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Red Sox Should Buy and Sell at Trading Deadline

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The trading deadline approaches and only three teams in the American League have worse records than the Red Sox.

But Boston is only four games back from landing a spot in the wildcard playoff game.

While the team doesn’t inspire confidence for a strong playoff run, the Red Sox are too close and have too much talent to start thinking about next season already.

So what’s the recommended course as major league baseball approaches its trading deadline: Buy and Sell.

What this path means is don’t bale on the season but the trades the Red Sox make – when looked at collectively – can’t detract from 2013 and 2014.

The plan for buying and selling:

  • Don’t trade elite prospects (Matt Barnes, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley) for any rental players. It’s alright to trade second-tier ones (Bryce Brentz, Jose Iglesias, Ryan Lavarnway) because they are replaceable.
  • It’s okay to deal players over 30 years old on long-term deals (Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford) – good luck with that one.
  • The team can acquire players over 30 – but only ones with contracts that expire after this or next season to maintain roster flexibility.
  • Players under 30 reaching free agency during one of the next two off-seasons (such as Jacoby Ellsbury) can be dealt if you don’t see a long-term contract in the cards. You are probably asking – wouldn’t trading Ellsbury hurt Boston this season? Maybe – but the Red Sox problem is pitching. They score plenty of runs. If the Red Sox brass doesn’t see Ellsbury re-upping with another contract – trade him in a deal for a stud pitcher.
  • Fungible pieces – like Mike Aviles, Kelly Shoppach, Ryan Sweeney, others – can go because you aren’t counting on them as key players in 2013.
  • Bullpen pitchers can always be traded – because they are unpredictable on what they will do next season. And if you acquire a reliever – do it with only this season in mind.

So what’s on the shopping list?

A starting pitcher – the best one you can get.

Keep knocking on Seattle’s door for Felix Hernandez – just in case.

The Plan B list (in priority order):

  • Josh Johnson, Miami
  • Matt Garza, Cubs
  • Jason Vargas, Seattle
  • Brandon McCarthy, Oakland – only with medical clearance (the A’s have lots of young pitching – he could be available even with the team challenging for a playoff spot)

I don’t want to do the rental on Ryan Dempster (Cubs); not sure how Zack Greinke (Milwaukee) would fare in Boston; Francisco Liriano (Minnesota) is buyer beware. And no thanks on Wandy Rodriguez.

Next on the shopping list – a bullpen arm. Not required, but would be a good add.

Prospect Trading Chips

Mike Andrews of SoxProspects.com did a great job classifying Red Sox prospects based on trade value – and value to Boston.

What do you think the Red Sox will do before the trading deadline? And who would be your top target?

Red Sox Second Half Outlook

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Camp Harmony reopened today with the Red Sox starting the second half of the season.

The day began with Gordon Edes’ post on Red Sox disarray.

We already knew most of the players don’t like manager Bobby Valentine – but that’s okay since Boston has a bunch of underperforming players who need someone on their case.

In today’s article, Edes added that three of Bobby V’s coaches don’t like him either.

If true, this is an unacceptable situation.

Red Sox management needs to decide where they stand – if they are united, which is an open question given GM Ben Cherington didn’t want Valentine on board in the first place.

If Boston’s brass backs Valentine – let him have a coaching staff that stands with him.

If management won’t let him run his clubhouse – get rid of Valentine now.

Lucchino Letter

In what seemed timed as a rushed response to the Edes article, Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino sent a letter to season ticket holders – telling all everything is just fine and Boston won’t bail on the season.

The letter’s language was downright strange – with Lucchino describing players like “cheerful Cody Ross” and “friendly Mike Aviles.”

We get the Red Sox compulsive need to put a positive spin on everything – but give the fans some credit.

Yes, the Red Sox have some great fan favorites – led by David Ortiz.

But overall, the team is pretty unlikable. (Not calling out Ross and Aviles here – they are okay.)

Play up to expectation levels and personalities won’t matter.

To quote the late, great Al Davis – “Just Win Baby.”

Players to Watch

As I have written previously – and it remains true at the start of the second half – Red Sox success is all about starting pitching.

And most directly, it’s about Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz being a Big Three.

They deliver – the Red Sox are in the playoff hunt.

Those three don’t deliver, Boston is Royals-Land in the standings.

The other key is Jacoby Ellsbury. I know I have written the Red Sox score plenty of runs to win.

But with Adrian Gonzalez not delivering – yes, he will get better in the second half – Boston needs help against right-handed pitching. Ellsbury can do that.

Other thoughts:

  • Franklin Morales stays in the rotation and does well. Bobby V. knows talent and it was a good move putting him in the rotation.
  • It won’t happen right away but Andrew Bailey will finish the season as closer with Alfredo Aceves setting him up along with Vicente Padilla and Daniel Bard (yes, he will be back).
  • Carl Crawford delivers nothing noteworthy and Daniel Nava keeps getting playing time.
  • Sometime in August, Jose Iglesias arrives with Mike Aviles moving to a super-sub role.

Red Sox Report Card at Mid-Season

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The Red Sox have returned home from a West Coast road-trip where they passed the halfway point in games played this season.

