BOSTON, MA - Jacoby Ellsbury smiling at the thought of Matt Collins taking the reins of the Red Sox GM position. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Today, it's my turn to take control of the Red Sox front office and live out my fantasy of serving as the general manager for my favorite team. Being able to do this just two weeks before the trade deadline definitely serves as an advantage over my OTM colleagues who took their turn in the Armchair as long as a week ago. Things have changed in the past week, as players have returned from injuries and other struggling players have started to turn it around.
Frankly, 2012 has been one of the strangest seasons I can remember watching. Coming off of an epic collapse in September of last year, it was impossible to know what to expect coming into the season. Through a combination of injuries and underperformance, the team finds themselves at 46-44 and one game behind Detroit for the final wild card spot. While it's not the type of succes fans were hoping for back when the calender had turned to April, they've certainly put themselves in a position to make a serious playoff push.
The question that needs to be asked now is: how should they approach the trade deadline? At this point, selling doesn't seem like an option. In this market, selling should only be done when they're definitely out of the race. In their current position, it is impossible to justify giving up on the season by trading a guy like Josh Beckett or David Ortiz. Interestingly, trades like this have been suggested around Boston for almost the entire season. Now, the remaining two options are to either become buyers, or stay pat. However, as with many things in this life, it is not so black and white.
With the team in the position it is currently in, it would make the most sense to become buyers, but only to a certain extent. There are definitely some holes on this team that need to be addressed, primarily with regards to the starting pitching. However, with the return of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford, the never-ending carousel of outfielders can finally come to an end. Additionally, with the surprising performances from guys like Daniel Nava, Ryan Sweeney and Scott Podsednik, the Sox actually have some major-league talent that they can afford to make available in a trade, opening their potential group of trade partners to contenders as well as pure sellers.
Before I start my to-do list for the trade deadline, there are a few guys on this team that may come up in trade talks who I would not move unless I was blown out of the water by the offer. Topping that list are the Killer B's from the Sox's farm system, Xander Bogaerts, Matt Barnes and Jackie Bradley Jr. Eliminating these three more than likely takes them out of the running for Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke. While I'd obviously love having these guys in a Boston uniform, potential stars at team-friendly prices under team control are extremely valuable for a team with as many long term deals as the Sox have. In addition to those three, I don't want to see Cody Ross go anywhere. His right handed power is a necessity in this lineup. On top of that, what would we do without that bat flip?
Without further ado, here are the moves I would make if I was controlling the Red Sox until July 31st.
Trade Bryce Brentz, Lars Anderson, Junichi Tazawa and cash to Chicago (NL) for Ryan Dempster
As I said above, starting pitching is the number one problem that needs to be addressed by this team. The Red Sox starting staff currently ranks 21st in all of baseball in ERA, and are 20th in Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). There are more attractive pitchers on the market, with Matt Garza being made available in addition to Greinke and Hamels. However, because all three of those guys have superior talent level and/or more years of team control than Dempster, they are going to cost at least one top prospect.
Being in the final year of his contract, Dempster is strictly a two-month rental in his age-35 season. At that age, it's very likely resigning him would not be a priority come winter. Despite the age, he has had a phenomenal season for the Cubs, posting a league-leading 1.86 ERA along with a 3.13 FIP. There is almost definitely some regression on the horizon for Dempster, considering his .242 batting average on balls in play, as well as his 85.5-percent left on base rate. Despite that, he is a tremendous fit for this team. One of the biggest complaints about the current starting staff is their durability, or lack thereof. Dempster, on the other hand, has earned a reputation as a workhorse, as he's thrown at least 200 innings in each of the last four seasons.
As far as the outgoing prospects, it leans a bit more towards quantity over quality. Brentz is definitely the prize of this package. Currently in Double-A Portland, he possesses the ceiling of a starting outfielder for a division winner. For a rebuilding team like the Cubs, a player like this fits well, especially with pieces like Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo in place. Lars Anderson is a guy who has been rumored to be moved for years now, and it seems like this summer may finally be the time. Cubs president Theo Epstein drafted him for the Red Sox, and likely still sees some positives in his game. There is some potential for Anderson to break out in a new organization, giving Epstein and company another trade chip for future needs. Tazawa doesn't have a high ceiling by any means, but he's a solid pitcher who can have a bullpen role with most teams, especially one like Chicago. While the 26-year old has struggled in 35 innings of major-league work, he has shown promise in the minors and multiple flashes of a solid pitcher in his major-league stints. On top of all that, the Sox may have to throw some cash to Chicago to get this deal done. From the sounds of it, there will be many contenders in for Dempster's services, and cash may be the final piece of enticement to get this done.
