John Tomase

Aggressive Red Sox aren't waiting for problems to fix themselves

Craig Breslow and Alex Cora already have made several important roster pivots.

NBC Universal, Inc.

When the Red Sox saw obvious problems last year, they eventually got around to fixing them. Maybe. After much debate.

Kiké Hernández brutalized the infield defense at shortstop for three months before being traded to the Dodgers and replaced by the bargain-basement Yu Chang, who represented a significant (and belated) defensive upgrade. The Red Sox had hoped to wait out Trevor Story's return, but with disastrous results.

The rotation suffered similar neglect in July when injuries to Chris Sale, James Paxton, Tanner Houck, and Garrett Whitlock left manager Alex Cora with two healthy starters and a flurry of bullpen games. Off days helped the Red Sox survive for a month, but attrition arrived like a hammer in August, and it was goodbye, season.

Craig Breslow replaced Chaim Bloom as chief baseball officer promising to act aggressively, and while that didn't translate to a busy offseason (blame ownership), it has been reflected in a more urgent approach to problem-solving.

The 2024 Red Sox have faced no shortage of challenges, from Story's season-ending shoulder injury, to a decimated starting staff, to losing slugging first baseman Triston Casas for possibly the rest of the first half.

But unlike a year ago, when problems festered for weeks without being addressed, these Red Sox aren't messing around. Just consider some of the following pivots, which have helped the team to a surprising 19-16 start.

  • Left-hander Joely Rodriguez surprisingly made the opening day roster, beating out incumbent setup man Brennan Bernardino. Rodriguez surrendered a homer on opening day, took the loss in his next appearance, and delivered exactly one clean outing in 11 tries. It took only 10 days for Bernardino to return and he has been nails ever since, with a 0.64 ERA as both a bridge man and an opener. The Red Sox outrighted Rodriguez to Triple-A last week.
  • Story's injury created a suction vortex at shortstop. Rookie David Hamilton simply wasn't ready for prime time. Romy Gonzalez lasted only one game before being injured. That left an option the organization didn't universally love, which was shifting electric center fielder Ceddanne Rafaela to his second-best position. The Red Sox are 9-6 since Rafaela moved to short, and even if he's a better outfielder than infielder, he has stabilized a position of weakness.
  • With Rafael Devers in and out of the lineup and Casas hurt, the Red Sox needed offense. Enter Wilyer Abreu. Moving Rafaela to short opened a spot in the outfield, with Jarren Duran shifting to center and Tyler O'Neill flipping from right to left. The Red Sox gave full-time at-bats to Abreu, and since becoming a regular, he's hitting .377 with a 1.065 OPS, as well as a couple of tremendous catches in right field.
  • Manager Alex Cora got defensive at suggestions the team had benched slumping DH Masataka Yoshida, but it's clear he wasn't going to force him into the lineup just because he's making $18 million a year. Yoshida is currently seeking a second opinion on his injured thumb, but even before that, the Red Sox didn't go out of their way to get him at-bats, at one point giving journeyman Tyler Heineman the start at DH in a win over the Pirates. Don't be surprised if Breslow finds a way to move on from the one-dimensional Yoshida this winter.
  • Knowing that Casas would be down for multiple months, the Red Sox gave Bobby Dalbec first crack at first base, but they didn't give him long. With Dalbec continuing to strike out in nearly half of his plate appearances, Breslow swung a deal for Cubs first baseman Garrett Cooper and then signed Dominic Smith. The two veterans will get a chance to fill the job until Casas returns. Dalbec is back in the minors.
  • Then there's second base. The Red Sox mixed and matched while awaiting Vaughn Grissom's return. Enmanuel Valdez got most of the reps, but was shaky defensively and hit only .156. Veteran utilityman Pablo Reyes only hit .183 and also struggled uncharacteristically in the field. Seeking a steadier defensive presence in reserve after activating Grissom, the Red Sox bought versatile infielder Zack Short from the Mets. Valdez was sent to Worcester and Reyes was designated for assignment.
  • We haven't even mentioned the rotation. With Nick Pivetta, Brayan Bello, and Whitlock on the shelf, the Red Sox didn't default to openers around Tanner Houck and Kutter Crawford. They summoned Cooper Criswell and he has responded by going 2-1 with a 1.74 ERA in four starts. Not bad for a $1 million signing. They also shifted long man Josh Winckowski to the rotation, leaving themselves with just one opener per turn. They expect Pivetta and Bello to return shortly, but it feels safe to say they'll go outside the organization for pitching help if any of their injuries prove longer lasting.

Taken individually, none of these moves is particularly earth-shattering. But collectively, they might be the difference between 19-16 and 16-19, which would make for two very different seasons.

Contact Us