The Red Sox will never admit it, but nobody truly expected Boston to compete in 2013. This organization is building for 2014 and beyond. Young players like Xander Bogaerts, Bryce Brentz, Jackie Bradley, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo, and maybe even Jose Iglesias are expected to form the nucleus of that next championship contender.
The bridge to this next generation was supposed to be a slew of veteran, feel-good, easy-to-root-for players like Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, and Ryan Dempster. Stephen Drew and Mike Napoli were brought in on one-year contracts. Critics said Boston overpaid for these players, but the Red Sox could afford to do that. The key was the short length of the contracts. No more seven- or eight-year deals like the ones given to Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.
The idea was to keep the fans happy with a competitive, fun product on the field while the youngsters were allowed a bit more seasoning at the minor league level. Well, competitive they have been. So much so that they have been flirting with being 20 games over .500 for the past few weeks and have strung together a long stretch of being in first place in the AL East.
Now the question facing the Red Sox is do they divert from the plan and try to make a big splash at the trade deadline. Do they give up any of their young, potentially star-studded talent in order to go out and get a Cliff Lee, Alex Rios, or even Glen Perkins in order to try and win in 2013?
My short answer is no. Here is my vision for the future. I see an infield of Xander Bogaerts, Garin Cecchini, Dustin Pedroia, and Will Middlebrooks (at first base). I see an outfield of Jackie Bradley, Bryce Brentz, and Victorino (short-term). I see a starting pitching staff that will include Webster, Ranaudo, and De La Rosa (although I’d prefer him as my closer). Henry Owens and Trey Ball should only be a couple years behind them.
If the Sox can make a trade without touching those players, then go for it. But that is my “untouchables” list. If the Sox can find some takers for Jon Lester, Iglesias, or some of the other peripheral talent in the minors, then let’s take a look at who is out there:
Cliff Lee— Seems like his name is always on the trade market. No doubt about it he is bona fide ace material. Lee will be 35 years old in August. He is owed $25 million each of the next two seasons with a $27.5 million vesting option in 2016 if he pitches 400 innings combined in 2014 and 2015 (a pretty safe bet). These are the kind of albatross contracts the Red Sox rid themselves of with last year’s blockbuster deal with the Dodgers. It would be a mistake to dive back in again. Lee is a great pitcher, but the cost would likely be too steep and a drop off in performance is imminent. I also have doubts about his success in the postseason and his ability to pitch in Fenway (4.02 ERA in 40 innings pitched).
Michael Young— Young would be a pure rental and would be brought in to shore up their third base situation. Third base wouldn’t be a “situation” if Will Middlebrooks had continued to build off his promising rookie campaign of 2012. We all know how that has turned out. Now 36 years old, Young has zero pop in his bat and, once a consistent .300 hitter, has seen his average drop in recent years. The addition of Young would mean you’ve seen the last of Iglesias this year. That is if Iglesias were not included in the deal. I’m not high on Iglesias, but the Red Sox could do better.
Jake Peavy— I’ve always loved Peavy. Like Lee, he is an ultra-competitor. The problem is he cannot stay healthy. He is only 32, however, and has a reasonable contract that runs through 2015. He’s also only pitched twice in the post-season in his twelve-year career. The Red Sox have proven to have a good working relationship with the White Sox (see Kevin Youkilis and Matt Thornton) so I could see this happening.
Alex Rios— For that very reason, I could also see Alex Rios in a Red Sox uniform. Shane Victorino just doesn’t look like he’ll be healthy the rest of this season. If it’s not his back, it’s his hamstring. Rios could slide right into right field and is a 20 home run- 20 stolen base threat. I just see more glaring needs on the pitching side and at third base to see the Red Sox spend on an outfielder.
Jesse Crain— See Alex Rios and Jake Peavy. The White Sox will likely be having a fire sale in the coming weeks. With the losses of Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, the Red Sox once-deep bullpen is now in dire straits. Crain is the best available middle reliever, but is coming off an injury. Do you want to give up young talent for a set-up man who may be falling victim to the heavy workload he has endured the last few seasons?
Yovani Gallardo— The Red Sox wouldn’t even have to be considering trading for a starting pitcher if Clay Buchholz could just get back on the mound. Would it surprise anyone if Buchholz doesn’t even pitch another inning for Boston this year? Jon Lester has also been up-and-down this year and no one knows which Lester will take the mound. The Lester from the first nine starts (7-2, 2.72 ERA) of 2013 seems a distant memory. Lester has a 6.27 ERA over his last eleven starts and recent history might be showing that that is closer to what Lester has now become. Gallardo came up around the same time as Tim Lincecum and was once considered one of the bright young pitching prospects. He has struck out 200 or more batters each of the last four seasons, but has struggled with his control the last two seasons. He is only 27, but I have doubts about his mental toughness and his ability to pitch in a big market.
Francisco Rodriguez— Like the White Sox, I expect to Brewers to be big sellers. In fact, I think the Brewers may have the biggest impact on the pennant races. You are forgiven if you thought K-Rod was out of baseball. He flamed out with the Mets a few years ago, but has re-emerged in Milwaukee. It’s hard to believe he is only 32 years old. He once had 62 saves in a single season with the Angels in 2008. Again, I have my doubts as to how effective he would be in Boston. Let someone else take the chance.
Mike Gonzalez— I would like to bring Gonzalez back to Boston for no other reason than it would be a good story. Gonzalez was in the Red Sox farm system but never got to pitch for Boston before being traded in 2003 to Pittsburgh for Jeff Suppan and, coincidentally, Brandon Lyon (who is now back with the Red Sox organization). That trade should serve as a warning to the Red Sox. Suppan was the hot commodity at the trade deadline that year, but was a disappointment (3-4, 5.57 ERA after going 10-7 with a 3.57 ERA with Pittsburgh) with the Red Sox. If I were writing back then, I would have bashed the deal right away. Gonzalez went on to save 24 games in 2006 for the Pirates. The Matt Thornton deal makes acquiring Gonzalez redundant.
Aramis Ramirez— Now we’ve come to the one guy I’d really covet. Heck, who wouldn’t like to see another power-hitting Ramirez wearing a Red Sox uniform again? He has a bum knee which hasn’t allowed him to play full-time this year. But that’s fine. That would allow Iglesias to get his playing time. Ramirez is a proven run-producer and his swing is perfectly suited for Fenway. He has consistently batted cleanup for the Brew-crew. Who’s ready for Ortiz-Ramirez II?
Matt Garza— Never liked him. Go spit on someone else’s mound.
Bud Norris— You really want the best pitcher on the Houston Astros staff? Really?
Glen Perkins— Twins want too much for their closer who has a very team-friendly contract.
Steve Cishek— It would be a coming home for the Falmouth, Massachusetts native. The cash-strapped Marlins would be unlikely to deal their closer, however, since he is under team control until 2018.
Matt Thornton— Too late to say, “Don’t do it,” eh?