NEW YORK — On July 29, 2009, the Philadelphia Phillies were locked in a three-team fight for the National League East crown. They had a powerful offense, a suspect starting rotation, and expectations of returning to the World Series.
So, when then-Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. walked through the clubhouse after trading four prospects to the Cleveland Indians for ace lefty Cliff Lee, the players stood and applauded.
It’s easy to imagine the Boston Red Sox doing the same next time they see Dave Dombrowski.
Over the past 10 days, Dombrowski has made four trades designed to improve the Red Sox’s chances of reaching the postseason. It cost him five minor leaguers, one of whom (18-year-old right-hander Anderson Espinoza) is regarded as an elite prospect, but Dombrowski added veteran infielder Aaron Hill, utility man Michael Martinez, reliever Brad Ziegler, and lefty Drew Pomeranz.
And in the process, he sent a clear message to the players who form the core of a team in the thick of a three-team American League East race and poised to lose retiring franchise icon David Ortiz after this season.
“Win. Win, win, win, win. Right now,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts said after the Red Sox returned from the All-Star break and won their fifth consecutive game, 5-3, over the New York Yankees. “We traded a pretty good prospect — I’ve never seen [Espinoza] pitch, but I’ve heard he’s pretty good. Pomeranz, he’s also pretty good. He’s an All-Star this year, so he has good numbers. A guy like that comes in, it’s just a bonus to the team that we have right now. He’s obviously going to make it better.”
Pomeranz won’t join the Red Sox until Saturday and won’t throw a pitch until Wednesday night at Fenway Park. He had absolutely nothing to do with knuckleballer Steven Wright delivering six strong innings against the Yankees or catcher Ryan Hanigan, third baseman Travis Shaw, and Bogaerts hitting home runs to account for the offense against New York starter Michael Pineda.
But the Sox already have gotten a boost because of what Pomeranz represents, namely the front office’s belief that the roster was only a few moves away from being good enough to contend for the World Series.
“We’re an organization that, we expect to win,” Wright said. “If management feels like there’s a missing piece, they’re going to go out there and get it. With the guys that we’ve gotten so far — with Hill and Ziegler and now Pomeranz — they’re going to help us out tremendously in the long run. And it’s exciting. It’s exciting being part of it because you know that the guys in here are going to do everything they can to win, and management is basically saying the same thing, that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to win. You can’t help but go out every day and play even harder knowing that they’re going to do everything they can to help us win.”
Hill made an impact in his Red Sox debut last week, notching two hits and two RBIs to help defeat the Tampa Bay Rays. If you blinked, you missed Ziegler’s first two Sox outings. He threw an eight-pitch ninth inning last Sunday against the Rays to close out the first half, and after Wright gave up three runs in the sixth inning here Friday night, Ziegler restored order by retiring the Yankees in order on seven pitches in a dominant seventh inning.
“I’ve faced him, never enjoyed being on the other end trying to hit it,” Hanigan said of Ziegler’s submarining, Dan Quisenberry-style delivery. “It’s just so funky. It’s like a big, tumbling bowling ball coming in there.”
Said Wright: “Zigs, man, I don’t know how he throws like that, but it’s fun to watch.”
Amaro, now the Red Sox’s first-base coach, recently recalled the difficulty of deciding when to sacrifice prized prospects in win-now deals. In 2009, it was easy. Right-hander Carlos Carrasco was among the most touted prospects of the bunch that Amaro sent to Cleveland, but the opportunity to add Lee to a roster that featured prime-aged Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth was impossible to pass up.
“I guess it depends on what cycle you’re in, where you are as an organization,” Amaro said earlier this season. “It takes a lot of discipline not to move kids. Time and situations kind of dictate some of the decisions you have to make.”
After back-to-back last-place finishes — and with the young core of Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. teaming up with Ortiz in what he termed Friday “pretty much my last ride in baseball” — there’s no time like the present for the Red Sox to go for it.
“You know Dave. Dave doesn’t play around,” Ortiz said. “He goes for what he needs. And this is the second half. There’s not another half after this one. I’m pretty sure he’s going to keep on moving the line. [Pomeranz] was doing really good in the National League. I saw him at the All-Star Game, and hopefully he can bring us some good hopes.”
Seventeen days before the trade deadline, Dombrowski already has done his part. Now it’s up to the players in whom he has shown so much faith.