Though the 2013 World Series champions are mired in the American League East basement and could remain there by season’s end, they will be in prime position to emerge as a formidable World Series contender in 2015 because of their deep farm system, a group of talented core players and enviable financial flexibility to accompany an ownership group that is willing to spend to fill holes.
These factors are why the Red Sox could still be buyers and sellers this week as Thursday’s non-waiver trade deadline nears.
Boston landed promising pitching prospects Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree from San Francisco for free agent-to-be right-hander Jake Peavy last weekend. According to a myriad of media reports, outfielders Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp; relievers Andrew Miller, Craig Breslow, Edward Mujica and Burke Badenhop; shortstop Stephen Drew; swingman Felix Doubront and the premium prize, Jon Lester, could be traded.
Veteran closer Koji Uehara has also found his way into trade rumors, but it appears that the Red Sox would like to retain him next season, even if it takes extending a qualifying offer and paying him around $15 million for another year of service.
Boston’s deep farm system, which is now richer with Escobar and Hembree, is another reason why the club will be buyers and sellers this week. The Red Sox have an array of prospects they must place on the 40-man roster or risk losing in December’s Rule 5 Draft.
Top prospects like catcher Blake Swihart, right-hander Matt Barnes, infielder Sean Coyle, first baseman Travis Shaw, right-handed reliever Noe Ramirez, right-handed starter Luis Diaz and outfielder Keury De La Cruz are the most highly regarded names eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. The Sox will likely place some on the 40-man roster this offseason or include a few in trades this week or in August.
The Sox could also deal a few names already on the 40-man roster to free space for some of the aforementioned names. Catcher/first baseman Ryan Lavarnway, outfielders Alex Hassan and Bryce Brentz and right-handed reliever Alex Wilson are candidates fitting that description.
If they are not traded during the regular season, Drew, Gomes, Breslow and Badenhop will undoubtedly not be brought back. Lester could be in another team’s uniform next season as well. Doubront, Carp and Mujica will likely either be traded or non-tendered. That would open as many as 12 spots on the 40-man roster.
Miller is eligible for free agency and will get a generous raise, but the Red Sox might be willing to offer him an extension. Uehara, as mentioned, is someone the Red Sox would be willing to “overpay” on a one-year deal via a qualifying offer since there is no clear-cut closer to replace him.
Veteran catcher David Ross can also become a free agent, but Boston will likely bring him back for another season to mentor promising rookie Christian Vazquez, who has shown he is ready to claim the starting catcher’s role.
Off-season trades will also dictate how the 40-man roster is composed when December arrives. Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington will be aggressive on upgrading the lineup, and that could mean a significant package of prospects offered to the Miami Marlins for Giancarlo Stanton or even Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzski.
If they are not included in deals, current Red Sox youngsters Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Vazquez and Brock Holt along with pitchers Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster will occupy the 40-man roster. So will the versatile Mookie Betts; right-hander Brandon Workman; and top pitching prospect Anthony Ranaudo and the intriguing knuckleballer Steven Wright. All of those names are already part of the 40-man roster.
Two benefits of a deep and talented farm system is inexpensively filling holes at the Major League level internally, and using some prospects as trade chips to acquire difference-making players from outside the organization. Those factors will contribute to shaping what Cherington does through the end of August and this offseason leading to the Rule 5 Draft.