Despite the fact that the Red Sox are coming off two straight wins in Atlanta, most people are still trying to get over that disastrous ten-game losing streak that directly proceeded them. They looked about as far from a defending world champion as possible, and expectations for this team going forward are dropping very quickly. One of the big culprits here has been the outfield, which has lacked any sort of consistent production. Shane Victorino is in the midst of his second DL trip, Grady Sizemore has failed to continuously look like his old self, and while Jackie Bradley's defense has been as advertised, he hasn't looked good at the plate, to put it lightly. Daniel Nava is now back on the roster after a stint in Pawtucket, but he's no sure thing either. If he was, he wouldn't have been in Pawtucket to begin with. Long story short, the Red Sox had been rumored to be looking at outfielders all offseason, and those talks are starting to heat up again during the season. The question becomes: is it really the best idea for them to do so?
Answering this question is somewhat complicated, and there are a lot of factors that go into how you really feel about the matter. First up is are they willing to finally replace their current guys. Even this is two-fold. First is replacing someone on the active roster. Whether that means designating Mike Carp for assignment and making Nava your backup first baseman, designating Grady Sizemore and ending his experiment, optioning Nava once again or giving Bradley more time in Pawtucket, someone will need to leave the active roster to make room for any new outfielder. (Of course, any one of these guys could also be part of any hypothetical trade.) Then, you have to make room for him in the lineup.
Presumably the Red Sox still see Bradley as the team's center fielder of the future, so do they want to take the everyday major-league at bats from him? Are they really going to be so quick to get everyday at bats from the Nava/Jonny Gomes platoon after all its success last year? Shane Victorino is prone to DL stints, but when he's healthy, he has a spot in the lineup for him. It's easy to say you want an upgrade, but it's harder to actually go through with it and take at bats away from players you put so much faith in.
Next thing you need to consider is how many years are going to be remaining on the player's contract? It's going to be pretty much impossible to trade for a good player on a good contract, obviously, so if they're going to get some talent, the contract is likely going to be undesirable. Luckily, Boston is a market that can absorb money, especially considering their careful budgeting the last few years. With that being said, years are a different story, and Ben Cherington has made a point to mention avoiding these kind of contracts and staying disciplined and efficient in this regard. On top of that, much like the last point, someone is being replaced if this contract goes too far into the future. Now, the minor-league system doesn't have much to speak of in legit outfield prospects (or at least it didn't until Mookie Betts made the shift to center field). Still, Bradley, Victorino and Nava all have legitimate claims to a position for at least a year after this season. Is the team going to be willing to change their plans right now?
The cost of the acquisition also has to be considered. As everyone knows at this point, Ben Cherington has done an amazing job in rebuilding this farm system into one of the best in all of baseball. There is talent at almost every level, and all across the diamond. When you have so much talent, trading it becomes less of a problem since so much will remain even after a deal. You don't hoard prospects and let them all rise through the system, since so many fail. You decide which ones to hold on to and can't be afraid to trade the rest for assets that help right now. If they're going to get anyone worthwhile they're going to have to trade at least a couple intriguing prospects. Is anyone who won't cost significant prospects even worth getting? It just becomes a matter of who you don't want to trade. For me, the list is Betts, Blake Swihart, Henry Owens and Garin Cecchini. Obviously, there are guys who I would potentially move any of those players for, but generally speaking I'd do everything in my power to hold on to them. Everyone else is fair game. Understandably, that list will be different for everyone. But if they won't even trade someone like one of the AAA pitchers, they'll probably wind up with another middling backup outfielder to add to their collection, and that helps no one.
Finally, the hardest question to consider is: are these Red Sox really serious contenders? It's crazy to be thinking like this so quickly after a championship, but if you've seen the team at all this year the thought has had to at least cross your mind. This is a team that looks lost and without an identity. Last year, the AL wild card teams both had 92 wins, and the second wild card in the NL had 90 wins. With that in mind, let's say the Red Sox need to be at least an 86-win team to be considered true contenders. To get to that point, they need to go 64-47 the rest of the way, a .577 clip. To get to the 90 win plateau, they'd need to go 68-23, a .613 clip. It's worth really thinking about whether or not they're that kind of team in 2014.
To me, the answer to this main question of whether or not the Red Sox should be trading for an outfielder is yes. I am as big of a Daniel Nava fan as anyone, but let's not pretend like there's no upgrading on him. The Red Sox can find better left fielders than him if they want to. Ideally, they'll be able to stick to their strategy and keep any acquisition to a player who isn't guaranteed any money beyond 2015, but that might not be realistic. The main point is that it's too early to give up on this team as a contender. A .613 winning percentage to get to 90 wins seems unrealistic, but it's definitely doable. The only problem is that improvement needs to come as soon as possible, because any more extended struggles will probably bury them too deep. They've already upgraded the left side of the infield with the Stephen Drew signing, and now it's time they consider upgrading their increasingly bleak outfield situation.