BOSTON – If you’re suffering from whiplash after trying to follow the Dave Dombrowski press conference Wednesday, you’re certainly not alone.
The Red Sox President of Baseball Operations tried his best to explain why his current roster is good enough to compete for a spot in MLB postseason tournament while at the same time saying that his team hasn’t proven enough over the first four seasons to warrant any deadline deal at all.
“I’m not disappointed,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora after the passing of the 4 p.m. ET deadline. “This is a group that we trust.”
The final dagger in the hearts of Red Sox fans hoping for some kind of move – any move – came when Houston acquired stud Zack Greinke from the Diamondbacks in a five-player exchange, with the Diamondbacks getting four prospects back. Now the Astros, trying to get back to the promised land, have a starting trio of Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Greinke, who handcuffed the Yankees in the Bronx just hours before the deadline passed at 4 p.m. ET.
“If we can get in and play a one-game playoff — for example, Houston made big trades today,” Dombrowski noted. “They’re really good. They were good beforehand. If we play Houston, it will be in the playoffs, right? So, we’ll see what happens.”
I sympathize with Dombrowski to this extent, the nuance of trying to add the right piece while taking into consideration the personnel cost in any trade and the control of the acquired player beyond the next two months is complicated to say the least.
But that’s not what the deal was Wednesday.
Wednesday’s press conference was as much about the tone of the message coming from the top of the organization as it was anything else.
What came across Wednesday was indecision. Yeah, we have the highest payroll in baseball and that should be good enough. But we could’ve pulled the trigger on a deal that would’ve made us better but didn’t because the price in terms of considering the future was too high.
What we learned is that if the Red Sox had beaten the Yankees on Sunday night, closing the gap to seven games in the A.L. East, he and the organization would have been much more aggressive.
Speaking of the Yankees, perhaps the only consolation for Red Sox fans is that Brian Cashman was not able to fortify a pitching staff desperately in need of it – at least for October. But that’s little comfort considering the Yankees came from behind to beat the Diamondbacks 7-4 after Greinke left the mound Wednesday and headed for the Astros, putting the Red Sox 9.5 games back in the A.L. East. But Wednesday shouldn’t have been about the Yankees, it should’ve been about adding to a rotation that has badly underperformed by everyone’s own admission inside the organization.
What makes Wednesday all the more unpalatable to loyal Red Sox fans is what every other team in the wild card race was able to do to improve their chances, led by the Indians, who added two big bats and two serviceable arms they can use down the stretch.
The Rays acquired slugger Jesus Aguilar from Milwaukee. He’s hitting just .225 with nine doubles and eight homers in 94 games this season. But it’s a move.
There were two audiences that were tuning in Wednesday to what Dombrowski had to say about not making a move – Red Sox fans and Red Sox players.
Judging by Twitter (always the best scientific method and never prone to hyperbole), fans panned what the GM had to say by suggesting the season is over and crushed the front office for not making any additions to a team that already has the biggest payroll in baseball.
The players? Well, they were given the kind of vote of confidence from Dombrowski that is usually reserved for managers who are about to be fired.
“If we were closer to first place, I would’ve been more open-minded (to a trade),” Dombrowski said. “The club here needs to play better on a consistent basis. We had a great week last week. We went 5-2 against two of the better teams in baseball. We can still go 5-2 this week.”
But the reality of trailing Cleveland, Oakland and Tampa Bay in the Wild Card hit again.
“Realistically, we’re playing for a Wild Card,” Dombrowski added. “We talked to the deadline… We are going for it. Yeah, we’re all in but the all in is what we have. We just decided we did not want to (trade young prospects).”
Then came this odd line about what he (and presumably) the organization feel about their pitching staff, the assumed target of any trade deadline move.
“The problem is in (our) bullpen is depth,” Dombrowski said, noting that Brandon Workman is having an outstanding year (which he is) and that he would be comfortable with him or Matt Barnes in any ninth inning situation. “You cannot believe the number of calls I got about our bullpen guys.”
He’s not wrong. Lefty Darwinzon Hernandez, with six scoreless innings of relief work in July, is another arm that would presumably help a lot of contenders down the stretch. But the problem is – and has been all season – consistency and dependability. Who can Cora really trust in a high leverage situation? But I digress.
Then Dombrowski seemed to give hope to thinking that a team that has played good – but not great baseball – for the first four months of their title defense will find the magic elixir in the final two months without any additional arms besides Andrew Cashner, acquired two weeks before Wednesday’s deadline.
“If you win one game (wild-card), you’re like everyone else (in playoffs),” Dombrowski said. “If we’re going to make it, it’s going to be the guys in the clubhouse. Sure, we have holes. But reality is, we have a very talented group.”
The reality also is – and Dombrowski didn’t shy away from this fact – the Red Sox have the heftiest payroll in the game at $226 million, eight million more than the second-place Yankees.
They stand just below MLB’s luxury tax salary threshold at $242 million. Why is that so suddenly important to the Red Sox now?
“I mean, our payroll is the largest in the game. It’s ample to win,” Dombrowski said. “That’s on me and on us. I’ll take me. But it’s a situation where, like last year, we went into the philosophy where we didn’t want to go above $246 [million], because as I talked about, being redundant, there’s a reason why they call them penalties. It’s not only financial, you lose 10 Draft picks.
“We are going for it. It’s like every year, you go for it as much as you can. … We’re in. We’re all in. But the all in – to me – is what we have.”
On several occasions, Dombrowski reminded everyone Wednesday that John Henry and the ownership group has already invested their fair share into a roster that has underperformed this year, most notable in the starting rotation, where Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello are a combined 21-21, with a 4.57 ERA over 63 starts. Those three pitchers account for $67 million of the $177 million on the 25-man active payroll.
“Where are we going to get starting pitchers that are better than what we already have?” Dombrowski asked rhetorically. “We have a very talented group. They just need to pitch better in some cases.”
Well, that didn’t age well when Rick Porcello went out two hours later and gave up two long homers and fell behind 5-0 to the Rays in the second inning and destroyed two dugout TV monitors. It also doesn’t look good when you answer that question with the name Zack Greinke.
Bottom line from Dombrowski and owner John Henry – we spent the money on all of you to be the best in the game coming into the season, now go out and prove to us that we were right to think that this team didn’t need to do what the Houstons, Atlantas and Clevelands of the baseball world did.