John Tomase

Sneaky-good offseason? Breslow's additions show promise for Red Sox

The new Red Sox GM appears to have a keen eye for talent.

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There's an underrated aspect to this surprisingly solid start for the Red Sox: Craig Breslow signed the right players.

He didn't sign enough of them, and that's on ownership. But looking forward, if John Henry ever lets his chief baseball officer spend more aggressively, there's evidence that Breslow knows what he's doing.

It was right there in Sunday's 5-4 victory over the Cubs, when offseason acquisition Tyler O'Neill blooped a walk-off single to left to continue a torrid start that hasn't even been slowed by a concussion. O'Neill leads the American League in on base percentage, slugging, and OPS, and he's second only to Mike Trout with nine home runs.

He didn't seem like much of a pickup when the Red Sox swiped him from the Cardinals for pitchers Victor Santos and Nick Robertson to maybe serve as a platoon outfielder, but he has instead emerged as the steal of the winter.

It's not just O'Neill. Down at Triple-A, Breslow's other big offensive acquisition, young second baseman Vaughn Grissom, went 4 for 4 with a walk in his final rehab start. Acquired from the Braves for Chris Sale, Grissom is a lifetime .320 hitter in the minors who one day could challenge for a batting title if he reaches his ceiling. The Red Sox hope he'll help settle down second base, where only the Orioles have received worse production.

Meanwhile, Saturday's 17-0 victory will be remembered primarily for Ceddanne Rafaela's breakout 4-for-4, seven-RBI performance. But tucked away in the box score was another important pickup, and that was the winning pitcher, Justin Slaten.

The Red Sox snagged him from the Rangers (via the Mets) in the Rule 5 draft. All the big right-hander has done since is post a 0.55 ERA in nine appearances. He has only allowed six hits while becoming a valued member of Alex Cora's bullpen.

He's not alone. Fellow righty Greg Weissert came over from the Yankees in the Alex Verdugo deal, and he has posted results nearly as impressive as Slaten's, with a 1.69 ERA in 12 appearances. His underlying numbers aren't as strong, but he still has the ability to fill a multi-inning bridge role à la Josh Winckowski last year.

Heck, even throw in Cooper Criswell, one of Breslow's only free agent signings, who just tossed five shutout innings against the Central-leading Guardians and is 1-1 with a 2.38 ERA. The Red Sox signed Criswell away from the Rays, and he has given them a lift with three starters on the injured list.

Add the fact that a number of other players the Red Sox targeted – including Cubs starter Shōta Imanaga and Diamondbacks left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. – are off to good starts, and for one winter, anyway, it appears that Breslow identified the right pieces. And that doesn't even include Dodgers righty Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the team's No. 1 priority, at least until the bidding entered the stratosphere. After a rough debut, he already looks like an ace.

This is a departure from predecessor Chaim Bloom, who tended to value quantity over quality in veteran-for-prospect deals, with predictable results. (Breakout right fielder Wilyer Abreu, acquired from the Astros alongside Enmanuel Valdez for catcher Christian Vazquez, appears to be a significant exception.) It's entirely possible that Breslow will have more to show for Verdugo, Sale, and the minor league arms he used to acquire O'Neill than all of Bloom's trades combined.

With the Red Sox 16-13 and expecting right-hander Nick Pivetta to return from a sore elbow shortly, we needn't yet turn our attention to next year. They're giving us baseball worth watching right now, and Breslow's early moves are a primary reason.

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