As the July 31st trade deadline approaches, fans throughout New England are desperate for information on who Boston GM Theo Epstein will try to acquire in order to improve the first-place Red Sox. Pitching is an obvious need, but with the current market so bereft of quality starters, Epstein might have to go in another direction. Two areas of strength, the lineup and the bullpen, could instead be upgraded to an elite level.
After last winter’s Adrian Gonzalez trade, the Sox’s farm system is fairly bottom-heavy with high upside teenagers who don’t command a presence in negotiations. Sean Coyle, Garin Cecchini, and Xander Bogaerts will one day lead Boston’s top prospects list, but as of now, they’re just high-ceiling infielders that won’t reach the Majors (if at all) until 2015. Jose Iglesias, Anthony Ranaudo, and Will Middlebrooks, however, would draw heavy interest from opposing clubs. Deemed untouchable in December, Iglesias has likely lost that veneer, and deservingly so, because of his utter lack of offense in AAA. Already armed with Gold Glove defense, the Cuban defector has shown no talent with the stick so far this year. He’s not hitting for contact or power, and he’s certainly not showing off his on-base skills. Still, Iglesias’ Ozzie Smith-like defense is what’s keeping his trade value afloat, and because of that he could still be a centerpiece in a blockbuster deal.
A good starting pitcher is exactly what Boston needs. The key word there is good. The current hurlers available, however, either fall into the category of mediocre or unobtainable. The Dodgers’ Hiroki Kuroda was a strong, realistic option who could help the Sox eat innings and keep the scoreboard free of crooked numbers, that is until a report came out that he wouldn’t accept a trade to the East Coast. Starters like Bruce Chen and Edwin Jackson would hardly be upgrades, while Ubaldo Jimenez and Wandy Rodriguez can only be acquired for a prohibitive return. That’s why Epstein should instead strengthen his offense and bullpen, which both lead the league in WAR. The market for right-handed relievers and corner outfielders is flush right now, so why wouldn’t Boston pounce? The rotation, although shaky, might work itself out. Jon Lester is set to be activated from the DL next week, and Clay Buchholz is still “kind of sore” but aiming for a mid-August return at the latest. Felix Doubrant, a relatively low-upside left-hander in AAA, could be called up if Kyle Weiland continues to flounder (although he fared decently in Baltimore on June 19, yielding just three runs in six innings). Heath Bell, Mike Adams, Kerry Wood, and Tyler Clippard lead the list of righties available from out of the bullpen. With the trade market so saturated with pitchers like these, there are bound to be a couple great bargains come July 31.
Jose Reyes, however, should be their main goal. Mets GM Sandy Alderson has told the press that Reyes is staying in New York, but because he’s a free agent at the end of the season, it won’t be for that long. New York’s financial trouble is well-documented, and it’s obvious that they can’t afford an extension that could total over $140 million, so why keep him? To appease the fans for a couple months? To receive the two draft picks when he signs elsewhere? Obviously out of the pennant race, Reyes provides the most value to the Mets as a trade chip. Shortstop is such a thin position in the Majors that nearly half of the competing teams would be interested. An offer of Iglesias and Ranaudo would hard to decline. Unloading the farm system for a rental player is a controversial move that would have analysts in a frenzy but fans in a state of excitement. Whether Boston would re-sign Reyes in the winter is another question, but having him for the last two months of the season is just the boost that they’d need to become the best team in baseball. Iglesias might turn into the next Wizard of Oz, and Ranaudo could end up pitching like Roy Halladay for 20 years, but it would all be worth it if the Sox won the World Series in 2011.