By Tim Ehrens
This is it, Red Sox fans.
The trade deadline is three days away and although trades still happen after July 31, we'll know within the week how Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is feeling regarding the team being a buyer or a seller. Now, we've heard him say that the Sox will NEVER be TRUE sellers at the deadline, but with Jake Peavy already gone to the Giants, it remains to be seen what moves Cherington still has left.
We all know what the Red Sox have: A team that has underachieved to the point of hyperbole, a team that has lost so much this year that it almost doesn't do justice to the meaning of the word "disappointment." The offense has been horrid, the pitching has been mostly good but inconsistent as a whole, and the team is mired in last place of a division they typically have contended in. Even with signs the offense was picking up with a sweep of the Royals right out of the gate after the All-Star Break and then following it up with a 14-1 drubbing of the Blue Jays on July 21, the Sox have reverted to its light-hitting ways.
So what if the Sox become what Cherington says they will never be: True trade deadline sellers? What could the Sox get for some of their pieces? So, imagine that you're Cherington and you're in full sell-mode. Everything must go! Who would you sell? Let's start with some obvious ones:
- Koji Uehara: Hey, we all love Koji. The guy is so much fun to watch and was the absolute KEY to the Sox winning it all last year. If he doesn't solidify the closer role after Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey bit the dust with injuries, the Sox wouldn't have made it far in the playoffs, much less win it all. But the guy is 39 and definitely not in the team's long-term plans. Heck, he wasn't even the closer until midway through last season! World Series contenders would salivate at the prospect of picking up Uehara for their stretch run. As we've seen, Uehara has the goods when it comes to shutting it down in the playoffs, and for teams with closer issues he could be the missing piece they need to make a World Series push.
By my count, the Tigers — the contender with the most serious need for a closer — most recently made a move for one when they acquired Joakim Soria in a trade with the Rangers. Soria isn't the closer yet as Detroit is still giving those duties to Joe Nathan, who has struggled mightily this season but does carry with him a decent contract and money and the last thing the Tigers need is a disgruntled former closer in their bullpen. But he's on a short leash. Other than that, the main contenders who had closer issues this season, teams like the A's, the Angels, and the Orioles have either made trades to solidify their situations or have made due with replacements who have stepped up. I know the Sox already traded Peavy to the Giants (and pilfered some pretty good prospects in return), but I think that could possibly be a place for Koji to land. After Sergio Romo lost his job after an awful stretch earlier this year, Santiago Casilla has been holding down the job. How long before he loses it? Casilla hasn't exactly been automatic as a closer over the years, so maybe Uehara can find a home by the Bay.
- Andrew Miller: Pick a contender, any contender. Couldn't they all use some bullpen help? Especially 6-foot-7 lefty who is in the midst of a great season (2.45 ERA in 40.1 IP, a measly 0.94 WHIP and tiny 1.75 opponents average)? What about a team like the Brewers who is trying to stay in first place and make a playoff push? Or the Braves, who could use Miller to further solidify an already good bullpen? Or the Dodgers, whose back end of the bullpen has been struggling all season? Or the Cardinals, whose set-up man Jason Motte is coming off of Tommy John surgery? The only contender I could see not taking Miller would be the A's, whose bullpen is stacked with miniscule ERAs.
- Felix Doubront & Mike Carp: These guys have already asked to be traded, and why not? Doubront has declined from once-promising starter to unusable in the span of a couple of years. Carp is nice off the bench but what does he really give you on a day-to-day basis? Not much. It's a shame because I really thought Doubront was a very good No. 3 starter, at best, in the making last year when he showed some good flashes of potential. Now, the Sox would be smart to move him and get a mid-level prospect or a solid veteran player for him. I don't think you'll get much for Carp, maybe flip him for an outfielder who can actually hit some and call it a day.
- John Lackey: He seems like a longshot given his injury history and up-and-down career. But Lackey has pitched lights-out between last year and this year and will make the veteran minimum next year because of a special clause in his contract. The Sox are going to try and get as much value out of Lackey as possible, so maybe they keep him and see if his value jumps next year. But just a name to keep in mind.
