The Red Sox are eight games back in the AL East as of this writing, and while there is plenty of season left to make up that gap, they are not so close that they should be selling off long-term pieces for rentals -- forget about Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and other free-agents-to-be. What the Sox should focus on, however -- and what they seem to be planning to focus on -- is bringing in players under team control who Boston could keep around for a few years.
Those players might not be cheap, but they could also be exactly what helps push the Red Sox over the edge back into legitimate contention in 2016 and beyond. They could also be the kind of players who help turn things around in the present -- after all, there is a whole lot of season left, especially against AL East teams, which the Sox play 24 times in September. That's where someone like Tyson Ross could come in -- he would stabilize the rotation now while giving the Sox a quality starter for the next two years on top of that.
Why would the Padres trade someone with 2.5 years of team control left who is making just $5.25 million in 2015? They're in a bit of a weird spot, for a number of reasons. General manager A.J. Preller, who took over the team in early August of 2014, spent the winter injecting energy into a lifeless franchise and fan base by making a series of moves that emptied out much of the farm system and budget while bringing in Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Derek Norris, Justin Upton, James Shields, and more. That hasn't worked out, thanks to injuries and some poor performances, but Preller still managed to make the Padres relevant again, and has the support of ownership to keep making moves.
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So, they're in a position to keep swapping out pieces -- basically anyone on the roster, as even Shields and Craig Kimbrel, both signed long-term, are reportedly available in trades -- if it will help the Padres be reformed in Preller's image. He was hired for his pitch detailing the reforming the Padres' major-league roster, yes, but his background is in scouting and prospects: he emptied out most of the farm system, but those weren't his guys. Trading Kimbrel, Upton, and even pitchers like Ross or Andrew Cashner would go a long way towards Preller restocking the farm with future Padres of his liking. Red Sox fans might recognize something in this -- it wasn't all that long ago that Ben Cherington had to remove some of the remaining Theo Epstein from the roster and then set about rebuilding Boston's farm, you know.
So, as good as Ross has been -- he owns a 113 ERA+ as a Padre and threw 195 innings in 2014 -- he might have more value to San Diego if he can bring in some long-term assets who could assist the Padres now-ish, but for longer than Ross will in the end. This isn't the same as saying the Padres are (or should) sell off everything and spend the next few years simply rebuilding. They should be focusing on near-ready or ready assets, and the Sox have those to cash in for someone like Ross.
Before we get into those, though, let's paint a picture of who Ross is. He's struck out a batter per inning with the Padres over the last three years, most of which has come as a starter after an initial run out of the bullpen in 2013. He's going to walk batters, but the reason for that isn't a lack of control, so much as an emphasis on grounders: Ross keeps the ball down, and it's resulted in ground ball rates of 55, 57, and 62 percent over the last three seasons. While the extra walk or two from this purposeful strategy is a negative, it's also helped him from leaving too many pitches up in the zone, the benefit of which is few homers allowed: Ross has allowed just 0.5 homers per nine over the last three seasons. Some of that is Petco Park, sure, but most of it is Ross' extreme grounder tendencies.
So, you've got a pitcher who is an above-average arm who can miss bats and induce grounders. He's maybe not as good as his 122 ERA+ from 2014, but he's still the kind of valuable rotation contributor that would have helped save the Sox this year -- the kind of guy who easily would have pushed Joe Kelly aside or kept the Sox from gambling on Justin Masterson, had he been around at those times. While he's not a star, he is under control through 2017, and therefore he will cost someone in prospects were he traded.
Ross might end up commanding someone as highly touted as Manuel Margot, and while that's a steep price to pay for the Sox, it would be a fair swap, especially since the Sox could afford to extend Ross (and would be in a position to do so as the team with him) well before those 2.5 years are up. Ross is ready now, and could step into the Sox rotation and be their second-best pitcher immediately. (Sorry, Eduardo Rodriguez, but we can have that conversation again when you're more than nine starts in to your career.) The Padres desperately need a center fielder who can field, and while Margot is only in Double-A now, he could be in the majors by the end of 2016, or by 2017 if he takes some time acclimating himself to Triple-A.
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He's just 20 years old and is considered one of the 15 or 20 best prospects in the game by many, and while that's a lot to give up, it's worth remembering that his placement that high up on these lists has a lot do with the sheer volume of graduated prospects and rookies across the game -- his ranking at this spot on midseason prospect lists is not the same as Blake Swihart showing up in that neighborhood back in March, when there was more depth in the minors. Yes, Margot has had an exciting 2015, but he had help jumping from the back half of preseason top-100s to the near-front. It's also worth noticing that if Margot were dealt for Ross, that would probably be the deal in its entirety: the Sox get the piece they need for now and later, while the Padres secure their center fielder of the future -- the one who will arrive while Kemp and Myers still need a superior defender to help them out.
The other place to go in negotiations would be to offer quantity. If the Padres are trading a young pitcher with team control, they should get back a younger pitcher (or pitchers) with even more control. If the Sox acquire Ross -- and Clay Buchholz doesn't need to miss all of 2016 for his elbow injury -- then Boston is going to have more pitchers than rotation spots, anyway. This is where dealing either the top pitching prospects left in the upper portions of the system, Brian Johnson or Henry Owens, comes in.
Johnson is a potential mid-rotation arm, one who would probably benefit from the move to the NL and Petco Park. He's a control and command guy with four pitches, but none of them are a serious out pitch, so an easier league for pitchers in a park that forgives more mistakes than Fenway would be a positive for him. Owens isn't MLB ready like Johnson, but the ceiling is a bit higher, and he's only 22 years old as opposed to Johnson's 24. He's also looked much better on the mound since becoming more acclimated to his curveball in Triple-A -- the Sox had him throwing that in place of his plus change-up to begin the season, to better prepare him for what awaited the lefty in the majors.
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Neither is the prospect Margot is, so either would need additional players dealt alongside them. Jackie Bradley Jr. is crushing it in Triple-A, and while he still hasn't hit in the majors, the Padres are in a position to be patient with him given, again, they have an outfield with Matt Kemp's glove in it. Bradley is hands down one of the greatest defensive outfielders in the game, and if he can hit even a little -- not even average for the position, just not poorly -- he would be a valuable player. Whether he hits or not is a legitimate question, but as a secondary piece in a deal, the Padres could do a lot worse than someone who they have an immediate place for on both the 2015 and future rosters.
After that, maybe you see how desperate the Padres are to upgrade at shortstop. Deven Marrero isn't hitting at Triple-A now, so it's tough to sell him as the answer to anything -- even as a third piece in a deal for one non-ace pitcher -- but like with Bradley, if they believe in the glove enough, he's a potential piece to move. Likely more appealing than Marrero, and to help ease the sting of a potential future where Bradley doesn't hit, is for the Padres to check out what the Sox have outside of the usual prospect names. Ty Buttrey is an intriguing pitcher who is still just 22 and at High-A. Carlos Asuaje probably has a career as a utility player in the majors, knows how to draw a walk, and is already at Double-A. Jalen Beeks is young and interesting, and might be a reliever in the long run, but he's still just 21 and has fantastic control.
It doesn't have to be any of those prospects, but the point is that the Sox have the young kids to round out a deal for Ross, even if it doesn't involve Margot. If it had to, it would be worth it for both sides, especially with the Sox already having Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, and Rusney Castillo in the organization. If the Sox would rather keep Margot as insurance or for a future where Hanley is a DH or whatever, they still have the pieces to bring Ross in. If the opportunity presents itself by July 31, the Sox should take advantage of it.