The Expendables: Boston's Most Tradable Prospects

What do Josh Beckett, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Lowell and Dustin Pedroia all have in common?

With Major League Baseball’s All Star weekend just around the corner, you may guess that this is the list of players who will represent the Red Sox at this season’s mid-summer classic festivities. You, however, would be incorrect. Instead, those listed above -- along with Jeremy Hermida, Jed Lowrie and Junichi Tazawa -- collectively comprise one of the most talented and accolade-laden disabled lists in all of baseball.

As the non-waiver trade deadline looms, now is the time for front office executives to assess their respective teams in an attempt to decide whether it’s in the organization’s best interest to buy or sell come July 31st. If it is in fact the latter, then it becomes a matter of addressing the product on the field, choosing the areas in need of improvement and ultimately finding the best ‘seller’ to pair needs with.

The dilemma for Boston is not whether they plan to buy or sell -- as one of the hottest teams in baseball over the past couple of months, it’s a safe bet that they assume a buyer’s position -- the problem is that with such a depleted team for so much of the season, deciphering the prominently problematic areas of the depth chart remains a relatively grey area as the complete product has yet to be seen in its utmost entirety.

And while it would be ignorant to believe that Boston is without any semblance of a plan in regards to the trade deadline, many outside factors remain unrealized, and the rest of the baseball market may not be as sure as the Red Sox are when it comes to self-proclaiming a buyer or seller status.

So, instead of extensively exploring the ranks of Major League Baseball’s trade-bait candidates, a good portion of the immediate future for Fenway’s front office may be used on deciding which individuals currently in the system are the most expendable, and also, which will offer the greatest return.

For now, we focus on the younger talent within the organization.

The foundation of the Red Sox’s starting rotation appears to be solidified for the foreseeable future. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and inevitably, Clay Buchholz, are contractually locked up for at least the next few years. The stability of the rotation belittles the value of some of the near-ready pitching prospects in Boston’s system as there is little to no room for them at the major league level anytime soon.

Then again, as they say, one man's waste is another man's treasure.

Sure, the Red Sox may not have a glaring need for the services of some of their more seasoned pitching prospects, but that doesn’t change the fact that the majority of the remaining buyers will more than likely be seeking pitching help for the stretch run. Even those sellers who will choose the rebuilding road come deadline time will inevitably be seeking younger, less developmentally demanding, pitching prospects to build around.

Boston’s top prospect, Casey Kelly, a starting pitcher, is just twenty years of age. Stolmy Pimentel, the organization’s number seven rated prospect (according to SoxProspects.com), is also a twenty year-old starting pitcher with an immense upside. By the time the Red Sox have the necessity to fill vacated spots in the starting rotation, both of these pitchers should be ready to help the major league club.

However, there are five other starting pitchers in Boston’s top twenty prospects, all of whom are twenty-three years of age or older -- with the exception of Felix Doubront, who turns twenty-three in October.

This log-jam of young, but still MLB-ready, starting pitchers places the Red Sox in an advantageous position come time to negotiate any potential trades; they have a surplus of prospect trade chips at one of the most highly sought-after positions in major league baseball. Solid young starting pitching is tough to develop, so when you have the chance acquire it from a team that has done such a tremendous job of developing it themselves, it’s not something to be taken lightly. A package of a couple young pitchers looks that much more enticing when they are coming from an organization that has produced the likes of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz to build a rotation around in recent years.

With that in mind, the most expendable starting pitching prospects in the Red Sox’s system would seem to be Felix Doubront, Michael Bowden and either Kyle Weiland or Alex Wilson.

Felix Doubront may be the most enticing of those four. Not only is Doubront the youngest of the group, but he may be the most polished at this stage in his development. In other words, he may be the only one of the four with the capability of winning a rotation spot right now, and at the same time, he still offers arguably the highest upside. Doubront made his major league debut with the Red Sox on June 18th, notching his first career victory in a 10-6 win against the Dodgers at Fenway Park. Doubront’s final line -- three earned runs in five innings of work -- may not seem all that impressive at first glance, but the young southpaw made a very positive impression overall in his first stint with the major league club.

