BOSTON -- If getting blown out 16-9 and swept by the "worst team in baseball" Chicago Cubs isn't rock bottom for the 2014 Boston Red Sox, it will take a Bobby Valentine-esque effort to top the effort. With the loss on Wednesday, the Red Sox fell 8 1/2 games behind in the American League East and nine games back for the second wild card spot. Before the game on Wednesday, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington was spotted going into the manager John Farrell's office. It would make sense to think that the two were discussing what the next step for the ball club is.
To be fair, the Red Sox aren't mathematically out of the race for a playoff spot at this point in time. The team's greatest chance of making the playoffs appears to be winning the division, taking the general weakness of the AL East and the number of teams ahead in the wild card standings into consideration. The team isn't out of it yet, but the time is nearing for Cherington to make an ultimate decision on what the direction of the 2014 Red Sox will be.
There are a couple of routes the team could take, some more dramatic than others. With the trade deadline approaching, the Red Sox have a number of assets they can give up to build depth in the organization. With a 3.6 percent chance to win the AL East and a 1.6 percent chance of winning the wild card according to Baseball Prospectus, the odds are seemingly stacked against the Red Sox making a playoff run.
Should the Red Sox decide to go the route and trade off some of their assets to build towards 2015 and beyond, what can they get in return?
Pierzynski is the Janice Litman-Goralnik (of "Friends" fame) of the Red Sox. He makes you pull out your hair in frustration, whether it is with his painfully slow speed or with his unique desire to not slide. He makes you want to plug your ears whenever he says something.
You just want him to go away.
Having signed a one-year, $8.25 million contract in the offseason, Pierzynski has one of the most tradable contracts on the Red Sox roster. Unfortunately for Cherington, Pierzynski is amidst one of the worst offensive seasons of his career, hitting .255/.290/.355 with four home runs and 31 RBIs in 263 at-bats. In addition, the 37-year-old is a notoriously sub-par defensive catcher. One evaluator noted Pierzynski's seemingly lack of desire to go to his knees to block pitches in the dirt. Instead, Pierzynski likes to take balls off the shinguards, allowing baseballs to get away form home plate.
Having put all of that together, Pierzynski isn't going to garner much of a return. The teams reportedly interested in adding a starting catcher are the Orioles, Blue Jays and Dodgers. A catcher who was traded recently of Pierzynski's caliber is John Buck. Last August, Buck was traded by the Mets alongside Marlon Byrd to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In return, the Mets received 19-year-old second base prospect Dilson Herrera (a raw low-level prospect) and Vic Black, a reliever who is having a strong season in 2014.
Pierzynski would likely garner a low-level prospect-type or a middle reliever who is between Triple-A and the big leagues. A trade for Pierzynski would represent more an addition by subtraction more than anything at this point.
While he has not been the strongest performer at the plate, Herrera presents versatility that is not found often in the baseball realm (unless your name is Brock Holt, who is rumored to be a descendant of Superman). Herrera can play every position in the infield, has been seen taken fly balls from time-to-time during batting practice and actually owns his own set of catcher's gear should the need arise.
While Herrera is amidst his worst offensive season in the majors, the 28-year-old provides the versatility that would prove to be incredibly valuable to a National League team. Herrera played more than 81 games in three consecutive seasons, including 104 appearances in 2011, before coming to Boston.
A utility man of Herrera's skill level and flexibility (including his one remaining minor league option) could garner a return similar to what the Red Sox gave up to get him: lefty Franklin Morales. Morales, at the time of the trade, represented a reliever with really good stuff who simply could not put it together.
Morales has been starting for Colorado in 2014 and the results have been lackluster with a 5.51 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, .288 opponent batting average and -0.7 wins above replacement. That being said, Herrera could provide a mid-reliever type arm that could prove valuable as bullpen depth.
Remember that when the Red Sox acquired Andrew Miller for Dustin Richardson in November, 2010, Miller was a first-round bust with excellent stuff and no sense of control. Miller is now a dominant set-up man and viewed internally as a potential closing candidate.
As we found out on Tuesday, Jonny Gomes moonlights as Captain America. While his over the top patriotism likely won't increase his trade value, Gomes' high energy both on the field and in the clubhouse could make him an attractive outfield bench option for a team chasing a playoff spot. The 33-year-old is also a free agent after the season.
There are plenty of buyers on the market. Sister blog MLB Daily Dish says that potential buyers in the outfield market include the Nationals, Orioles, Angels, Tigers and Mariners. As a player that mostly contributes when a lefty on the mound, Gomes doesn't present himself as a player with a ton of trade value. Gomes is most valuable as a member of a platoon situation.
Someone like Gomes would likely garner minor league or bullpen depth. When the Red Sox traded Mark Kotsay in June, 2009 to the White Sox to create a spot for recently-acquired Adam LaRoche (who played in Boston for six days), Kotsay provided similar production off the bench and had one-year left on his contract. In return, Boston received minor league outfielder Brian Anderson and cash in return.