Trade Kelly Shoppach and Ryan Sweeney to Pittsburgh for Kyle McPherson
As much as it pains me to trade Ryan Sweeney, he is the most moveable amongst the excess outfielders in the Red Sox possession. With the injury to Joey Votto, Pittsburgh could seize this opportunity to make a serious run at the playoffs, and adding a couple of bats would be a step in the right direction. Sweeney would give them a guy who can play all three outfield positions, and is generally a plus defender at all three. In addition to that, he shows patience at the plate and even showed flashes of being a doubles-threat at some points this year. He also is under team control through the 2013 season. With Rod Barajas and Mike McKenry manning the catching position, Kelly Shoppach could serve as a useful backup for the Pirates as well. The Red Sox backup has more value than ever could have been expected, as he's hit well in the backup role with a 129 OPS+ as of today. This trade also gives the Sox the opportunity to bring up Ryan Lavarnway, who has proven everything he's had to in Triple-A and is ready to become a full-time big leaguer. Additionally, if Lavarnway performs well down the stretch, Cherington and company will be able to seriously consider using Jarrod Saltalamacchia as a trade chip in the offseason to fill other pressing needs.
In return, the Red Sox will get a high-floor, low-ceiling starting pitching prospect. Pittsburgh's farm system is loaded with high-quality arms such as Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, so losing a guy McPherson wouldn't hurt them too badly. The 24-year old is currently in Double-A, and probably has a ceiling of a number four starter. However, according to most scouting reports, he should at least end up as a high-leverage reliever. I considered putting Luis Heredia in the place of McPherson, but I wasn't sure this package would entice the Pirates to move the soon-to-be-18 year old with tremendous upside. If they were willing to throw him in the deal instead of McPherson, I would jump on that opportunity.
Trade Nick Punto and Matt Albers to New York (NL) for Reese Havens
The reader may be curious as to why my last two trades are both for prospects despite the fact I declared the team a buyer at the outset of this exercise. The answer would be that none of the major-leaguers being traded are essential for the team's playoff run, so getting some nice prospects in return would be a big boost for the farm system. In this deal, Albers would be the key, as he still holds some value after outperforming his peripherals by a substantial margin. The Sox would be smart to move him as soon as possible before his value takes a nose dive. The Mets are a perfect fit for Albers as a surprise contender in a big market who also happen to own the league's worst bullpen ERA. Nick Punto would be more of a throw-in for this deal, as the Mets do have some similar utility guys in tow already. However, due to Pedro Ciriaco's surprising play, Punto is expendable for the Sox. In Havens, the team gets a 24-year old middle infield prospect who still has some potential, despite suffering through some injury problems over his career.
Ideal 25-Man Roster
With those three personell moves, here is my ideal 25-man roster for the playoff push, barring any injuries.
Ellsbury- CF; Pedroia- 2B; Ortiz- DH; Gonzalez- 1B; Ross- RF; Crawford- LF; Middlebrooks- 3B; Saltalamacchia- C; Aviles- SS
Ciriaco- IF; Nava- OF; Podsednik- OF (I'd ride Podsednik until he inevitably cools off from his previous pace, then bring Kalish back up); Lavarnway- C
Lester- LHP; Beckett- RHP; Buchholz- RHP; Dempster- RHP; Doubront- LHP
Bailey- CP; Melancon- SU; Aceves- SU; Bard- Mid; Morales- Mid; Miller- Mid; Atchison- Swingman
(Note: Vicente Padilla just barely missed the cut. If he cleared waivers, he would be the first to be brought up in case of injury, and remains in the bullpen until Bailey or Bard return.)
Fire Bobby Valentine
I'm typically not one to favor firing a manager mid-season, but this is one of the rare times where it seems like the right move. One of the most important jobs of the manager of the Boston Red Sox is to keep control of the relentless media that comes with this town. Terry Francona was amazing at this, deflecting almost all criticism towards his players to himself. Valentine has done the opposite, throwing multiple players from his own team under the bus. Due to my trades above, combined with many players returning from injury, this is almost an entirely different team than the one that was trotting onto the field in May and June. Because of this, it seems fit to change the man at the helm and truly treat this final two-and-a-half month stretch as a new season.
Well, there you have it. With the team sitting just on the outside of the playoff picture, there is no way this team shouldn't got for it. Solidifying their rotation with a guy like Ryan Dempster not only strengthens their starting staff, but it also helps the bullpen by returning Morales to the group. With the return of guys like Ellsbury, Crawford and Bailey, as well as the looming Lavarnway, there are other excess pieces the Sox can turn into prospects without hindering the current success of the team. The roster I outlined above should be more than enough to push this team into the postseason, where we all know anything can happen.