ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The time has come, it seems, for the Boston Red Sox to conduct an internal review.
A few days before the All-Star break -- and a little more than three weeks before the trade deadline -- president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski called together trusted advisers and scouts to join him here Friday. And without consulting any flies on the wall of their suite at Tropicana Field, it's a safe bet that Dombrowski, Allard Baird, Frank Wren and the others spent a fair amount of time discussing third base.
Deven Marrero played the position Friday night and contributed to the Red Sox's 8-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays. In addition to going 2-for-3, he played his usually solid defense, backhanding a hard shot by Wilson Ramos and starting a rally-killing double play with the bases loaded in the fourth inning.
To Marrero's left, Tzu-Wei Lin filled in for injured shortstop Xander Bogaerts and continued his eye-popping start since getting called up two weeks ago. Lin, who has been splitting time with Marrero at third base, led off the Sox's four-run third inning with a single, then drew a leadoff walk in the eighth. It was the ninth consecutive game in which he has reached base.
"Lin steps up there, I feel like he gets on base every single time. They can't throw him a strike, he's smacking hits," said lefty Drew Pomeranz, who went six innings and won his third consecutive start. "And Deven's making great plays. Deven had a lot of good hits today. These guys have been really good out there, especially filling in. They know their role and are doing it really well."
Indeed, nothing about the way Marrero and Lin are playing could possibly be unimpressive to Dombrowski & Co.
But that shouldn't stop the Red Sox from trading for a third baseman before July 31.
If the Sox wind up defending their division title -- and they have gained 8½ games on the New York Yankees since June 13, going from a four-game deficit to a 4½-game lead -- they will owe a debt of gratitude to Marrero and Lin, who have come up from the minors and stabilized the least productive position on the field.
Actually, that's selling them short. Marrero and Lin have brought an energy to the bottom of the order that Pablo Sandoval (remember him?) is unable to provide. That's why Sandoval was sent on a minor league rehab assignment after he recovered from a brief bout with an inner ear infection, of all things. Dombrowski and manager John Farrell realize the Sox are a better team with the Panda on the farm.
Alas, all good things must end. Barring an injury interruption, Sandoval's rehab stint can last for only 20 days, which means he would need to be recalled by July 17. That would give Sandoval a maximum of two weeks to reclaim the job that was handed to him in spring training, if he's even going to get one last chance to do so.
By then, though, Dombrowski likely will have made up his mind about how aggressively to pursue a trade for a third baseman. Multiple reports have suggested the Miami Marlins are scouting the Red Sox's farm system for a possible deal for veteran infielder Martin Prado. But Prado is due to make $28.5 million over the next two seasons. It seems doubtful the Red Sox would want to commit to him for that long.
There will be other third-base options, even if the Kansas City Royals hold on to Mike Moustakas, as they are indicating. The non-contending Chicago White Sox presumably will move Todd Frazier, who was batting only .215 with 16 homers and a .782 OPS entering play Friday night). But he's also one year removed from a 40-homer season and plays solid defense. And he's eligible for free agency in the offseason.
No offense to Marrero or Lin, but Frazier has a track record for the kind of offense the Red Sox still need out of third base. Unlike last season, when David Ortiz was still in the middle of the order and they outscored every American League team by more than 100 runs, the Sox can't afford to stash a defense-only third baseman such as Marrero in the No. 9 spot.
And while Farrell said recently that the Red Sox "can't turn away" from the spark Lin has provided, they also can't guarantee that it will continue. After all, Lin was called up from Double-A, where he has batted .236 with a .635 OPS in 202 games during the past three seasons. It's no wonder Farrell said several players have come up with an endearing term for the 23-year-old's 10-for-32, seven-walk start in the big leagues: "Linsanity."
"When you look at what the bottom of the order continues to do, Linnie and Deven, they're in the middle of starting rallies to continuing rallies to right in the mix of it," Farrell said. "Sometimes you don't want to disrupt a good thing, and clearly he and Deven and what they've done at third base has given us a lot of momentum."
No doubt. But the Red Sox also don't want to gamble that it's going to continue.
The trade deadline is still 23 days away. Sandoval's rehab assignment doesn't expire for another nine days. That's plenty of time for Dombrowski & Co. to see if Marrero and Lin can keep this up.
But it doesn't hurt to start dialing the White Sox either.