As we all know by now, the Red Sox had a tough situation on their hands with Shane Victorino's return to the roster. They had one too many players worthy of being on the active roster, and unfortunately for Daniel Nava, he was the one who missed the cut. It's a bit strange to think about, since he was one of the key contributors to a team who won the championship last season, posting a 128 wRC+ in 536 plate appearances. It's certainly not ideal to send Nava down to Pawtucket, but there weren't a ton of other options. Since he was the only outfielder with an option remaining*, his slow start was magnified and he finds himself in AAA. Some are justifiably wary of this move. The idea of demoting one of the consistent offensive players from last year is unsettling. To many, the move that would've made sense is to trade Mike Carp. If Carp is dealt, Nava would still be in Boston. I consider myself as a proponent of this plan, as it seems to be the ideal route. However, following through with this is a hell of a lot easier said than done.
*Technically, Grady Sizemore also has an option, but he has accrued enough service time to refuse an assignment to Pawtucket.
Before getting into the semantics of trading Mike Carp right now, there is the much broader question of who he even is as a baseball player. He has an inconsistent track record, which has led to varying views on how good he can be. That knuckleball he put on display last night doesn't help clear things up, either. Coming up through the minors, scouts had good things to say about him, and many saw him as an everyday producer down the line. Then, he couldn't consistently contribute for the Mariners when he finally made it to the big leagues. He certainly showed flashes of his potential, but he had enough bad moments that the Red Sox were able to acquire Carp last season for cash. Then, in a part-time role, he started hitting again, ending the season with a .296/.362/.523 (139 wRC+) line in 243 plate appearances. While that is certainly outstanding, context matters. The first is that he carried a .385 batting average on balls in play. That isn't going to stay that high, bringing his overall line down. Secondly, he was a platoon bat in 2013, with 88 percent of his plate appearances coming against right-handed pitching. Of course, a platoon bat - especially from the left side - can be important, but teams aren't going to give up a ton of talent for a platoon player. All things considered, Carp is probably an average-to-slightly-above-average true-talent hitter.
Some front offices will obviously disagree with that assessment, I'm sure. Some will think he's better, others will think he's worse. The thing these front offices likely have in common is that they aren't actively scouring the trade market right now. In six weeks to two months, the trade market will pick up, but for now, teams just aren't looking to deal. Generally speaking, teams have their rosters set, and they are comfortable with what they are going into the season with. There's a reason you don't see too many trades in the first stretch of the season. Of course, if they see a trade they can't refuse they'll jump at it, but that isn't going to happen right now with Ben Cherington, who has shown he cherishes his depth.
The exception to this rule is the Pirates, who had been looking for a first baseman all winter, and just struck a deal with the Mets. While this seems like it could be a positive for the Red Sox in their quest to trade Carp, it's the opposite. The Pirates were one of the few teams who were willing to make a deal right now and also had a need where Boston had excess. Now, they've been crossed off the list. And as far as we know, the return wasn't that great. In return for Ike Davis, New York got a 28-year-old minor-league reliever and a player to be named later. Now, it looks like the player to be named later will carry some significance, but overall the return doesn't look like a lock to be accepted by a front office who holds their depth tightly.
So, say they do think that type of market for Carp is fine, and they're ready to head out on the open market. Who is going to be there to greet them? The Astros could make sense, as they've been trotting out Chris Carter at first base, and would love to inject some sort of offense into their struggling lineup. However, they have a left-handed first baseman named Jonathan Singleton who's likely to find his way to the big club soon, and Carp would block him. Not to mention the fact they aren't an organization looking to give up future assets. The A's seem like another possibility, since they've been playing Daric Barton at first part-time. Like the Astros, though, they aren't likely to give up future assets for a part-time first baseman. Finally, the Brewers could be a possibility. They had been rumored to have been looking for a first baseman during the offseason, and getting a platoon partner for Mark Reynolds other than Lyle Overbay could make sense. Unfortunately for Boston, though, Overbay has been solid to start, and Milwaukee's offense has been one of the biggest surprises in the early season. It's unlikely they'd be looking to shake up that lineup this early in the season.
In an ideal world, the Red Sox would be able to trade Mike Carp for what they view as fair value, and Daniel Nava would still be on the roster. It's never that simple, though, and a lot of things are preventing that from happening right now. Who knows how other teams view Carp compared to Boston's front office. If they're even relatively close, is anyone really looking for a trade right now? If someone is looking to shake up the roster this early, is it one of the few teams who could use someone like Carp? In all likelihood, the answer to all of those questions are no. Nava will find his way back here soon, likely due to another injury somewhere in the outfield. And if that doesn't happen, Carp can still be traded. It just probably won't happen until a couple months down the line.