While there have been bright spots, the team overall is a disappointment.

Boston is a team built to do more than just contend for a playoff position. It is built – including salary structure – to win now.

At the midway point, the Red Sox have the Orioles and Angels ahead of them in the expanded wildcard race – with the Yankees also ahead, leading the AL East.

The Sox are tied with the Rays and the Indians are closely behind both teams.

Success should be based on comparing the Sox to the first place Yankees, not the wildcard teams – which is why I call them disappointing. Boston is 6.5 games behind New York.

Let’s look at three bright spots and three disappointments for the season thus far.

Bright Spots

  • Bullpen. There was a very rocky start – beginning with the Andrew Bailey Spring Training injury and Mark Melancon early season meltdown. But kudos to manager Bobby Valentine for building a very productive bullpen – led by closer Alfredo Aceves. While Aceves can be shaky (six losses, four blown saves), he has come through for the team. As have the rest of the bullpen. And hopefully Bailey can give it a boost in a few weeks with his return.
  • Salty. It is a shame that Jarrod Saltalamacchia did not make the All-Star team. He has truly emerged – for instance, Salty has 16 home runs, already matching last season’s total. And he looks like to be a leader on the field – showing a presence similar to his former mentor Jason Varitek.
  • Middlebrooks. Will Middlebrooks started the season as the Red Sox top prospect – with the expectation he would continue his development at AAA Pawtucket. But an injury and poor performance by Kevin Youkilis gave Middlebrooks an opportunity – and he took full advantage of it. Third base now belongs to Middlebrooks – and the Red Sox hope it stays that way for a long time.

Honorable Mention: David Ortiz. Big Papi continues to produce big numbers – defying what one expects from a 36 year old in the post-steroid era. Felix Doubront – with eight wins – also deserves a shout out.

Disappointments

  • Big Three Starters. The Red Sox have a lot invested in Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. And their failures to deliver consistently are the top reason why Boston has been disappointing. They need to answer the bell in the second half for the Red Sox to contend.
  • Adrian Gonzalez. Where has the power gone? Six home runs at the midway mark don’t cut it. This is a player who regularly hit 30+ homers in the massive Petco Park in San Diego. Gonzalez took one for the team moving out to rightfield while the Sox were sorting out the Middlebrooks-Youkilis situation – and that’s commendable. Now it’s time to hit for power – and put some fear into opposing pitchers.
  • Ben Cherington. The top off-season moves by new GM Ben Cherington – acquiring Bailey and Melancon – have been duds. He gave up assets – Josh Reddick, Miles Head, Jed Lowrie – and not only the Red Sox don’t have much to show for giving them up, the team three fewer trading chips for making mid-season moves. And moving Daniel Bard into the rotation was a disaster – for the team and Bard.

What’s your assessment of the Red Sox – is your glass half empty or half full? And do you see the team making the playoffs?

Red Sox Quick Hits: Beckett, Youkilis and Crawford

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Beckett Woes. Josh Beckett hit the disabled list with a bum shoulder. Bad news on multiple fronts. The move weakens a Red Sox rotation that is already performing below expectations. It also serves as a reminder that Boston has the 32 year old Beckett under contract at big bucks ($15.750 million per year) through the 2014 season. Alex Speier charted the history of Beckett’s shoulder woes and called the injury “a matter worthy of significant attention.” The team needs a healthy Beckett – this year and beyond. And – with or without Beckett – Boston needs another top starter. Put Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza of the Cubs at the top of the list.

DBacks Talking Youk. Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic reports the Red Sox asked the Arizona Diamondbacks for reserve OF Gerardo Parra as part of a deal for 3B Kevin Youkilis. And Arizona said no. Shows GM Ben Cherington is out there trying to trade Youk – despite what he says. And – more importantly – it’s going to be a tough market to move Youk, as noted in a recent post. Don’t expect the Red Sox to get a lot of value for Youkilis in any trade – meaning, no everyday starter or pitcher who is a difference maker. And what Boston gets back may greatly depend on how much of Youk’s salary they are willing to eat.

Crawford Throwing. Manager Bobby Valentine reported OF Carl Crawford threw the ball well before today’s game. Sorry, can’t get excited this “news.” First, no date has been set for Crawford to start playing games. Second, even when Crawford plays, not sure his contributions will make much difference. Best case scenario: Crawford gets healthy, plays well, and the Red Sox eat a lot of salary and move him to another team. Great match: Miami Marlins – they need an outfielder and demonstrated a willingness to spend in the off-season.

Be Glad You Are Not A Phillies Fan. Frustrated supporting the Red Sox? Be happy you are not a Phillies fan. Their season is more disappointing than the Red Sox performance. Another team dealing with a bunch of injuries. But the Phillies are older and also have a bunch of expensive long-term contracts. Key difference: the Red Sox have a much stronger farm system than the Phillies – so Boston’s help is on the way.

What do you think – who’s is better for this season and the long term: Boston or Philadelphia?

