On "Energy" Trades

It's been that kind of half. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE

All the Red Sox need is a bit of energy. That's what we're going to start hearing over this All-Star break. With no actual games on the schedule, there'll be columns popping up all over the place claiming to have the answer to the Sox' woes, and most of them will go about like this one, from the Globe's Nick Cafardo on Saturday:

If you're general manager Ben Cherington or Valentine or Lucchino, you have to think the team needs a shakeup... It's time for a kick in the pants, major changes. Trade one of the big-name pitchers for someone who can spark this team... Trade Josh Beckett, 10-5 rights or not. Do something.

Leaving aside that the whole point of 10-5 rights is that they're treated like, you know, "rights," and can't actually be ignored... No, actually, I'm not going to leave that aside, because it's incredibly foolish. Here's how this works. Since Josh Beckett has reached ten years of overall major-league service, and five years with his present team, Boston can not trade him without his consent. So far as I know, Beckett hasn't expressed any interest in leaving, and he does seem the type who wants to pitch for a team with some shot at winning. Now, the Red Sox could certainly do everything in their power to make life hell for Beckett, and thus make him want to leave. And I have no doubt that the media will eagerly hop on board for the crusade. But it probably isn't the wisest of business decisions in terms of future player acquisitions to publicly hound your top starter until he gives up and accepts his trade to Kansas City.

But the thing to remember here is that columnists aren't looking for wise business decisions when they write this sort of piece. They're looking for decisions, period. Actions. Partly because it's something to write about, but mostly it's like the middle-aged guy who feels stuck in his job and decides that a toupee or a Corvette is the solution. And sometimes, when that Corvette is a slick defender who makes up individualized handshakes, it is the solution. But most of the time, you just wind up with an overpriced convertible and a big pile of debt. And honestly, the Sox don't need any more overpriced convertibles.

Think for a moment about the issues facing the Red Sox right now. In order, their biggest problems are injuries, inconsistent starting pitching, injuries, and injuries. Precisely one of those could even theoretically be solved by a big trade. This is where we get stuff like "trade Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury to Seattle for Felix Hernandez." Couple things on that one, by the way. First, generally when one seeks to bolster the starting rotation, it's by adding pitchers, not swapping them. Second, trades are more realistic when both sides have something to gain. In this particular trade, the Mariners get a starter who's two years older and less reliable than Felix, plus a superstar outfielder who will leave for larger money after next year, neither of which helps with their current long rebuild.

This is not to say there aren't small trades that could be useful for the Red Sox. An extra infielder would be nice right now. Trading a bit of minor-league talent to shore up the rotation, someone along the lines of Ryan Dempster. But before pressing the button on a giant, team-shaking trade, it's worth really thinking about what problem you're trying to solve. If the Red Sox offense looks lifeless right now, it's probably not because they're not being cheered loudly enough, but rather because Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia are on the DL, Will Middlebrooks is banged up, and Adrian Gonzalez is still searching for his power stroke. "Energy" is not a problem for a Nick Punto-based offense. "Hitting well" is.

It's completely understandable that fans and writers want to see action on the part of Sox management, and generally the only visible actions they can take come in the form of trades. We all want to know that someone's in charge, and someone cares. But to advocate tossing your best players over the side just to prove a point, or provide some sort of "spark" smacks of foolish desperation.

But hey, maybe I'm wrong about this. After all, the Red Sox just made a big move, a real kick in the pants to wake up the veterans and clear out some low-energy baggage. And that's been working out great, right?

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