AL EastAnalysis

Craig Breslow and Management Hit The Ground Limping

The uncharacteristically tepid Red Sox are having turbulences in a vision for the future – Is Breslow the one to right the ship?

The firing of Chaim Bloom in September of last year stirred the discourse among baseball fans on how warranted the decision was. Bloom was by no means fired for ineptitude at the helm of general manager, but rather for a disagreement in visions he and ownership had.

His prowess with Tampa Bay previously put him in a position to achieve Andrew Friedman heights in Beantown, as the Rays’ brain trust has provided considerable GM talent spread across the league. Bloom’s strengths lay heavily in innovation from his time with the Rays – his data-driven focus helped Tampa Bay improbably compete with aggressive shift strategies and the use of openers to aid weaker starters, helping the Rays punch above their weight in a period with strong Red Sox and Yankees rivals. Boston saw those traits that made him so successful and wanted to add money to it to maximize competitive efficiency; four seasons later and a certain franchise icon traded by Bloom, he was shown the door despite the unfortunate circumstances he was thrust into. 

The media explanation circulating for the decision was a disconnect between Bloom’s long-term plan and the cutthroat sports environment of Boston that demanded wins right then. Henry and the Fenway Sports Group looked as if they caved to the fan pressure and shifted direction as they were ready to trust a new vision that would promise wins sooner than Bloom’s slower rebuild. Their guy to do that, Craig Breslow, has not been as advertised.

Breslow’s offseason thus far has shown a straying from its original mission statement. This lack of success is increasingly interesting coming from Breslow and a new regime that took shots at Bloom’s style of team building and vision of success stating, “It’s really easy to get caught up in trying to find the newest, the brightest, the most current information, when it turns out that getting an organization directionally aligned behind something is far more powerful.” It’s a bold claim to make in the first weeks on the job, as Breslow undercut Bloom’s philosophy and lack of a winning direction for what’s assumed to be something better. Only Breslow has now spent enough time to realize the conditions Bloom was working under and why it’s so hard to right the course on this disoriented usual powerhouse.

The way the Boston roster currently stands, Breslow still needs to elevate the floor on a team that boasts near-top-tier talents in Devers and Story but lacks the support to make up considerable depth to withstand 162 games in a jam-packed AL East. Breslow initially stated that the Bloom administration’s focus was too heavy on the prospect side and stashing guys that he claimed needed to be leveraged for more major league-ready pieces. The amalgamation of Mayer, Anthony, Teel, and more from Bloom’s tenure is impressive and provides the basis that’s provided Boston with something of a direction that could lead to an impressive offense if developed correctly. The desire to move some of that prospect capital for win-now talent has taken a back seat though as chairman Tom Werner’s ideal “full throttle” offseason has been replaced with a tepid re-shuffling of pieces that leaves the Red Sox in a just as questionable position as they were in last year. A shaky Lucas Giolito two-year contract was one of the only major moves made, and that instantly backfired with a looming season-ending injury that’s taken the oomph out of an already meager starting staff. To sum up, everything Breslow has achieved then has not moved the needle a microcentimeter.

So what is a general idea of how this Red Sox team can vault back into the usual contention that’s remained a constant in the past 20-plus years? Breslow preached loudly about bolstering a thin pitching system, not being afraid to spend money when needed, and prioritizing big-league talent over farm hands, but that language hasn’t been put into action at all. A deep dive into those outlined areas of interest can be studied further to think of how Boston plans to reclaim their throne among the best.

1. Pitching is the Prerogative

Lucas Giolito pre-injury already wasn’t a piece that could add much more than solid talent to a staff that seems to be pondering how they’re simply going to get innings. Giolito came with the often false moniker of dependable for his source of workload in recent seasons, but the randomness of the injury said something else about that. Without him, this rotation is now exposed to more holes than before. One of the lone successes of pitching development, Brayan Bello, was duly awarded an extension this past week that should give this rotation structure but the more questionable pieces of Pivetta and Winckowski along with the more effective in short bursts, Whitlock and Houck give a murky picture going forward. Their farm is loaded with hitting but light on immediate pitching that could inject a much-needed boost right now.

