BOSTON -- Buy or sell? With the Boston Red Sox, there was never much question. After all, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was brought to Boston last year for the sole purpose of winning. After back-to-back last-place finishes, any outcome other than a return to the playoffs wasn't an option, especially with franchise icon David Ortiz planning to retire at season's end.
It was no surprise, then, that even after the Red Sox went 10-16 in June, Dombrowski swung four trades, acquiring veteran infielder Aaron Hill from the Milwaukee Brewers, utility man Michael Martinez from the Cleveland Indians, reliever Brad Ziegler from the Arizona Diamondbacks and left-hander Drew Pomeranz from the San Diego Padres.
And the trade deadline isn't until next Monday.
Here's a look at what might still be coming during the next few days:
Should the Red Sox continue to buy?
They would be foolish not to, especially with closer Craig Kimbrel (left knee surgery) and 41-year-old setup man Koji Uehara (strained right pectoral) out until probably at least late August. Dombrowski has said he's "comfortable" with the internal candidates to fill in, but that's likely just posturing.
There are reasons to be encouraged by Matt Barnes' emergence into a dependable late-inning option, and team officials are hopeful that failed starter Joe Kelly, who returned from Triple-A, can harness his electric fastball in abbreviated relief appearances. But there are no guarantees that Junichi Tazawa's shoulder will hold up. And Uehara, who received a platelet rich plasma injection last week, told Japanese reporters he expects to miss a month with an injury that manager John Farrell has ominously called "unique."
Instability in the bullpen doomed some of Dombrowski's most talented Detroit Tigers teams. In 2013, for example, Tigers relievers combined for a 4.01 ERA in the regular season and imploded in Games 2 and 6 of the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox.
Dombrowski must have learned from those mistakes. If there's any way to make the Red Sox's bullpen better, he can't afford to leave any stone unturned.
Who should they buy?
Dombrowski struck early for Pomeranz -- and paid a steep price by giving up Single-A right-hander Anderson Espinoza, a touted 18-year-old compared by one AL talent evaluator to Toronto Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman -- because the demand for starting pitching far outweighs the supply.
That isn't the case for relievers. Forget Andrew Miller. If the New York Yankees trade him, it won't be to the Red Sox, their most ancient rival. But other potentially impactful late-inning relievers might be on the move, including perhaps Chicago White Sox closer David Robertson. The Brewers will listen on Will Smith and Jeremy Jeffress, the Philadelphia Phillies on Jeanmar Gomez, and the Seattle Mariners on Steve Cishek, a native of Falmouth, Massachusetts.
Two years ago, the Sox pried lefty Eduardo Rodriguez from the Baltimore Orioles for Miller. Some teams will be looking for a similar return for their relief aces. Then again, the Sox gave up two non-prospects to get Ziegler.
While the bullpen is the most pressing need, Dombrowski won't only browse the relief market. The Sox will do their due diligence on newly available starters in the hopes that the market improves. But if the White Sox really are willing to move ace Chris Sale, one AL executive said he "would think the price would be off the charts."
Any notion that struggling Oakland ace Sonny Gray could be available at a discounted price likely went out the window when the A's asked the Red Sox for Espinoza in return for 36-year-old lefty Rich Hill. Unlike Hill, who is eligible for free agency at season's end, Gray is controllable through 2019 and almost certainly would cost the Sox multiple top prospects.
Which prospects should the Sox be willing to deal? Which should be untouchable?
Former general manager Ben Cherington was fiercely protective of prospects, and the Red Sox are better for it. He said no to trading shortstop Xander Bogaerts for then-Phillies ace Cliff Lee in 2013 and hung up on anyone who asked for Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Blake Swihart.
But as focused as Dombrowski is on the present, he isn't about to mortgage the future, either. Indications are Dombrowski would have to be overwhelmed to trade twin top prospects Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada, especially with Benintendi inching closer to his major league debut in left field. And considering the Sox haven't developed a homegrown starter since Clay Buchholz in 2007, they would be hard-pressed to trade 20-year-old right-hander Michael Kopech, who is dominating at Single-A Salem.
Everyone else, though, should be on the table and probably will be. The minor league chips that Dombrowski has cashed in have mostly been blocked at the big league level (touted center fielder Manuel Margot in the offseason trade for Kimbrel) or still in the low minors (Espinoza). By that logic, he could be compelled to trade the likes of low-A third baseman Michael Chavis or perhaps even promising Double-A shortstop Mauricio Dubon.
One player the Red Sox should trade, for his own sake as well as theirs: Buchholz. But after twice being removed from the starting rotation, barely pitching this month and with approximately $5 million left on a contract that expires after the season, his value is nearly nonexistent.