Sometimes the market won’t allow it. A team can dangle the best possible package of assets for a pitcher, an outfielder, a shut-down reliever, and the sellers just aren’t there. It’s important to establish this because I don’t want the Red Sox to make a trade just for the sake of it. To the extent there is a deal to be had, though, I would like to advocate the club makes a major trade at the 2013 trade deadline, one that nets them in the neighborhood of 2-3 wins over the final two months of the season, and one that positions them significantly better for the postseason.
There are a number of reasons why. First and most obviously, Boston finds itself in a great position. It’s July 26th and the Red Sox have the American League’s best record. No matter how healthy you think the future is for this organization, something can always go wrong. There are no guarantees they will find themselves in such a promising position next year or the year after. So, the notion that they shouldn’t “mortgage the future” to make a run in 2013 glosses over the idea that perennial contention is difficult no matter how strong your farm system appears to be.
Happily, they don’t need to “mortgage the future” at all in order to net some really promising short-term help. Jose Iglesias, Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts, Deven Marrero and Garin Cecchini all project to be Major League regulars at SS or 3B. Even if Cecchini moves to the outfield ultimately, that’s four players for two slots. In the outfield, where the system is most thin, Jackie Bradley, Jr. should have a long career as a well above average center fielder, and Bryce Brentz has a shot at being a solid regular too. At catcher, Blake Swihart is popping up on top prospect lists and Christian Vazquez is known to professional scouts already as a “shutdown defender” behind the plate. Mookie Betts has had a breakout season, too.
As for pitchers, the Red Sox have six (maybe seven if you want to include Drake Britton) who figure to make good money in Major League Baseball. Henry Owens may be the most promising but he is also farthest away. Brandon Workman is already taking a big club rotation turn. Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa continue to develop in Pawtucket while Anthony Ranaudo has reestablished himself as a future number 3 this season in Portland. Matt Barnes, the team’s 2011 first rounder, is sporting off the charts peripherals. And remember, the Red Sox took Trey Ball, a tall lefthanded pitcher with the seventh overall pick in the 2013 amateur draft.
Even after factoring for expected attrition, the Red Sox have far more players in their Minor League system, players that project as Major League regulars, than could ever play for their big club. That is to say there is a subset of these prospects that has much more value on the trade market than they do in Boston’s farm system. And there’s no telling what sort of value they will have come next season. The Kansas City Royals had one of the most acclaimed farm systems ever a few years back, and what do they have to show for it? James Shields and too many Rany rants to count.
As good a position as the Red Sox find themselves in here on July 26th, if the goal is a World Series, it appears they may need reinforcements. Detroit will be a tough out in the playoffs, and the Cardinals and Braves both look phenomenal. And of course the biggest threat to the Red Sox comes in the form of the hard-charging Rays. Criticize the play-in game all you want but one fun byproduct of it is that it has reinstated prestige and significance to a division title. The Red Sox don’t want any part of a play-in game.
The Rays are getting healthy and their kids are developing. You don’t want to overreact to an incredible recent run by Tampa Bay, but this is a balanced and formidable team that isn’t going anywhere. For their part, the Red Sox may be tapering a bit. While Mike Napoli seems to be finding his groove again, it’s fair to question whether the formula Boston has used to establish their current position is one they can ride the rest of the way. Daniel Nava, Mike Carp and Jose Iglesias have been critical to the team’s success. You could forgive a skeptic for questioning how long that can keep up. Would it be all that surprising to see David Ortiz cool off? John Lackey? Felix Doubront? Is Clay Buchholz pitching again this season? What about all those bullpen injuries?
The Red Sox are still an excellent team. I just think they’re a clear top-7 team or so that has the Minor League firepower to become a clear top-3 one if they can consummate the sort of blockbuster that may or may not be out there. The purpose of this post was simply to advocate with a lot of conviction that the stars have aligned almost perfectly for the Red Sox to take their shot. They’re in contention, their farm system features both star power and depth, and they have relied on some unlikely Big League performances to reach this point. July 31st is next Wednesday so we don’t have too long to wait to see what happens.