The Verdugo trade in a sense was a reshuffling of priorities. Boston opted to rely on the young guns of Rafaela and Duran to replace Verdugo’s fine but replaceable production. In return, the immediate bullpen help from Weissert and Fitts, as well as the Urias trade return of Isiah Campbell should give the team controllable arms that have room to develop further.

Beyond that though, what is the plan? Boston was among the bottom five in innings last year for starting staffs, and the projection this season doesn’t look much better. There’s no immediate name in the minors who will provide quality depth in the event of an injury and the team looks to be content in that state unless Breslow gets the OK for a free-agent deal.

In the case of spending, Boston could flex some of its big market muscles to force their way back into the contention picture with the biggest remaining piece, Jordan Montgomery. An ace-level pitcher at the top of the staff along with a possible Michael Lorenzen addition would suddenly give this team a comfortable top three that stacks up comparably to their AL East counterparts. Breslow doesn’t have the developmental resources to build something from scratch, so an injection of talent might be the best course of action for a team positioned on the cusp.

2. Use Prospect Capital Efficiently

Shifting to a short-term competitive plan while using prospects to acquire depth is a decision loaded with risk and probably why Breslow’s held off on anything major. Prospect development is inherently imperfect with how certain young talents loaded with tools don’t always flourish, yet trading away young (and cheap) pieces for pricier veterans has the potential to end disastrously in some cases. Any name from the list of Mayer, Anthony, Teel, and Bleis shouldn’t be considered because they’re packed with high future value that’s uncomfortable moving. Instead, more supplemental depth pieces like Wilyer Abreu or Emmanuel Valdez can net above-average major leaguers that could increase much-needed areas like innings or rotation depth and would be worth shipping out. 

The Red Sox have great major-league talent in their lineup. Devers and Story are past and very much so still present all-stars as well as Grissom, Duran, and Casas who have all shown flashes of an above-average skillset, with supplemental pieces like O’Neil and Yoshida rounding it out. Imminent big leaguers who are stuck in that awkward quad-A phase are all candidates to then be traded for the present bullpen and rotation depth without giving up much future value. The balance is an extremely difficult one to get right, but the state of this Boston roster calls for a mindful equilibrium between prioritizing top prospects’ development and maintaining an above-average big-league squad.

3. Being Mindful of Albatross Contracts

The title of Boston Red Sox GM is a venerable title any hopeful baseball executive would dream of having, but the situation Breslow’s been put into isn’t one many envy – and that’s because of certain contracts that muddle things. The main three – Devers, Story, and Yoshida – are players under contracts that the industry would quantify as overpays for the shared similarity of defense that simply isn’t good enough to make up for production with the bat. Devers’ struggles at third are nationally well-known at this point in his career. The lefty slugger can connect for tape measure 30+ homers year after year, but has footwork and range issues that are so bad that his value in the end averages out to not a huge net positive production. Story has a similar issue with defense, but elbow injuries to his throwing arm since 2021 have accelerated that regression more so than anything else. He also has tremendous power that he’s shown plays at Fenway very effectively, but a middle infielder under contract til his age 35 season makes the playing time needed for quickly rising Marcelo Mayer more of a puzzle. Finally, Yoshida received his five-year deal as a rookie from the NPB with the assumption it was an overpay by MLB execs before he played a game. His skillset developed beautifully in Japan where his near 80-grade eye and knack for contact made him among elite hitters, but the transition to MLB proved to flummox the rookie. Now Boston is left with another four years of a hitter trying to figure out his hitting transition while playing shoddy left-field defense.

All three of these hitters are brought up to prove the point of how off the timelines are between Boston’s current competitive window and their future one. Mayer, Anthony, and Teel are all brilliant prospects who should be major-league-ready at the exact time Boston has these problematic contracts taking up space on a roster and potentially blocking vital innings and playing time needed for rookies. It also poses a challenge of how to integrate more contracts and major league talent once the full-strength competitive team is ready.

Maybe three years down the line Devers is unplayable at third base and is needed to move to DH, which could then affect where a DH-type like Yoshida would get at-bats, in turn rippling to a defensively handicapped Triston Casas and finding at-bats for him. The ripples created by having these unmovable contracts at vital positions create hurdles for Breslow that are going to prove hard to surmount.

Follow us @Diamond_Digest for more throughout the season!

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Back to top button