This week, my colleagues took an in-depth look at a number of the players who are available on the trade market leading up to next week's deadline. Personally, I suspect that the most likely outcome—barring any unforeseen injuries or other strange happenings—is that the Sox stand pat.
My reasons? See after the jump.
For the most part, I tend to view Theo as a troubleshooter: he tries to correct problems in a manner that will lead to a better team. However, I think his problem-solving ability is constrained by several factors.
- Financial: The Red Sox are already pretty close to their expected financial outlays for 2011, and any new investments will almost certainly put them in the luxury tax bracket, where their repeated visits will stick them with an even higher rate than before. As much as the Sox conceivably have the money to spend, they are probably reluctant to do so.
- Building from within: The argument of the "bridge year" in 2010 was that Theo Epstein was trying to make a long-term transition from the acquisition of high-priced free agents to a system where more players are promoted from within. The results on both fronts have been decidedly mixed—Crawford has woefully underperformed, and we've only seen smatterings of players from the minor league system make their way up to Fenway, and hardly any of them (not named Bard or Buchholz) has managed to stick around for any substantial length of time. However, I believe the fundamental logic is sound, and that there are enough worthwhile prospects at the upper levels of the system to provide backups where needed. Which brings us to the next issue:
- Where do we put them? None of the players we'd be willing to part with are tradeable. J. D. Drew's $14 million per year price tag makes him an albatross. Trading John Lackey would require a bigger miracle than when the Jays traded Vernon Wells to the Angels. Carl Crawford has underperformed, but let's save that for another day. And the only bullpen guy who should really be tossed outright—hi, Bobby Jenks—is currently on the DL and therefore can't be traded. So that means that we'll have to option someone back down to Pawtucket or come up with some other unfortunate move to bring someone new on board. (I could see Andrew Miller being sent back down for a random starter, but that's about it.)
- Past history. Theo's Deadline Day trades have only really paid off when there was a serious clubhouse chemistry issue—think of the 2004 Nomar Garciaparra trade, and the 2008 trade for Jason Bay. Most of the other late trades have ranged from unmemorable to downright disastrous: the less said about Eric "My Last Name Should Be Perdue" Gagné the better. I'm not one to say that clubhouse chemistry is the most important element of success, but it is also a delicate balance to strike. At this point in time, the Sox are withstanding almost the same onslaught of injuries they suffered in 2010, but with much better resilience than we would have expected after last year's team stumbled its way out of the playoffs. Some of that has to be due to a change in attitude—perhaps the reemergence of David Ortiz and Josh Beckett as dominant players and the addition of Adrian Gonzalez has led to a "can-do" spirit in the clubhouse. I'm not going to psychoanalyze it too deeply, and frankly I don't care. What I am concerned about is that the Sox should be leery of bringing in a guy who will disrupt the balance. I want, if anything, a player in the Billy Wagner mode—hungry enough to compete, but wise enough to not try to be the center of attention.
- Waiting in the wings: If we look at the current state of the Sox, they currently have the best record in the AL by 2 games over the Yankees. They just recently got back Carl Crawford, while Gonzo is in the middle of a slump. Yamaico Navarro is the backup infielder, and we have Josh Reddick on fire. Jon Lester and Buchholz are both on the DL, as is the guy who was supposed to be the Sox's other go-to eighth-inning guy. (Getting Jenks back, though, doesn't look like as big a gain as it should.) Jed Lowrie is apparently off fighting the Sith for all we've heard. So, this is one of those cases where the players waiting in the wings—or, in this case, the disabled list—have the potential to be just as critical players going forward as anyone the Sox might get in a trade.
Unless the plan is to DFA John Lackey with three-plus years remaining on his contract, the Sox are playing with fire by trying to make a big splash at the trade deadline. It would be like trading away the pair in a full house trying to get four of a kind in draw poker. It just might work, but it's more likely to blow up in your face.