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Boston Red Sox: Rafael Devers Era begins but only the beginning

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On Sunday, at right around barbecue time and right after the punch-deficient Red Sox suffered their ninth loss of under three runs in the month of July alone, the team announced the call up of highly touted prospect Rafael Devers. The 20-year-old phenom is expected to start Tuesday night in Seattle against the artist formerly known as King Felix.

Not that he’s complaining, but Devers never had a chance to unpack his bags after his bump from AA Portland to AAA Pawtucket, and he was off to the west coast. He scorched the AAA earth in his path along the way, slashing .400/.447/.600 in nine games while the Sox’s opening day and presumed everyday third baseman rode the DFA wave toward his release.

If Devers was not perceptive enough to recognize that Panda was designated for assignment on the same day that he was assigned to Pawtucket, then certainly someone in the organization pointed it out to him. And if that didn’t happen, then someone in his own camp had to have made him aware. In any case, his nine games with the Paw Sox were strong, which, if nothing else, shows an ability to rise to a challenge. John Farrell will platoon him, stash him in the bottom of the order when he plays against righties, and likely replace him late in close games with Deven Marrero for defense. But Devers will get his chances, and it’s no surprise that the first chance will be in Seattle, on a Tuesday, while it’s 10 PM in Boston.

The Sandoval experience in New England has been thoroughly covered, but worth remembering in the “how did we get here?” conversation, is the trade of 1B/3B Travis Shaw back on December 6th. The Sox’s brass gambled that a slimmed-down Panda would return to form and lock down both the hot corner and the eighth spot in the lineup. They also gambled that super-utility man Brock Holt would be sufficient depth on a rare day off for Sandoval, for behind Holt were only the cast of Josh Rutledge, Marco Hernandez, and Deven Marrero.

We know how it went for Pablo; Holt missed time from April 21st through July 15th due to vertigo; Rutledge has played in only 37 games due to an assortment of injuries; Hernandez suffered a season ending shoulder injury on May 3rd; Marrero has been healthy, and is a dependable glove, but has only hit .212. Meanwhile, Shaw has been a man possessed, slashing .294/.361/.567 with 22 HR and 70 RBI, both which would lead the Sox.

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In return for Shaw, who appeared to be buried behind the (ahem) switch-hitting Sandoval, righty Hanley Ramirez and lefty Mitch Moreland, the Sox thought they bolstered the back end of their bullpen with Tyler Thornburg and his knee-buckling 12-6 curve and plus-fastball.

That need arose when pre-2016 off season acquisition Carson Smith needed Tommy John surgery after only three appearances in a Red Sox uniform. When the Shaw/Thornburg trade took place, Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs.com predicted “He’s going to set up for Kimbrel, easing the potential burden on Joe Kelly. At some point, he could and should be joined by Carson Smith, and so if all goes well, the Red Sox’ late-inning relief will resemble a strikeout machine. The Sox could have Thornburg for three years, and this falls in line with the theme of contenders trying to assemble deeper, more dominant bullpens.”

Alas, Thornburg did, in fact, join Smith, but on the DL, not in the strikeout machine bullpen. Thornburg has thoracic outlet syndrome — the same condition that felled Smith – which is a compression of nerves and/or blood vessels in the neck, chest, and back that can lead to weakness and numbness in the shoulders or neck. Thornburg is out for the year, and Smith has not yet returned.

Still, the Sox sit atop the AL East, two games up on the Yankees. But it’s far from a comfortable seat, and it’s unrealistic, unreasonable, and unfair to think that a 20-year-old who was in single A ball on opening day will be the one to make it comfortable.

The trade deadline is six days away, and trader Dave is not done. A big deal and a bigger impact are brewing and will be broken down later.

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