July is a very special month for Major League Baseball. Between the All Star Game and Home Run Derby, as well as the trade deadline, what should be a nondescript 31 days in the dog days of summer ends up being one of the most exciting and talked-about months on the calendar. With the deadline now less than a month away, it's that time of year when fans and talking heads start throwing out their trade proposals and decide exactly what it is the team needs right now.
This summer, the Red Sox will surely be buyers, as they sit at 53-34 after completing a sweep of San Diego and an 8-1 homestand. They lead the AL East by four-and-a-half games over the Orioles. All of this success has put Boston in an enviable position, one in which they don't have to jump to any conclusions about what to do at the trade deadline.
This past week, the trade activity started, with Baltimore trading Pedro Strop and Jake Arrietta for Scott Feldman, who will be plugged into their rotation. The Dodgers also found themselves on the receiving end of a lesser trade, taking Carlos Marmol off the Cubs' hand for a minimal price. These were two deals made by teams who find themselves in the playoff picture, but in a place of much less certainty than Boston's. The Red Sox's edge in the standings gives them time to figure out what they have in their own internal options at key positions on their roster.
One big area that many believe the team needs to find an upgrade is for a starting pitcher. Possibly the most popular rumor that has been spread around has been the possibility of grabbing Cliff Lee from the Phillies, while others have argued for lesser-names such as Yovani Gallardo or Ricky Nolasco. As it stands right now, the Red Sox possess one of the top rotations in all of baseball. Their 3.73 ERA as a unit is seventh best in all of baseball, and they've thrown the fourth most innings with 519.
The argument for Lee is simple: they don't have enough high-caliber arms. Well, before he succumbed to injury, Clay Buchholz was arguably the best pitcher in the American League. His recovery hasn't gone as smoothly as we may have hoped, but there was some good news recently. With some luck, he will continue on the right track and will be back and healthy shortly after the All Star break. Additionally, in his absence, John Lackey has pitched lights out, to everyone's surprise. He currently boasts the eighth best ERA of AL pitchers with at least 50 innings, with a 2.81 mark. If Buchholz can show he's healthy over the next couple of weeks, and Lackey still pitches at a high level, the Red Sox shouldn't need to trade away major prospects for a pitcher like Lee.
As for the lesser options, the remaining options in the rotation don't seem demonstrably worse than them. Jon Lester hit a rough patch for about a month earlier in the season, but has recently looked as if he is turning a corner. Felix Doubront has also looked very good lately, and is finally starting to show some consistency to go along with the stuff we've all seen from him the last few years. If those two keep up that pace in the next two weeks, there is no guarantee any trade option would be a clear upgrade. Add to that the fact that Allen Webster is showing growth in each of his spot starts, and Alfredo Aceves' success in his own opportunities this year, and the rotation doesn't currently look like it absolutely needs an upgrade.
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Back of the Bullpen
Tune into any talk-radio show lately and if they're talking about the Red Sox, it's only a matter of time before someone brings up the fact that the team needs a closer. After Joel Hanrahan went down for the year early on in the season, and Andrew Bailey imploded before our very eyes, Jonathan Papelbon has been a hot topic of conversation for weeks. However, since taking over the 9th inning, Koji Uehara has performed admirably, though he's done so while throwing more innings than most would like. In addition to him, Junichi Tazawa has one of the most ridiculous K/BB ratios in the game, while Andrew Miller has shocked everyone by proving to be a reliable back-of-the-bullpen arm. Bailey is the key here, though. In yesterday's win over San Diego, he pitched his first clean inning in what feels like forever, with two strikeouts included in the frame. In his appearance before that, he also struck out two, while showing improved velocity, before giving up a game-tying home run. He's not perfect right now, but if Andrew Bailey could continue to show improvement before the deadline, a back-of-the-bullpen arm is not a necessity for this team by July 31st.
Left Side of the Infield
The left side of the infield has been a spot filled with some controversy all season long. Back in spring training, there were fans who were clamoring for Jose Iglesias to get a starting gig out of the gate, despite Stephen Drew signing a one-year, nine million dollar deal in the offseason. Once the season started, Will Middlebrooks struggled, both performance-wise and health-wise, while Iglesias flourished in his absence. Now, the former is in Pawtucket, trying to regain his form. He took a huge step in that direction on Wednesday, hitting two home runs. If he can prove to the front office that he has come back towards the level he was at in 2012, a left side of the infield of Iglesias, Drew and Middlebrooks should be more than fine to make a playoff push. If not, they'll likely target someone like Michael Young to fill the void.
It is more than likely some sort of move will need to be made before the trade deadline at the end of the month. For them to be able to justify standing pat, everything that was discussed above will need to work out perfectly, which is a tall order. However, they have put themselves in a great position where they don't have to make any decisions on what to do now. Over the next few weeks there will be a countless number of rumors about plans that Ben Cherington and company have in the trade market. If their smart, though, those rumors won't be concrete, because there is no reason to make bold decisions just yet.
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