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Tomase: After another punchless loss, Todd Frazier vs. Rafael Devers debate heats up

John Tomase
July 16, 2017 - 4:26 pm
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Todd Frazier or Rafael Devers?

In the long term, it's not even a question. But short term, the Red Sox have the next two weeks to reach an answer.

The offense once again delivered what Reince Priebus might call a nothing burger in a 3-0 loss to the Yankees on Sunday. Aging lefty CC Sabathia limited the Sox to two hits over six innings and the Red Sox dropped to 2-for-51 with runners in scoring position against the Yankees this year.

The Red Sox are a flawed team in a flawed division, but their flaw is the most easily correctable of anyone's. They need a third baseman who won't trip over himself in the field while providing some thump at the plate.

Both Frazier and Devers fit that bill, though only one of them has done it in the big leagues. Frazier is widely expected to be traded by the White Sox before the July 31 deadline, with the Red Sox the frontrunners to acquire him.

Under normal circumstances, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski would probably pounce. He doesn't generally wait around when he knows what needs fixing; he acquired left-hander Drew Pomeranz last year, for instance, at the All-Star break.

This time he might want to wait a little longer, however, because Devers just debuted at Triple-A with a thunderclap on Saturday night. He went 4-for-4 with a double and homer and also made a tremendous defensive play for Pawtucket.

Under normal circumstances, the 20-year-old wouldn't be a serious candidate for a call-up, not after the team's experience with Yoan Moncada last year, when the Red Sox made him their starting third baseman, only to watch him strike out eight straight times and 12 times in 19 at-bats before shutting him down and sending him to the Arizona Fall League.

They don't want to make that mistake again, but these aren't normal times. Starting third baseman Pablo Sandoval was just designated for assignment, officially ending one of the most disappointing tenures in team history. Replacements Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin are nothing more than backups. Brock Holt just returned from a concussion and is probably better served in a reserve role, anyway.

That leaves the Red Sox in dire need of third base help to boost the American League's fifth-ranked offense, a hot-or-cold squad that ranks dead last in the junior circuit in homers and enters the nightcap of Sunday's doubleheader with 22 consecutive scoreless innings.

And so we return to our original question: Frazier or Devers?

Frazier is the safer choice, a two-time All-Star who's only one season removed from hitting 40 homers. His right-handed power should play in Fenway Park, and he's a solid, albeit unspectacular defender.

The 31-year-old began Sunday hitting .210 with 16 homers and a .769 OPS, but his numbers are a tad deceiving. Since the start of June, he's hitting .242 with nine homers and an .896 OPS. He's also walking a lot (.367 OBP) and has suffered some potential bad luck in the form of a .250 batting average on balls in play, combined with an average exit velocity of 88.1 mph that ranks just behind Mookie Betts.

He's the safe choice, an established veteran with 30-homer power. He can also be had for virtually nothing, since he's just a two-month rental.

Devers, however, would be the bold choice. There's a reason Dombrowski refused to include him in the blockbuster Chris Sale deal this winter. He's putting up power numbers in the minors at age 20 that compare to some of the game's best sluggers. And though there's always a concern about a youngster transitioning to the big leagues -- particularly defensively -- it's hard not to be impressed by the play Devers made in his Triple-A debut, cutting across the diamond to barehand a roller and sling one across the diamond to record an Adrian Beltre-esque assist. It's the kind of play that makes you say, "That kid's a big league third baseman."

But is he one today? And can he make that play in a pennant race with virtually zero experience above Double-A? There's little point in the Red Sox taking that chance. The more prudent course of action is the obvious one: acquire Frazier, give him a month to upgrade third, and if it doesn't work out, Devers will still be there at Triple-A, awaiting his chance.

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