The Major League Baseball trade deadline is still over one month away (July 31), with many teams looking to either enhance or dismantle their current roster. Traditionally the Boston Red Sox have been active participants in player trades, in most cases adding talent to their team in an effort to make a playoff run. There have been instances (2012) when the organization blew up their roster in a blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers (Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez) designed to free up a glut of large contracts for future financial flexibility.
Should the Red Sox be buyers or sellers in 2014? Here are three key criteria that must be evaluated in order to determine the best course of action.
The first criteria to consider is where the team is in the standings and how far they are out of a playoff berth. Heading into weekend play, Boston possess a 34-39 record and sit six and one-half games out of first place in the Eastern Division. From a wild card perspective, the Red Sox are presently five games out of a wild card spot. Upon closer inspection, the team would have to leapfrog seven teams to secure a wild card berth and have three division foes between themselves and first place.
Future Contracts (free agents)
Jon Lester is the team’s ace, despite his won-loss record of 8-7. Much attention has been placed on contract negotiations between the veteran lefty and the Sox front office; with Lester seemingly underwhelmed with offers made to date. As a likely free agent, Lester has many recent free agent pitchers to benchmark his salary demands against, as the top five starting pitchers average $24 million in salary in and eight pitchers in total exceed $20 million in salary for 2014. The issue here is the Sox have yet to approach an annual salary close to $20 million, making his free agency very likely.
Despite his contractual uncertainty, it is hard to imagine the Sox trading their most reliable pitcher, especially where they can still bid for his services once he hits the open market.With young pitchers awaiting their chance, I do not see Boston acquiring a prominent pitcher before the trade deadline as a likely option.
David Ortiz is on borrowed time. At 38-years old, a steep decline for “Big Papi” has been projected for years. To date, father time has been kept at bay; and his market appeal is unmatched. If anything, the Sox would look to add to the offense to appease their slugger while the team needs to maximise the remaining time Ortiz has. With little protection in the lineup for lengthy stretches, the fact that any team was willing to pitch to him came as a big surprise.
Putting it mildly, the Red Sox offense has struggled most of the 2014 season. Clearly if the team wants to make enhancements, a move would likely happen with an outfielder; with the current Boston roster possessing one of the most inept offenses in recent history. The odd signing of Stephen Drew makes an infield acquisition unlikely. If the Sox decide that a playoff run is not in the cards, there is not much that other teams would covet in this area.
Additionally, A.J. Pierzynski has been solid, but it is clear the polarizing catcher is not long for Boston. With several young prospects ready to take the next step to MLB action, a continued fledgling Sox team would likely look for takers for the left-handed hitting catcher’s services. Underperforming youngsters could be considered trade chips for prospective teams; with Will Middlebrooks and Clay Buchholz being two prominent names who’s time in Boston may be nearing an end. For Middlebrooks, his inability to seize the third base position led to Drew’s costly return. As for Buchholz, the pitcher has talent but is frail both physically and mentally for his tenure to continue much longer. Whether any team would want to obtain either struggling player is a stretch at this point.
If Boston were to jettison prominent players this season it would likely be with the starting rotation, where key veterans John Lackey and Jake Peavy are on short contracts and are not in the team future plans; making their exodus a strong possibility.
As for interest from other teams, there are only a couple of players (Lackey, Peavy, Pierzynski) who are performing and might be potential trade chips. Given that fact, I would expect the Red Sox to maintain their roster core and look to add a mid-level veteran outfielder (Cody Ross, Marlon Byrd) to bolster the offense. In order to pry such a player away, a player the likes of Middlebrooks could be included in a package to obtain said players.
Despite being back in the standings, the Red Sox are one hot run away from being deeper into the playoff mix. With that in mind, along with the strong veteran core I would expect the team to obtain a moderate player via trade; one that will not upset the delicate roster chemistry balance but not someone who would be a game-changer for the 2014 season and beyond.
Defending champions struggle in the year following a title; mainly because the hinger present during their championship run is lacking in year two. Mainly though the lack of success repeating as champions is directly linked to the players’ performances year to year. The magic that captured the Red Sox players and fans helped supplement their talent to propel them to a title. With key players injured (Victorino), departed (Ellsbury) or under-performing (Nava, Pedroia), only a talent infusion would help. A trade is not a guarantee of another playoff run. Even with a player acquisition, much would have to happen for the Sox to catapult several teams and reach the postseason.
Red Sox fans have traditionally expected the team to be all in each season and do whatever is necessary to increase their chances to win a title. In 2014, that will again be the case. Unfortunately, with what may be available for talent, do not expect a magical turnaround of the team’s performance. Do they have enough talent to contend, yes. But will the Red Sox be able to pull it all together for another title run in ’14? We will have to stay tuned to find out. One thing is for sure, the Red Sox will certainly keep it interesting.
Scott Duhaime is a passionate fan of the Boston Red Sox and avid follower of Major League Baseball for over 30 years. He is the founder and Senior Contributor of Banner Day Boston and is host of Banner Day Boston Radio .