Should they stay or should they go? Struggling Sox have decisions to make
Since jettisoning A.J. Pierzynski, the Red Sox have had the feel of a winning team, whether because of some motivation they drew from Pierzynski’s departure or Christian Vazquez’s arrival or because they’ve played a lot of bad teams. It may be tempting to look at the team as a contender, but Fangraphs, which sees Boston as among the most talent-rich teams in baseball, gives them less than a 10 percent chance of playing in October. At 46-52, 7.5 games behind the division-leading Orioles, it’s time for Boston to start thinking about 2015.
The future is bright at Fenway, with Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Brock Holt and Vazquez cutting their teeth in the big leagues this season, most of them playing better than their more established counterparts. That said, they’ll need to return a fundamentally better team next year to contend after this promising team turned in abysmal results for three months.
Part of returning a better team in 2015 is leveraging parts that may be more valuable to other teams in 2014 into young talent. Which players should the Red Sox consider trading before the July 31 deadline?
The name most commonly cited in Red Sox trade rumors is Jake Peavy, the struggling veteran pitcher. The challenge with Peavy is not parting with him, but convincing another team that he’s worth something in return. While he’s improved in July in terms of run prevention and strikeout rate, he remains 1-8 with a 4.59 earned run average and with half of his $14.5 million salary due and a $15 million player option for 2015 likely to vest, few teams would part with a legitimate prospect for his services. Verdict: trade him if you can, even for nothing but salary relief.
Outfielder Jonny Gomes is another player likely to be traded this season. He strikes out a lot and doesn’t offer much on offense, but a lot of teams would take a little crazy and a little clutch for what’s left of a $5 million salary. That won’t bring Giancarlo Stanton, but if Boston can get an outfielder with major league upside, he should be dealt. Verdict: trade him if you can get any reasonable return.
Vazquez and catching prospects like Portland’s Blake Swihart made Pierzynski expendable, but the same may not be true of David Ross, a respected veteran who can hold his own with the bat or the glove and doesn’t demand a full-time role. Other teams might be interested in Ross’ services, but is he can be signed for $3.1 million (his 2014 rate), he could be a good bridge to Swihart or Dan Butler for another year. Verdict: keep him unless you’re blown away.
John Lackey is one of the league’s more intriguing trade candidates this year. His five-year, $82.5 million deal looked like a bust out of the gate, but in year four, he pitched valuable innings in a World Series and he’s been great in year five. Most notably, missing time for surgery related to a pre-existing elbow injury triggered a club option dictating that Lackey has to pitch for the league minimum salary next season. The Red Sox may find themselves having to negotiate an extension to keep Lackey happy, and that may work out for both parties. Still, a year-and-a-half of Lackey at a total of $8 million has immense value to a team willing to gamble that he’ll give 100 percent while making the minimum salary, so Ben Cherington should at least listen to offers. Verdict: trade him only for a superior return.
Jon Lester is a free agent after this season and would demand well over $100 million and possibly double that, on the open market. If the Red Sox can sign him to an extension at a reasonable rate, they should do so and lock down their ace for a few more years. If Lester demands seven or eight years, he doesn’t fit into an organizational philosophy that saw Jacoby Ellsbury leave and he just might become one of the most lucrative trade chips on the market. It’s not a great time to be dealing a lefthanded pitcher, with David Price, Cole Hamels and possibly Cliff Lee on the block, but any team would be thrilled to have Lester on board for the stretch run. Verdict: sign him if you can, trade him if you can’t.
While we’re talking about lucrative chips, you won’t hear much speculation about Dustin Pedroia, Boston’s best player. He’s signed for seven more years at just under $100 million, an extreme bargain gifted to the only team for which he’s ever played, and the city where he won a Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP and two championships. That said, Pedroia will be 31 in August, and is three years removed from the best season of his career. If management believes a wholesale re imaging of its deteriorating offense is in order, Mookie Betts is a natural second baseman and an All-Star talent and many teams would be interested in Pedroia. On the other hand, such a move would cost Boston more than a few fans, and would add uncertainty to near future Red Sox teams. Verdict: keep him.
I may risk losing some readers for The Forecaster with this next suggestion, but David Ortiz is only signed for one more year and his clutch hits don’t mean much to a last-place team. On the other hand, he’s struggled to beat defensive shifts this year and is limited to the American League and most AL teams are moving away from the full-time DH in favor of rotating other, more versatile players into that role for the occasional rest. An Ortiz trade wouldn’t benefit anyone. Verdict: keep him, of course.
We’ll close with a trade that might hurt some fans, but would likely make sense for all parties. Koji Uehara is only signed this year and at a very reasonable rate ($4.25 million). That and having by far the best WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) in baseball history would make him worthy of at least one high-level prospect. Koji brings security to the late innings, allowing fans to breathe easy, but a last-place team needs a closer like a penguin needs sunscreen. Verdict: trade him.
Red Sox fans may feel a sense of hope after winning seven of eight and trading fan favorites might be unpopular, but it’s quite unlikely that this team will leap over all four division opponents or seven Wild Card contenders to make the postseason and if a team can’t win 90 games, there’s no sense in paying for 80. There’s a lot of promise on this roster and in Pawtucket and Portland. The 2015 and 2016 seasons will be even more promising if players like Uehara and Gomes can be leveraged into young players who could contribute to the big club in those years.
Bryan O’Connor lives in Cumberland with his wife and two baseball-loving kids and writes about baseball all over the web. Follow him on Twitter @replevel.