The Cole Hamels saga is finally over, as he's now been traded to the Texas Rangers. That means he's no longer available to the Red Sox, who still need to find pitching somewhere if they want to avoid another disastrous season like 2015. Boston could wait until the winter, then use their considerable finances to sign, say, Johnny Cueto or David Price -- it would end up being in the $200 million range most likely, and for at least seven years, but they wouldn't cost a draft pick or prospects.* Or maybe they don't care about the pick, and are willing to go all-in on someone like Jordan Zimmermann, who will cost a bit less in years and dollars but is capable of leading a staff.
*Okay, well, Price might still end up costing a prospect, but if he's traded in the next 30 hours or so, that won't be the case.
Cueto, Price, and Zimmermann are all excellent, but they are also older, and will be a drain on Boston's wallets. They would be worth it at their best, but if the Sox weren't willing to give Jon Lester exactly what he wanted as a free agent this past offseason, it's hard to believe they'll go in this direction for more of an organizational unknown. No, instead, there is another option, and it's one the Red Sox seem to already be exploring, according to Nick Cafardo -- if not in practice, then at least in theory. The Sox should gather a significant portion of their significant farm system, and ship it out to the Oakland A's and Billy Beane in exchange for their young ace, Sonny Gray.
Photo credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
This likely comes off as the same kind of entitled bull that small-market teams perpetually deal with from large-market ones: "Hey now, that's a good-looking young player you got there, would be a shame if anyone were to pluck them from you." However, this is a different situation: Beane is known for moving his pieces when he thinks he can get the most for them, and it was just last offseason that he sent Josh Donaldson -- in his first of four years of arbitration -- to the Blue Jays for a package of prospects and young players to build towards the next great A's club.
The Red Sox have one of the best farm systems in the game, maybe the best now that the Rangers have taken themselves out of that conversation in order to acquire Hamels. (Of course, mileage varies on this sort of thing, and Byron Buxton still has his prospect status up in Minnesota.) It's unknown what Beane would even want for Gray, but if he's keen on moving him, the Red Sox likely have whatever it is.
It would even work out with what the Sox are hoping to do with a trade. Stephen Vogt is the A's catcher, and he's only 30 years old and won't even be arbitration-eligible until 2017, so they probably wouldn't demand 23-year-old backstop Blake Swihart from Boston. If that's the truth of it, with that out of the way, the untouchables would likely be Mookie Betts and Yoan Moncada -- other than that, anyone in the system is fair game.
If you're unfamiliar with the Red Sox system, you're likely upset that these names you know of aren't likely to be on the table. There is much more to offer, however: The Red Sox also have two prospects often regarded as top-15 (or at least top-20) guys in Rafael Devers and Manuel Margot. Brian Johnson and Henry Owens are both near-ready top-50 pitching prospects, and both left-handed with all their service time intact. Jackie Bradley Jr. is still in the system, and still promising -- especially when you imagine his glove roaming the expansive O.co outfield. Deven Marrero might never hit all that much, but he's got a plus glove at shortstop, and that counts for something in this league.
Javier Guerra has only recently entered the national prospect consciousness, but he projects as a high-quality defender at short who has suddenly added power down in Low-A and is all of 18 years old. Christian Vazquez is working his way back from Tommy John surgery, and if the A's want a catcher who can play excellent defense on the days Vogt is elsewhere, he's the guy. There is Ty Buttrey, a righty selected out of high school in 2012 who has started to put it together at High-A. Teddy Stankiewicz still projects as a future major-league starter, there's 2013 first-round pick Trey Ball -- there are all kinds of options, all without even dipping into the players the A's might be intrigued by at the Rookie- and Summer-league levels.
Devers could be great, but the Sox need pitching now, and it won't come free.(Photo credit: Elsa/Getty Images)
A package consisting of four or five of these young players would put a huge dent in Boston's system, for sure. The thing is, though, that they would still have graduated four players 23 and younger -- three of them still just 22 -- in Swihart, Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Eduardo Rodriguez in the last two years. They would still have their very best prospect in Moncada. They would still have this year's seventh-overall draft pick, Andrew Benintendi, who was the college player of the year. It's likely they would also still have Anderson Espinoza, the top pitcher signed in the previous international period, as well as Austin Rei, this year's third-round pick who received grades more in line with someone from the first day of the draft.
They would also have what is starting to look like a top-five pick in the 2016 draft. They would also still have their enormous financial assets at the ready, and those could be important for either making certain contracts disappear or for plugging other holes on the roster, both before and in-season and into the future. Those dollars might even be used to ink Gray to an extension immediately, buying out the rest of his cost-controlled years and tacking on options, as they did with Lester back in the day as well as Clay Buchholz.
The problem with Brock Holt's trade value
Brock Holt is the Red Sox's most valuable trade asset, but there's little chance that he will be dealt before the deadline.
The cost would be considerable, but so is Gray's talent. He's 25 years old and won't be a free agent until 2020 at the earliest -- that's the same time Bogaerts' initial deal is set to run out. Gray won't be arb-eligible until 2017, so he might be intrigued by an extension that kicks in before 2016 and gives him a significant raise a year early. He currently leads the American League in ERA and ERA+, just (deservedly) made his first All-Star team, and is right-handed -- with the Blue Jays erecting an anti-southpaw lineup that could be around for a while, that's no small thing to consider. If there is anyone you consider giving up both of Margot and Devers for, this is the guy.
The A's would need to be willing to give up Gray, of course. But if Beane is in that mindset -- and hey, maybe he isn't and wants Gray around in order to compete in 2016 -- and he likes what the Red Sox have to offer him, then there is no question that this is what Boston should be going for. Gray is going to cost a ton of prospects, but the Red Sox have them. They are there to be promoted to the big-league roster where they fit in, and when they do not, they are meant to be traded for players who can.
There is no Sonny Gray in Boston's system, and if there is, we won't know about it for a few years yet, hundreds and hundreds of big-league games from now. The Sox should give up just about anything to get someone like him, with the intention of keeping him around even longer than he's scheduled to. If they can't get it done now -- and it's very likely they cannot complete or even initiate a deal prior to the July 31 trade deadline -- then it should be item number one on the offseason list.