As we rapidly approach the start of July, we have spent the last week or so examining the trade deadline. We’ve looked at targets at specific positions as well as players the Red Sox could inquire about from any of the clear rebuilding teams in both the American League and National League. It’s still too early for exact plans to have been made in most cases, but it seems from reports that the Red Sox will be looking primarily at relievers and right-handed depth bats this trade season. Of course, as we know, Boston is at a bit of a disadvantage due to their relative lack of prospect depth. Some of this is likely overblown and individual teams value prospects differently than the community at large. That being said, they don’t really have the top-level talent to take in the most valuable chips at the deadline.
They’ll need to find a way to work around that in order to improve their team to prepare for what is sure to be an intense stretch run, and Dave Dombrowski is going to have to get creative. One way to do this is to simply focus on rental acquisitions, as we saw with the Kelvin Herrera deal that the cost for these players is often less than their talent would indicate. The Red Sox should be able to afford most (all?) rentals. That’s the easiest solution to their prospect depth problem, and it’s one which I fully expect them to implement. It’s not the only one, though.
In addition to looking at rentals from the clear sellers, the Red Sox could also wade into the middle of the league and try to work out deals with fringe contenders. It’s true that the middle class in MLB is shrinking every year, but there are still a few teams that aren’t quite good enough to compete with the top of the league but aren’t in a spot to complete tear down. Most of the sellers we hear about are in a position to focus on ceiling and sacrifice a bit in terms of floor and proximity to the majors. The Red Sox won’t match up as well with those teams. Where Boston lacks in high impact prospects, however, they excel in terms of low-ceiling but high-floor pitching in the upper levels of the minors.
These obviously are not pieces that are going to appeal to every team. The Marlins are too far away from contention to move one of their trade chips for someone like this, for example. Ditto the Orioles. Fringe contenders would view them differently. To be clear, I’m referring to teams that could contend this year and aren’t completely out of it, but are more likely to make a move in the right direction in 2019 and 2020. These teams have solid cores already in place and want to supplement it with young, controllable talent on whom they can count to play in the majors. Given the Red Sox’ positional depth, they’d prefer teams looking for pitching. Think teams like the Rockies, the A’s and the Twins, and possibly the Giants and Mets as well. The latter two aren’t as likely — I have no idea what the Mets are and the Giants could use offense more than pitching, and both are likely closer to rebuilding than truly contending — but I suspect they view 2019 as a contention year.
So, what kind of pieces could the Red Sox offer up in a trade? Well, I hope you (and by you I mean the GM’s of the aforementioned fringe contenders that are totally reading this) like back-end starting pitchers and middle relievers. In all seriousness, the players the Red Sox have can have a real impact on a winning club, it just won’t be sexy. I’m talking about the following guys: Jalen Beeks, Hector Velazquez, Brian Johnson, Chandler Shepherd, Justin Haley, Mike Shawaryn, Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman, Ty Buttrey, Williams Jerez, Robby Scott, Bobby Poyner and Travis Lakins.
None of these are high-impact players and it by themselves they would not offer much. However, they could be of interest to teams that need pitching that is ready now or at least by 2019, and packaged together and/or with a piece or two from the lower levels, deals could start to get done. It won’t get anything great, but maybe this kind of package could be the start for something like Jed Lowrie or Blake Treinen from Oakland. I would think it would take more, but A) Billy Beane is always hard to predict and B) the A’s are better than you think. They have a solid core of position players and could use another pitcher or two to really get into wildcard contention. If Beane really likes someone like Beeks, maybe something gets done. This extends to guys like Adam Ottavino and D.J. LeMahieu with Colorado as well.
While this could be the best use of this Red Sox farm system’s specific strengths, it’s not a strategy without its weaknesses. The most obvious weakness is that it might not work! While any of the names listed above could be interesting to a GM of a fringe contender, that’s no guarantee. Even beyond that, these are also the types of teams that would want to wait until late July to make moves in order to totally figure out what they have as a team. Someone like the Royals, who are clearly in rebuild mode, could afford to trade early because they know what they are. The Red Sox also know what they are and would presumably like to improve their team as early as possible. It’s hard to see that getting done with a team like Oakland and Colorado, for example.
Despite the negatives, it’s the type of move that is worth exploring, as Dombrowski has to explore any avenue towards a deal possible. The lack of depth in Boston’s farm system will make things more difficult for them, but it won’t make them impossible. Creativity will be the key to making moves this summer, and it could very well be the difference between winning the division and playing in a one-game playoff come October.