Now that a second wild card offers another route to October baseball, more Major League teams remain in contention later into the season. Mathematically, that is. This creates a dilemma for general managers of teams that enter the All-Star break under .500. They must determine whether to emerge as buyers or sellers for the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline and even the August 31 deadline where players must pass through the waiver process.
Aside from the 11-run outburst, offense has been sluggish for the defending World Series champions. The Red Sox would benefit from a right-handed hitting outfielder like Alex Rios, but that would cost the club a top prospect. Is it worth sacrificing a potential long-term roster piece for a veteran in a season that would require a quick turnaround to even reach the playoffs as a wild card? That is another question Cherington must pose.
Rios would undoubtedly upgrade a Red Sox lineup that has scratched and clawed to score runs this season. He is batting .302 with four home runs, 39 RBI, 20 doubles and eight triples. Now 33, Rios is signed through the season and has a $13.5 million team option or a $1 million buyout for 2015. Boston’s comfortable payroll flexibility for next year and beyond would allow the club to exercise that option.
Cherington has told the media in recent days that the Red Sox are exploring ways to bolster the lineup, which indicates they are not giving up on fighting for a playoff spot in the second half. Media reports also illustrate that they will not trade rotation ace Jon Lester or All-Star closer Koji Uehara since they will strive to bring both back both pitchers next season.
Another question Cherington must answer is whether to deal or keep right-handed starting pitcher Jake Peavy. The 33-year-old Peavy allowed three runs and six hits over seven innings in a hard luck loss at Houston on Saturday. He has posted three consecutive quality starts and is showing signs of progress in a season that has seen him log a 1-8 record and a 4.59 ERA.
Currently, the Red Sox rotation include Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Peavy and Rubby De La Rosa. The club has Brandon Workman at Triple-A Pawtucket, where quality starting pitching prospects like Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo and Steven Wright also reside.
Cherington could decide that the veteran trio of Lester, Lackey and Buchholz coupled with young and promising arms like De La Rosa and Workman (who helped the Red Sox last season and has pitched respectably in 2014) would compose a formidable rotation for the second half. Or he could decide that the return for Peavy would not justify sacrificing his veteran presence in the back of the rotation.
Peavy is a free agent at season’s end, and the Red Sox do not plan to bring him back or extend a qualifying offer because of the aforementioned pitching depth. Unless an interested team like St. Louis would offer an enticing prospect or veteran bat for Peavy, he could remain in Boston as long as the club has a successful start of the second half.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported on Sunday that the Red Sox have received calls on first baseman Mike Napoli, who could also serve as a DH. The 32-year-old Napoli signed a two-year, $32 million contract extension last offseason. As Cafardo observed, Napoli’s productive bat (.265, 10 home runs, 34 RBI, .818 OPS) on a team that has experienced trouble scoring runs will likely ensure that he stays in Boston.
Even if the Red Sox rally for a prolonged winning streak after the All-Star break, they could still unload some expendable pieces like right-handed hitting outfielder Jonny Gomes and left-handed reliever Craig Breslow as well as Peavy.
Though Boston would still benefit from an outfield bat, the switch-hitting Daniel Nava has heated up in recent weeks as has Jackie Bradley Jr. Shane Victorino is in the midst of another rehab assignment and trying to overcome back and hamstring issues. Veteran right-handed hitting outfielder Andres Torres could get a call from Pawtucket as well. These factors make Gomes, who is signed through this season, expendable.
The Red Sox have fellow left-handers Andrew Miller and Felix Doubront in the bullpen, and Breslow has not been as effective this year as he was in 2013. Yet he has appeal to contending clubs searching for a left-handed relief arm.
Earlier this week, the Red Sox unloaded veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who was providing limited offense and was (according to media reports) a disruption in the clubhouse. The team called up 23-year-old Christian Vazquez, who is highly respected for his game calling, strong and accurate throwing arm and overall defense and leadership. After collecting two hits (including this third double) and two RBI on Sunday, Vazquez is 5-for-11 (.455) with a 1.144 OPS in his first week in the majors.
An additional question Cherington will consider over the All-Star break is what to do with Stephen Drew. The left-handed hitting shortstop with the stellar glove is batting just .155. Xander Bogaerts, the 21-year-old phenom who contributed to Boston’s World Series run last October, has struggled at the plate since shifting from shortstop to third base after Drew was signed in June.
Drew will become a free agent once more after the season, and the Red Sox have no intention to retain him. It is feasible to believe that Boston can rally in the second half without Drew, and with Bogaerts and Brock Holt on the right side of the infield.
When the Red Sox return from the All-Star break to open a three-game series against Kansas City at Fenway Park on Friday, they will have 67 games to make up an eight-game deficit in the wild card race, or an eight or nine-game hole in the American League East.
That is ample time to stage a comeback, and Boston has the rotation and bullpen to shut down opposing lineups. What it needs is better production from Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Napoli as well as more significant contributions from the young bats like Bradley, Bogaerts and even Mookie Betts.
Acquiring a veteran like Rios would bolster the middle of the lineup. Would bringing him aboard provide the missing piece and perhaps jump start the offense? It is yet another question Cherington must ponder over the All-Star break.