After a year of disappointment, the Red Sox are finally starting to catch fire. Coming into 2014, there seemed to be enough talent on the roster to be competitive for the entire season, but that obviously hasn't happened to this point. Recently, though, they have looked like the team that many of us believed they'd be in March. Boston has won eight of their last ten games, and have a plus-34 run differential in that span.
Many have pointed to A.J. Pierzynski's departure being the catalyst for this. It could also just be a random hot streak, something most teams experience at least once throughout any given season. They've also played teams who currently have a combined 191-210 record (.476 winning percentage). Whatever the reason may be, it's coming at an interesting time with the trade deadline rapidly approaching. They find themselves six games out of the wildcard race - hardly an insurmountable deficit - and their strategy for July 31st has to be evolving. Is it possible that the front office could decide to finish the season with their current roster?
In the rotation, there were a few interesting names who have come up in trade speculation all month. When they looked to be hitting rock bottom and appeared to be obvious sellers, Jon Lester and John Lackey came up as potential big arms to bring back valuable pieces, both at the major-league and minor-league level. They would command so much on the trade market because they've combined to form one of the game's better one-two punches this season. However, with the team trending upwards and the playoffs not looking like such an impossible outcome, it would be smarter to keep their two best pitchers around if they expect to stay in contention. There's also the upshot that both could continue to help next year, when they are again expected to contend.
Jake Peavy is the other starting pitcher surrounded by trade talk, and moving him is easier to justify than Lester and Lackey. Peavy has remained in the rotation for most of the year, but has been disappointing and is blocking pitchers at multiple levels of the organization. It's not too crazy for management to prefer to put their faith in Peavy over rookies, especially given how much they've proven to value depth. Besides, it shouldn't be too difficult to move him in August if it comes to that.
Photo Credit: Jim Rogash
The bullpen also has a few interesting pieces that could be moved, all in similar situations. Koji Uehara, Andrew Miller and Burke Badenhop have all found themselves in important relief roles in 2014, and all have the opportunity to test the free agency waters this coming winter. With ERA+'s of 251, 186 and 136, respectively, all three could bring back interesting pieces, though nothing too valuable. As with Lackey and Lester, all three of these guys would be big parts of any potential playoff run in the season's final months. As unlikely as that kind of run still may be, the potential for it could still outweigh the nice-but-not-great return they would bring back.
The lineup is the area that has seen the least amount of trade speculation. One name that has been brought up a few times, though, is Jonny Gomes. The self-proclaimed team-fixer is set to become a free agent after this season, and there haven't been any real indications that either side is overly interested in continuing the relationship. With that being said, he is still a valuable piece for a potential contender, and the Red Sox don't have an obvious internal replacement. Gomes is still a lefty-killer, hitting .317/.417/.461 against southpaws this season. Alex Hassan has played well for Pawtucket and could very well take over that role in 2015, but if there's a chance at a playoff race, I'll take the proven veteran over the rookie every time, especially since Gomes would bring back an underwhelming return similar to those of Miller and Badenhop.
Up to this point I've addressed the reasons not to sell off their major leaguers because of a possibility of contention in the season's final two months. With that logic, though, wouldn't it make sense for the Red Sox to then become buyers and patch up its roster's holes? While intuitively that should be true, it's not in this case. While this hot streak has made people rethink their position on how far this team can go, the chances at a playoff spot still aren't great. Boston is still six games below .500, still have seven teams between them and the second wildcard spot, and still find themselves in last place in the AL East. The addition of a second wildcard team has allowed more teams to see themselves as contenders, making it a sellers market. Any helpful piece will likely cost more in prospects than it's worth, and making that sort of move doesn't make sense for the Red Sox. That's not to say their prospects are untouchable, just that it's not the right time. Making a move in the offseason with some of their talent on the farm would make plenty of sense.
This recent streak of competent play has made the next week an intriguing one. On paper, this is still mostly the same team many saw as contenders before the season started, and they're finally playing like it. This turn of events could likely force the front office to change their strategy and not be pure sellers. Too many of their pieces could help them if this hot streak continues. On the other hand, they are still far enough out of it that it wouldn't make sense to give up future assets at an outside chance at contention. Because of the logjam at the position, Jake Peavy still seems like a guy who is probably on his way out. Besides him, though, it looks entirely possible that the Red Sox will stick with this group of players and reevaluate things in the offseason.