At 48-49, it is difficult to classify the Red Sox as a legitimate post-season threat. Sure, they are just four games out in the wild card race with 64 games remaining after Tuesday’s night clash with the Rangers, but with their inconsistent starting pitching, it is hard to envision this ballclub embarking on an extended winning streak.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington is undoubtedly keeping this in mind. He knows that his team has endured losing skids of five games three times and four games twice. Though the Red Sox lineup has seen the recent returns of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford and Dustin Pedroia from the disabled list, putrid starting pitching by former top of the rotation arms Josh Beckett and Jon Lester has put the team in an early hole many times this season. Often, the Red Sox have been unable to score enough to win, even though they lead the majors in runs.
Will The Red Sox Make a Move?
As the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline draws nearer, Cherington has a tough decision to make. Should the Red Sox trade top prospects to get a difference-making starter (like Cubs right-hander Matt Garza, Marlins right-hander Josh Johnson or even Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels), or is it best to keep the young players, recognize that the team is not just one pitcher away from contending for the World Series and focus on 2013?
If the Red Sox finish their six-game road trip in Texas and New York with, say, a 1-5 record, likely they will be reluctant to deal prospects for a difference-making starting pitcher, unless it is someone like Garza or Johnson, both of whom are in their late 20s and under team control for 2013.
Should the Red Sox take two out of three from the Rangers and the Yankees – and remove the sour taste left from being swept by the Blue Jays at Fenway Park and getting pounded at Texas, 9-1 on Monday – Cherington might feel that acquiring an arm is worthwhile for this season.
Red Sox Prospects That Could be Traded
The Red Sox farm system is deep and talented. Will Middlebrooks, a 23-year-old third baseman, is already entrenched in Boston. He would not be a part of any trade.
Blue-chip prospects like center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr (currently at Double-A Portland), right-handed starting pitcher Matt Barnes (who is on the mound tonight at advanced Single-A Salem), shortstop Xander Bogaerts (Barnes’ teammate at Salem and a shortstop who has drawn comparisons to Hanley Ramirez) and catcher Blake Swihart (who is at Single-A Greenville and is considered Boston’s catcher of the future) are going nowhere, unless the Mariners ask for one or two in a Felix Hernandez deal.
The Red Sox do have several prospects who could be used as trade chips. Shortstop phenom Jose Iglesias, who is still just 22, and 24-year-old power-hitting catcher Ryan Lavarnway will likely join the Red Sox when rosters expand on September 1. They could also find themselves in a trade package for a starting pitcher.
Bryce Brentz, who was Boston’s Co-Offensive Minor League Player of the Year last season (with Lavarnway, is a right fielder at Double-A Portland who would interest other teams, as would third baseman Garin Cecchini, power-hitting left fielder Brandon Jacobs, corner infielder Travis Shaw and speedy outfielder Keury De La Cruz, all of whom are in Single-A.
Alex Wilson, a 25-year-old right-hander at Triple-A Pawtucket who was a second round pick out of Texas A&M in 2009, is on the cusp of joining the Red Sox, but he would have appeal to a team that wants a potential closer.
It a feasible to project that the Red Sox would also be open to trading former closer-in-waiting Daniel Bard, who struggled with his transition to the Red Sox rotation and is working on his mechanics out of the Pawtucket bullpen.
Henry Owens, a hard-throwing, 20-year-old left-hander who was a supplemental first round pick out of high school last year; and 23-year-old right-hander Brandon Workman, who is having an impressive season at Salem, are other Red Sox prospects who can be included in a package for a starting pitcher.
Of course, the player who is arguably Boston’s best trade chip is 28-year-old left-hander Jon Lester, who has struggled this season and gave up a career-high 11 runs in his last outing. Dealing Lester would signal that the Red Sox do not think they have what it takes to play deep into October, so it would make little sense to add a top prospect or two in a package deal if the team is focusing on 2013 and beyond.