Now we're really talking. Uehara has been one of the best, if not the best, closers in baseball since assuming the role in the middle of the 2013 World Series run. In Uehara's first 100 regular season games in Boston, the reliever posted a 0.97 ERA, 0.62 WHIP, .176 opponent on-base percentage, 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings, 139 strikeouts and 13 walks in 102 innings pitched. Historically insane numbers.
Uehara is in a somewhat unique situation should he available on the trade market. Most closers traded around the deadline usually go to a contending team expecting to set up for an established closer (Remember Eric Gagne?). Uehara, however, would likely become the closer for whatever team chooses to acquire his services. With Uehara heading into free agency after the season, he is a low risk financial investment.
Two playoff contenders are currently with rocky closer situations: the Detroit Tigers and the Los Angeles Angels. Joe Nathan has been abysmal for Detroit, posting a 6.16 ERA with a 1.53 WHIP, five blown saves and 17 saves in 33 appearances. The Angels are currently using Joe Smith to close games after Ernesto Frieri imploded and was traded to the Pirates for struggling closer Jason Grilli. For both teams, Uehara would be an upgrade.
Ironically, Gagne serves as an interesting reference point in regards to closer value at the trade deadline. With the Rangers in 2007, Gagne posted a 2.16 ERA with 16 saves, one blown save and a 1.05 WHIP in 34 appearances. Uehara in 2014 has 18 saves in 38 appearances with one blown save, and a 0.75 WHIP. It's also important to note that Gagne was scheduled to be a free agent after the 2007 season, putting him in a similar situation to Uehara.
For Gagne, then-Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein gave up Kason Gabbard (a fringe major league pitcher who was sold high after a string of solid outings), outfielder David Murphy (a Red Sox top-10 prospect) and Engel Beltre (a young, high ceiling, boom or bust-type prospect who made his major league debut in 2013). Uehara's solid consistent performance over the course of a season and a half could demand a slightly greater package than the one the Rangers received for Gagne (2007 was Gagne's first season closing full-time since 2004) after a slew of injuries).
This is the big fish. Whether or not Lester gets traded depends entirely on how confident the Red Sox feel about getting extension done with their ace. If the team feels that Lester will move on after the season, the team will look to trade him before the deadline. There is not going to be an "under-the-table" situation where the Red Sox trade Lester and sign him back after the season. If Lester gets dealt, he is gone for good.
Lester is a bonafide ace with a playoff resume that places him among strong historic company. His performance in the 2014 season (2.92 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, .248 opponent batting average, 1.7 WAR in 17 games) has only increased his market value and has set up the 30-year-old for a major payday in the offseason.
Should the Red Sox look to trade Lester, there will presumably be a number of suitors. All teams that are in David Price could be in on Lester at the deadline. The non-AL East teams include the Braves, Brewers, Rangers, Nationals and Mariners.
Two major trade comparisons come to mind when thinking about a potential Lester deal: Cliff Lee to the Rangers in 2010 and C.C. Sabathia to the Brewers in 2008. Both pitchers were heading into free agency after the season.
While pitching with the Mariners in 2010, Lee was unbelievably good, posting a 2.34 ERA with an 0.95 WHIP, 89 strikeouts, six walks and 3.3 WAR in 13 games pitched. When Lee was traded, the Rangers gave up Justin Smoak (a top-25 prospect in MLB), Blake Beaven (2007 first-round pick), Josh Lueke (fringe major league reliever) and Matt Lawson.
Sabathia was coming off his Cy Young season in 2007 with the Indians and posted a 3.83 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 123 strikeouts, 34 walks and 1.7 WAR. Sabathia's 2008 probably provides a more apt comparison to Lester's first half in 2014. In return for Sabathia, the Indians received Matt LaPorta (former Red Sox draft pick, 7th overall pick in 2007 First Year Player Draft and top-25 in MLB), Michael Brantley (top-10 Brewers prospect), Zack Jackson (former number one overall pick in 2004, bust by 2008) and Rob Bryson.
Even with just one year left on Lester's deal, history shows that a significant haul in prospects could be had if the Red Sox are willing to deal the southpaw.
Whether or not the Red Sox decide to sell is very much up in the air. Realistically, it would not be a surprise to see the team approach the deadline as they did in 2010 and 2012. In 2010, the Red Sox traded with the Rangers for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, giving up Chris McGuiness, Roman Mendez and Michael Thomas. The trade for Saltalamacchia was an under-the-radar move that helped set up the team down the road, playing a major role in the 2013 season.
In 2012, before the "Nick Punto trade" with the Dodgers, the team traded Matt Albers and Scott Podsednik to the Diamondbacks for Craig Breslow. While the move was not monumental at the time, Breslow played a major role in the 2013 World Series run and was an invaluable reliever in the bullpen throughout the 2013 season.
Even if the Red Sox decide against trading any of their major pieces, whether it is Lester, Uehara or any one of the top prospects, history shows that the trade deadline can still be a productive and important one for the future of the franchise.