Some have suggested that the spot start awarded to Doubront may have been an effort to showcase his ability to pitch at the next level to potential suitors. While that may in fact be the case, it is unlikely that Boston ends up moving Doubront when it’s all said and done.

The reason someone such as Doubront, who is held in such high regard by Red Sox management, would ever be showcased is in the event that the club decided it was necessary to upgrade at a position of higher profile. For instance, in the event that David Ortiz remained in a prolonged slump at the designated hitter position, Doubront could have served as a centerpiece in a package bringing over someone like, say, the Milwaukee BrewersPrince Fielder.

However, now that Ortiz has reaffirmed his status as one of the game’s most feared power hitters, the Red Sox are without a truly prominent hole at any of the ‘glamour’ positions, so to speak. Instead, the Red Sox, thanks to a plethora of injuries during the course of the season, will likely shift their focus towards adding quality depth on the bench -- that, and some bullpen relief.

Typically, acquiring the likes of a middle reliever or utility infielder requires substantially less than what a marquee starting pitcher or power hitter would command on the trade market.

Michael Bowden may end up being the man on the move out of the aforementioned pitchers in this scenario.

Bowden has seen his fair share of both ups and downs in his time with the Red Sox. He has been one of the highest rated prospects in the system and has pitched successfully during brief stints at the major league level, but he's also struggled at times. At twenty-three years of age, Bowden's ceiling is gradually declining from where it once was thought to be, but he still has the sort of stuff that could translate well on a consistent basis in the MLB.

Pitching isn’t the only position in Boston’s system that has noticeable depth, and subsequently, resources.

Current outfielders Mike Cameron and J.D. Drew are past their glory years, there’s no denying that, but the Red Sox’s organization has plenty of options at outfield when it comes to the ranks of the farm system. Similarly to the starting pitching position, five of the current top twenty rated prospects in Boston are outfielders. Ryan Westmoreland, Ryan Kalish, Josh Reddick, Reymond Fuentes and Che-Hsuan Lin are all outfield prospects at, or under the age of twenty-two.

It’s safe to say that Westmoreland, Fuentes and Lin are all off-limits in any trade discussions -- especially considering the lack of impact players rumored in relation to the Red Sox’s trade deadline plans -- however, Reddick and Kalish are different stories.

Kalish, now in Pawtucket, has shot up the ladder of the Red Sox’s system recently -- as high as the second rated prospect overall, depending on who you ask. An outfielder of his caliber, and still at the ripe age of twenty-two, is more than likely in the same ‘untouchable’ type category as someone like Doubront -- which makes Reddick an intriguing trade candidate.

Much like Michael Bowden, Reddick has flashed the ability to dominate the higher ranks of the minor leagues and has seen sufficient time at the major league level, but has yet to show the ability to rise above the ranks of his fellow outfield prospects in his still-young career. Reddick’s plate discipline -- twenty-three strikeouts to only three walks with Boston -- make him less likely to ultimately stick within the confines of the organization. Yet, the raw power and athleticism shown during his time with the team could make him an appealing portion in a package of prospects that could land the Red Sox the type of deadline addition they need in order to separate themselves from the rest of the American League.

Depth at a particular position doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it be the area of the system from which the Red Sox exploit during trade talks -- for instance, first baseman Lars Anderson is also a name that could be tossed around in the upcoming weeks -- but it certainly seems plausible in regards to Boston given the abnormally deep nature of their pitching and outfield positions throughout the system as a whole.

Again, while it remains unlikely that the Red Sox make a blockbuster-type deal come the deadline, the fact of the matter is that it remains of near-unanimous opinion that Boston has its areas in need of addressing -- especially while they compete with the likes of the American League's East division.

However, whether it be blockbuster or smaller-scaled, the Red Sox, again thanks to a fruitful farm system, find themselves in an advantageous position as the always important trade deadline looms.

 

 

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