- Jon Lester: This one has been talked so much, I don't know how much I can possibly add. I'm of the mind that if you trade Lester, you're going to get a stud in return. That much is apparent, as the Sox are rightfully asking for top dollar on the trade market for their ace who led them to a World Series title last season and is a proven winner in the postseason. Teams would throw a parade if they got Lester. It just matters what they're willing to give to get him since a move to get Lester says to your fanbase that you're all-in on this year, gunning for a championship. Lester has already said he would at least consider re-signing with Boston in the offseason if he is traded. So, if you're Ben Cherington, you trade Lester, scoop up an organization's top prospect (hopefully a power bat), then offer up big money (5 years, $125-150 mil?) in the offseason once he hits the market. This way, you have your cake and eat it, too.
If Cherington has already made up his mind that the team is going to be a seller at the trade deadline, I suggest he take a page from Danny Ainge's playbook: Stack chips. Just amass as many top prospects as you can, even if they're at one position. Look at what former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein is doing on the North Side of Chicago with the Cubs: He's stockpiling shortstop prospects, which he knows is a premium position, in order to better position his team for either another trade or see if he has a star on his hands. Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, and Addison Russell (the former A's top prospect whom Epstein got in the Jeff Samardzija trade), all shortstops and all Theo's to deal if he so chooses.
If you're the Red Sox, and this season is already a lost cause (which many fans feel it is), selling for more pieces is a smart play.
By Tim Ehrens
It's needless to say, but I'm going to say it anyway: This year has not gone the way Red Sox fans expected. After the magical run to last year's World Series title, one that few in Red Sox Nation even dreamed of coming off of the Bobby Valentine fiasco, the team is mired in last place in the American League East as of this writing, a half game back of the Rays at a dismal 40-51.
What has gone wrong? Well, in a word, the offense. The offense has been, well, offensive to this point. The stars haven't hit. The outfield has been horrendous. Stephen Drew? Don't even get me started....
It's the halfway point of the baseball season. After they end a four-game series with the White Sox this afternoon, the Red Sox will wrap up their pre-All Star Break schedule with a three-game series in Houston. Let's evaluate the team to this point in the 2014 season:
The infield: Xander Bogaerts has had quite the up-and-down season, hasn't he? Only one homer and a measly 5 RBI in April, a .327 BA and .897 OPS in a red-hot May and then a precipitous drop since then (.123/.340). Is the kid showing signs of simply not "getting" the big leagues, or is the talent still there? I tend to lean toward the latter, but fans have been impatient with the rookie. Stephen Drew is hitting .131 with a miniscule .170 OBP. Despite his light hitting, which we all saw last year (.253 for the season), he's not even getting on base and drawing walks. He's been dreadful at the plate and many fans are asking why his signing even happened. Dustin Pedroia, while hitting well and getting on base at a decent clip, has been slow to pump up his power and speed numbers this season with only four homers, 34 RBI and two, TWO steals, with six times being caught stealing. The former MVP has been consistently hitting in both home and away games this season, but Sox fans have expected more from him to this point. I think the biggest disappointment of this group has been Mike Napoli. Ten homers and 34 RBI is not going to cut it for a guy who hit 23 and 92 last season. He does, however, lead the club in OBP (.393) and is second only to David Ortiz in OPS (.834), but he needs to drive in more runs for a middle-of-the-order hitter.
The outfield: Where do I start with this group? I dare you to find a worse offensive group in the majors. If it wasn't for Brock Holt, this unit would be a complete lost cause. The kid has impressed this season in only 57 games, batting a stellar .311, stealing six bases and coming up in clutch situations like last night's walkoff hit against the White Sox. He's become a crucial utility player who can play third base, second base and might even play shortstop a bit in the second half. He's been playing in the outfield because, let's face it, the production has been terrible from this group but his offensive and defensive prowess is injecting some excitement into this team. I'm just going to lump the rest of the crew into one group: Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes. Betts just came up a week ago and has shown flashes of brilliance, so I will reserve judgment on him until later but what I've seen from him has been promising. Nava has been a revelation lately, posting the 15th best OBP (.385) in the AL over the past month. He's hit slightly better at home (.237) than on the road (.217) and his power numbers are almost nonexistent, but his penchant for getting on base will keep him in the lineup. Gomes has shown some pop (5 HR, 30 RBI) and remains a solid option off the bench and for the occasional spot start. JBJ, whose weak hitting (.217 BA) and lack of power has given fans fits all season, is showing signs of improving. His strikeout rate is falling and lately, he's been hitting better. He remains a defensive wizard which, frankly, keeps him in the lineup on a daily basis.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Shane Victorino. What a frustrating injury-filled year he's had. Sox fans are hoping to squeeze out some baseball from him before the year is over.