Red Sox Quick Hit Notes

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Beckett, Lackey Highly Rated. Sports Illustrated recently released the results of an MLB player poll – taken in the preseason – on the most overrated pitchers in baseball. Josh Beckett landed number three and John Lackey placed number four (based on 2011 performance most people couldn’t have had a very high opinion of Lackey – and he’s still overrated?). So far this season, one would think Beckett may be turning perceptions around. Also of note: C.J. Wilson was number one and Jonathan Papelbon was five.

Stay Away from Saunders. Ken Rosenthal reports the Diamondbacks may look to shop lefty Joe Saunders in an effort to clear a spot for top prospect Trevor Bauer. Boston should pass on Saunders. It would be better to focus its top trading chips on a potentially premier starter like the Cubs’ Matt Garza – someone who can make a difference in a tough AL East race. And the Red Sox will be looking for pitching. There’s a good piece by Alex Speier retracing Boston’s decisions on Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson – noting how the team passed on both because the prices were too high. Don’t expect the asking prices to come down as we approach the trading deadline.

Barnes Goes Seven. Big game yesterday for Red Sox top pitching prospect Matt Barnes, pitching a complete game shutout (seven innings because it was part of a doubleheader). Barnes dropped his ERA to 0.93. If he keeps this up, look for Barnes to be promoted again this season – moving up to AA Portland.

Blue Jays Targeting Quentin. Jon Heyman writes that Toronto would be a good home for OF Carlos Quentin if San Diego decides to move the free agent to be. The Red Sox should explore acquiring Quentin. I know the Sox outfield is (theoretically) getting more crowded with Cody Ross, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford coming off the DL. But how can Boston count on Crawford for anything? Get Quentin as a righty power bat rental and park him in leftfield. Platoon Ross with Ryan Sweeney in right. And hope Ellsbury returns to form in center. As for Crawford – anything he delivers this season should be seen as a bonus, don’t plan on any production. His injury and performance track records don’t indicate he can contribute. One more thought: Look for the Yankees to get in on Quentin if Brett Gardner continues to have elbow woes.

What do you think – should the Red Sox look to add another bat? Should they count on Crawford to return and contribute?

What’s Going Wrong with the Red Sox

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It’s not complicated. The Red Sox are second in the AL (fourth in MLB) in runs scored with 138.

And the bullpen has turned things around – as noted in a Tweet by Jeremy Lundblad: first 14 games: 8.44 ERA; last 12 games: 1.31 ERA.

Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard have been okay for number four and five starters.

The Red Sox woes revolve around the top three starters: Jon Lester (one win), Josh Beckett (two wins and complaining about shoulder woes) and Clay Buchholz (three wins but with an eight-plus ERA – great proof  point the Red Sox are scoring plenty of runs to win).

As written in this blog previously, the season revolves around the top three starters.

They deliver as expected – and as they are paid – and the Red Sox have a playoff team.

They don’t deliver – nothing else matters.

Aaron Cook, Andrew Miller and anyone else in the Red Sox farm system doesn’t matter.

Playoff teams need dependable, front-line pitching.

Time to step up, guys.

Fixing the Red Sox Bullpen

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The Red Sox need to explore the trade market to address their bullpen woes – now.

Pulling Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard out of the pen without adequate replacements has been a disaster.

Given how early it is in the season, it will be very difficult – and costly – to fix but Boston doesn’t have a choice.

Three Closer Targets

Suggest the Red Sox turn to the teams that are don’t have a chance to contend in 2012 and open up the farm system to grab a closer.

Joel Hanrahan. The best option but also the least likely to be moved. While Pittsburgh has no chance to win, they are trying to show their fans success is on the horizon. Moving Hanrahan would smack as another rebuilding sell-off – he is not a free agent until after the 2013 season. That’s why the Sox would need to pay big. Something like Felix Doubront, Ryan Lavarnway and one or two more solid to top prospects (like an Anthony Ranaudo).

Huston Street. San Diego is another team going nowhere. Street is a free agent to be. And the Padres have Andrew Cashner as a closer in waiting. So Street is likely to hit the market sometime this season. The Red Sox might as well pursue this now – rather than waiting until the trading deadline. The trade package for Street would be similar – but probably a little less rich – to what it would take to land Hanrahan.

Grant Balfour. Another free agent after this season – and it’s hard to picture him returning to Oakland. Has had a strong start to the season. The Andrew Bailey deal shows Oakland has respect for Boston’s farm system (Miles Head – part of the Bailey deal – is off to a terrific start in the hitter friendly California League).

More Bullpen Moves

Getting a closer now hopefully stops the bleeding – and buys some time for Bard in the rotation.

But if Alfredo Aceves, Franklin Morales and Vicente Padilla can’t hold the fort in the seventh and eighth innings – Boston needs to look to moving Bard back to the bullpen for the season (not just this week).

The Sox may have starting pitching depth to work with – Aaron Cook in the next week or so (a Doubront replacement if needed) and later Daisuke Matsuzaka in a month or so (potentially freeing up Bard for the pen).

Get the bullpen squared away – and then all’s the Sox need to fix is getting the Big Three of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz pitching like an effective Big Three. I know – no minor task.

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