The All-Star break has arrived, the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is nearing and the Red Sox are 43-43 and 9.5 games out of first place in the American League East. Undoubtedly, they will be sellers, but not for the reason you might think.
Ravaged by a rash of injuries to key players, Boston has not fielded its anticipated active roster this year. The roster is stocked with an abundance of major league players, some of whom will be shipped elsewhere when injured players return.
Projected closer Andrew Bailey has not thrown a regular season pitch after undergoing surgery to repair an injured thumb sustained in spring training. Carl Crawford has been sidelined with elbow and wrist injuries while Jacoby Ellsbury has not played since April because of a separated shoulder.
Ellsbury, Crawford, Bailey, Dustin Pedroia (thumb) and Clay Buchholz (esophagitis) are core players who are currently on the disabled list. Exciting rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks has been out with a sore hamstring but has not landed on the DL.
Outfielder Ryan Sweeney, who has contributed when healthy, was activated from the DL last weekend while Scott Podsednik, who resurrected his career in a productive short stint with the Sox before suffering a groin injury, has recovered and was temporarily assigned to Triple-A Pawtucket.
Since the switch-hitting Daniel Nava and 24-year-old Ryan Kalish have options remaining, the Red Sox can send them to Pawtucket to clear spots on the active roster. Kalish was optioned to Pawtucket last weekend when Sweeney was activated.
Media reports indicate that the left-handed hitting Sweeney, who Boston acquired along with Bailey from Oakland last off-season, has drawn interest from teams in need of an outfielder. Podsednik is a trade candidate as well, especially since he has a track record as a leadoff hitter.
Ellsbury Due Back – Red Sox Have Options
Ellsbury is expected to be activated from the DL when Boston opens a three-game series at Tampa Bay on Friday (when Middlebrooks might rejoin the lineup). Crawford could rejoin the active roster when the Red Sox return to Fenway Park for a series against the White Sox that opens on July 16.
If Ellsbury and Crawford are healthy, Boston could carry both players along with fellow outfielders Cody Ross, Nava and Sweeney. If Sweeney is dealt, the Sox might go with four outfielders and Brent Lillibridge, who can play every infield and outfield spot.
Lillibridge and even fellow utility man Nick Punto are trade candidates with the recent call-up of 26-year-old Pedro Ciriaco, who is a plus defensive player at second, shortstop and third; features more speed than Punto and is better at the plate than the light-hitting Punto and Lillibridge.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington could also trade backup catcher Kelly Shoppach, who hits left-handers well and is a plus defensive backstop.
Ryan Lavarnway, a 24-year-old right-hander hitter who was Boston’s Co-Minor League Offensive Player of the Year last season, is raking at Pawtucket, and he has made tremendous strides on defense.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia is stronger as a left-handed hitter, so Lavarnway would be a better fit for Bobby Valentine’s lineup against left-handed pitchers.
The Sox also possess a plethora of attractive relievers. With Bailey set to return sometime in August, and left-hander Rich Hill likely to be back in late July or early August, moves must be made to clear roster spots.
Dealing someone like Sweeney or Shoppach alone would not yield a useful return, but packaging an outfielder and a reliever with Shoppach could bring back a player who can help the Sox this season. Former All-Star Mark Prior is pitching well at Pawtucket.
Potential Red Sox Pitching Moves
So are Junichi Tazawa and Clayton Mortensen, who have pitched effectively in stints with the Red Sox this season. Sooner or later, set-up man turned starter turned erratic Triple-A reliever Daniel Bard will seemingly regain his mechanics and composure, and warrant a return to the Red Sox bullpen.
Because of these names, and the aforementioned Bailey and Hill, the Red Sox have a wealth of relievers they can include in trades.
Many angry yet irrational Red Sox fans are calling for the team to “blow up” the underachieving team and send guys like Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Buchholz packing. That is not likely to happen, nor should it – at least not during the regular season.
Since Red Sox ownership wants to trim payroll to get near or below the $189 million luxury tax threshold by 2014, it would not be a surprise if Beckett is traded this off-season.
John Lackey, who will be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and is signed through 2014, will be back next season.
Lester, Buchholz and promising left-hander Felix Doubront are under affordable team control. Franklin Morales, who was once one of the top starting pitching prospects in the majors when he was in the Rockies organization but was transitioned into a reliever, has been a pleasant surprise in his short stint as a starter this season with the Red Sox.
He is just 26 and features a live arm, so the team could keep him in the rotation. Also, whether it be this summer or in the off-season, Boston is likely to pursue and acquire an ace-caliber starter because all of the previously mentioned arms are better suited for middle of the rotation spots.
All of this makes Beckett expendable, though he does have “10-5” trade rights and can dictate where or if he is traded.
As for this season – because Boston is just 2.5 games out in the wild card race, and players like Ellsbury, Crawford, Pedroia and Buchholz will be back soon – it makes no sense to give up on reaching the playoffs. The Red Sox need underperforming players like Lester, Beckett and Buchholz in the rotation; and Adrian Gonzalez and Pedroia in the lineup, to consistently produce.
Should the Mariners call and agree to a deal centered around Ellsbury and Lester for Felix Hernandez, then Cherington should definitely make a deal. Short term, Kalish could play center field and a year or two from now, top prospect Jackie Bradley will fit nicely into the Red Sox lineup as the starting center fielder (while Kalish can play right field).
Unless Cherington is able to land an ace (like Hernandez or Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels) or a formidable, AL East proven arm (like Cubs right-hander Matt Garza), he will probably not make a blockbuster deal. Yet it is clear he will be active on the trade market, finding takers for Boston’s excess outfielders and relievers, and perhaps dealing Shoppach to create an opening for Lavarnway.
The Red Sox will be sellers, but they will be looking to upgrade as well since they are very much in the wild card race. Remember, last year at this time, nobody anticipated that St. Louis would even reach the post season, yet they captured a World Series title.