In the grand tradition of our wildly popular pre-season Armchair GM series, we here at OTM would like to offer you, the astute reader, a number of different takes on the Red Sox and the upcoming trade deadline. As the traditional point of departure for teams headed to the playoffs and those not, we thought you’d benefit from multiple points of view on the subject. As such, each writer on staff is going to examine the team and offer their prescription for the deadline and the rest of the season. Matt Sullivan took the first crack at this yesterday and his effort can be found here. Mine is below.
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We'll start with this: I don't envy Ben Cherington. Not at all. The 2012 Red Sox have to be one of the most confounding teams in recent memory. Which team is this? The one with the excellent offense even without virtually all it's star power, or the one where not one starting pitcher has an above average ERA? The one where nobodies have stepped in to supply All Star level production, or the one where All Stars have looked like virtual nobodies?
Of course the answer is the 2012 Red Sox are both. As much as we might want to believe for simplicity's sake the Sox are a great team with a lousy streak of luck, or an awful team that has gotten lucky with Quad-A types, both answers ignore vital subtleties. Selling off the team's best players ignores the potential still dormant on this roster and, maybe more prominently, the Disabled List. Renting stars at the cost of high quality young talent ignores the reality that the first half has placed the team in and the likelihood of turn around based on improvement and health on many fronts.
So, what should be done? I'll tell you.First though, I'm warning you, this isn't sexy. There will be no fire-sale. Nobody is trading Jon Lester for a prospect. Similarly there will be no huge additions. We're not trading Xander Bogaerts and Garin Cecchini for Zack Greinke. And no firing Bobby Valentine. When we run this series again to assess the direction of the team's off season I suspect I may feel differently about that last point, but for now, no big changes is the order of the day.
Two points have brought me to this conclusion.
1. The team's position in the standings.
2. The under-performance and injuries of players who can be expected to produce at a much higher level.
Let's address those points specifically. The Red Sox are, as of this writing, two and a half games out of a playoff spot. Yes, it's a stupid, garbagey Wild Card playoff spot, but it's still a playoff spot and therefore it is absolutely worth playing for. Any entrance into the playoffs is worth fighting for. Make no mistake, one day some team will win the World Series after gaining entrance to the playoffs via that second Wild Card spot and there is no reason that team can't be the 2012 Red Sox. No team will ever win the World Series without making the playoffs.
You don't have to be a great team to win the World Series. Some years you don't even have to be a good one (cough2006Cardinalscough!). In fact, if you were to draw up the prototypical team to do it, that team might just be very much like the 2012 Boston Red Sox. A bad first half due to injuries and under-performance from star players causes the team to stay down in the standings, but they turn it around in the second half, get the Wild Card, and go on a run.
The second point above is the real issue here. Is it reasonable to think the team will get improved performances out of it's star players in the second half, and will a respectable number of the injured players return and produce?
Of course nobody knows, but the prudence course of action for the team lies in player track records. Adrian Gonzalez is in a funk now, but nobody thinks this is the player he will be for the rest of his career. He's been too good. Dustin Pedroia has been playing hurt and now is on the DL. If he gets healthy, he's a good bet to get on a roll. Carl Crawford, if he ever makes it back and his elbow doesn't explode, is a fair bet to provide some kind of above average production in left field. Same goes for Andrew Bailey (though I'm not counting on him) and Jacoby Ellsbury. These are all very good players. They've all been for various reasons completely unproductive to this point in the season. Once the injured guys return, they're all good bets to play well. On the whole, there is a very good chance the offense gets better production in the second half than in the first.
If the Red Sox lineup is obliterating opposing pitchers, they can get by with a starting pitching staff consisting of league-average production. Lester isn't the guy he was a few years ago and if you can figure out why, please call the Red Sox and tell them. But even so, he's not this bad. His K rate is down, but his walk rate is way down and he's not stranding runners at a league average rate or keeping bloop hits to an average level, all of which is to say some of this isn't his doing. That's not to say he's been perfect, because he certainly hasn't. But even diminished Lester isn't this bad. He'll improve. Beckett is fine. Buchholz should be back and is a good bet to be a league average or better pitcher (remember, that's all we need to win ball games). Same for Doubront. That's an acceptable rotation. Will all those happen? Probably not. Will a few? Probably. Will that be enough? I think so. Am I going to stop asking myself questions now? Yes.
This team is too talented and has too much production sitting on the sidelines to blow it up. The same goes for adding big pieces. The trade deadline isn't the time to look for bargains through buying or selling. But the Red Sox do have two areas of plenty with which they can entice other teams. Those are outfielders and relievers. The Sox could use a league average or better starting pitcher. So what to do?
I'm going to make all outfielders save Jacoby Ellsbury and Ryan Kalish available. If someone blows me out of the water on either Ellsbury or Kalish I'll listen, but that won't happen. I'm not looking to deal either. I like Matt Sullivan's idea of dealing Cody Ross for pitching. Again, I'm not looking to deal Ross, but I'm willing. Same for Ryan Sweeney. All things being equal Ross is the better player, but Sweeney is team controlled for longer and will come cheaper. Both are available for the right price.
The same goes for any bullpen arm. Everyone is available. There are three guys in the minors who can step in at the major league level and pitch well so clearing the deck isn't a problem. The usual suspects consisting of Matt Albers, Andrew Miller, Scott Atchison, and Vicente Padilla could all be dealt. I'd be hesitant to deal Bailey or Melancon because their values are low, but if I could get what I deem fair value back I'd be absolutely willing to part with them.
Next I make some calls. I want to see if I can add one of three pitchers.
Because I don't want to give up valuable non-reliever minor leaguers to acquire these pitchers and the Indians and Cubs, if not the Diamondbacks will likely want exactly that, I'm going to cop out and leave the specifics out by saying I'd have to involve a third team. As an example, a deal would be something like Cody Ross, Andrew Miller, and Junichi Tazawa to the Phillies for Domonic Brown and a high ceiling Low-A arm which we then toss to the Indians for Masterson.
Hopefully I can add Masterson or Kennedy from the surplus outfielders and relievers on the roster. Short of that, I'm staying pat for now and hoping for the best.
[Of note: Because today is July 11, there are still 20 days remaining until the deadline. Thus, I'm going to keep monitoring the situation and, should the Red Sox fall further out of contention, the prescription may change.]