Designated hitter: His average probably should be higher than .259, but it's borderline to say that David Ortiz has been a disappointment thus far. His power numbers are right there in terms of what we've come to expect from Big Papi with 19 homers and 56 RBI. He's got 16 doubles, is drawing walks and has been consistently hitting all season long despite a light-hitting June (.223 BA).
Catchers: I'm going to reserve judgment on Christian Vazquez since he just got called up yesterday, but let me join the chorus to say that it was time for A.J. Pierzynski to go. His OBP was circling the drain, his power numbers weren't there, and he represented a gaping hole in that lineup. That counts as a failed signing. David Ross isn't doing much at all but he simply catches for Lester only at this point, so no one's expecting a ton from him. Sox fans are excited for what Vazquez has to offer.
Starting rotation: Other than the head-scratching season of Clay Buchholz, this unit has been fairly consistent. Jon Lester has been phenomenal. He is 11th in the majors and seventh in the AL in ERA (2.73), possesses a sterling 1.14 WHIP and is only 10 IP off of MLB-leader David Price. The guy's been a workhorse. His contract situation? That's another story. No complaints here, he's the true ace of the staff. John Lackey has picked up right where he left off last season, continuing his status as a solid No. 2 man. His 1.24 WHIP could use a little work, but with over 100 strikeouts at this point in the season, he's right on track. Buchholz's ERA was an atrocious 7.40 in May and since he's come back from injury, he's been slowly getting better ... and by better I mean hovering around a 4.00, which is still not very good. He's been a drag on this rotation and he needs to start showing the stuff he showed last year before he got injured. What does Jake Peavy (1-7) have to do to get a win? He's pitched fine at home, sporting a 3.59 ERA at Fenway compared to an ugly 6.00 on the road. Through it all, he's handled his trade talk with class and but he's arguably been the team's third best starter this season. The Sox have had a sort of revolving door at the fifth spot, featuring the likes of Rubby De La Rosa (currently occupying that role), Brandon Workman and Felix Doubront. I love what I'm seeing from De La Rosa recently (1.42 ERA at home, 1.04 overall WHIP in six starts), so hopefully he can keep it going. He looks to be a big part of the future for this unit.
The bullpen: Let's not even talk about Koji Uehara. he of the 1.27 ERA, 18-for-19 in save opportunities, 55 Ks to only six walks. All-Star. Done. The Red Sox have the 10th best bullpen ERA in all of baseball, so there's really not much to complain about with this unit. Burke Badenhop, Andrew Miller, Edward Mujica, Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow have pitched as a very solid group that is 10th among MLB bullpens in strikeouts, as well.
The offense has been the one overall aspect of the Sox that has kept them down this season. The pitching, for the most part, has been fine, but their inability to score runs has been the one through-line in this disappointing season. The good news? The AL East is terribly mediocre this season, so there's at least a sliver of hope to move up and snag a Wild Card spot. With the youth movement under way at Fenway Park and the trade deadline looming, it remains to be seen whether this team will be sold off for future pieces or if Ben Cherington decides to fight and claw for a playoff spot.
But is it too late?
What's going on with the rotation? At the beginning of the season, we heard that the Sox starters were very good and the organization had plenty of depth at the lower levels. After a couple months of play, all five starters have pitch 5 games with no one else receiving as much as a spot start.
In past years, I would have thought this to be a wonderful scenario...not this year. Buchholz hasn't been on all year, Doubront is headed to the DL, and Peavy has had more downs than ups this year. The only bright spot in this sub-par rotation has been Lester. He has been the only consistently good pitcher this year. With Doubront on the DL and Buchholz's ineffectiveness, the Sox could be looking for two replacements soon.
I would like the see Workman get the first shot at filling in. He was effective late last year before going back to the pen. His poor outings in Pawtucket would make it hard to justify bringing him back. He needs to get back on track before getting another crack at the rotation in Boston.
I would like to see Ranaudo and Barnes brought up before the summer. Ranaudo has been looking better with every start and could be ready to make the jump to the majors in very little time. Barnes struggled after being promoted to AAA last season and was hurt at the beginning of this season. He seems to be back at full strength now and with a few more starts, could be right behind Ranaudo.
Both of these guys at least deserve a chance to show what they can do. The back end of the bullpen is in shambles and needs new life. I think these guys could light that spark and show the fans what the future holds. For the past few years, we have all heard about the pitching prospects the Sox have...why not use them??
Just a few writers from Boston passionate about their sport's teams. Feel free to comment and leave your own opinion. I hope you enjoy!