Game starts -- it's fair to assume that if he continues throwing that hard with that much movement on his slider, he'll look like Chris Sale again sooner than later.

Let's also not underestimate the value of his other attributes, like competitiveness, mental toughness, and tenacity. A  1-0 loss to Oakland showed that he can still record outs while barely breaking 90 mph, because he knows how to pitch.

Cora is betting on it all coming together in his next start. A snarling Sale refuses to make any assumptions, because that's not how he's wired.

The manager is paid to see the big picture, though, and in this case I'm with him -- it may have taken a month, but don't be surprised if the real Chris Sale finally makes his 2019 debut this week.

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J.D. Martinez's strong start to 2019 season just hit a historic level

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J.D. Martinez's strong start to 2019 season just hit a historic level

Amid the Boston Red Sox's inconsistent start to the 2019 season, there's been one constant: J.D. Martinez getting on base.

The Red Sox designated hitter leads the club in batting average (.350), on-base percentage (.441) and OPS (1.003) through 22 games played. But here's Martinez's most impressive stat: He's reached base via a hit or walk in every game this season.

That puts the veteran slugger in some elite company.

Martinez's streak is one we haven't seen since 2001, when Manny Ramirez reached base in Boston's first 24 games. What makes Martinez's run even more impressive: He's recorded a hit in 21 of those 22 games, joining another shortlist in Red Sox franchise history.

Martinez currently is riding an American League-best 11-game hitting streak and actually passed Carl Reynolds on that list above after going 1-for-5 on Sunday.

The 31-year-old is coming off the best hitting season of his career in 2018 and has been a constant source of productivity since coming to Boston before the 2018 season. It appears he shows no signs of slowing down.

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