Far too often during the still-young 2012 season, the Boston Red Sox have been inconsistent.
There has been no telling when one of their starting pitchers would not last through the third inning. Or when a member of the bullpen would suffer a meltdown. Or when the offense would endure a power outage right when it looked to be on track.
It’s a schizophrenic identity befitting a team that’s 12–17 and dwelling in the cellar of the American League East.
This inconsistency can be chalked up to having three key members of the batting order (Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis and Carl Crawford) on the shelf along with a starting pitcher (Daisuke Matsuzaka) and the team’s closer (Andrew Bailey).
Will their returns mark a turnaround in Boston’s fortunes? Perhaps. But like any good general manager, Ben Cherington would be wise to have a contingency plan in place should any of those five players have trouble bouncing back from injury.
The following is 10 players—seven pitchers, three position players—Cherington would be wise to keep his eyes on.
Thornton has struggled in May (five earned runs in 2.0 IP) and recently lost the White Sox closer job. But a strong first month of the season (11.0 IP, 10 K, 0.73 WHIP) showed that the 35-year-old lefty could still bring it.
There was plenty of talk this offseason about the Pale Hose unloading Thornton and his $5.5 million salary. If Chicago continues to play sub-.500 baseball, that talk is sure to resurface as the trade deadline approaches.
Thornton is a power reliever who’s equally effective against righties (.233 career BAA) and lefties (.230). The Red Sox have struggled to find a pitcher in their bullpen who can deliver game after game, and Thornton could be that guy.
The prognosis on Carl Crawford’s elbow—and the timetable of his return—changes on a daily basis. Also, his subpar performance in 2011 (even if it was the product of injuries) does nothing to inspire confidence among the Red Sox brass.
While Francouer is no longer the baseball savior folks hailed him as in Atlanta, he has carved out a career as a solid defensive outfielder with a cannon arm and enough pop in his bat to make his teams happy.
His pull-heavy swing is suited well for Fenway and the Green Monster. As is his penchant for racking up doubles (his 47 in 2011 was one off the major league lead). And his time with the New York Mets has steeled him for playing in hard-to-please markets.
If Crawford’s ailing elbow keeps him out for longer than expected, Francouer could form a solid outfield along with Jacoby Ellsbury and Cody Ross, providing more power than Marlon Byrd, Ryan Sweeney or Darnell McDonald ever could.
Broxton had a rocky start to the season and was bailed out partially by Greg Holland, whose rib injury allowed Broxton to hold on to the Royals’ closer role.
Since then, with the knowledge that he’s on a longer leash, Broxton has settled down. He hasn’t allowed a run or a hit in his last four appearances.
Broxton is only signed with Kansas City through the 2012 season. The Royals could opt to go with the cheaper (and younger) Holland if they continue to have one of the worst records in baseball.
While Broxton isn’t the same dominant closer he was with the Dodgers, the Red Sox would be happy to have him after failing thus far to find a replacement for Jonathan Papelbon.
Pavano hasn’t been great in 2012, but in comparison to the rest of the Twins’ starting pitchers, he’s been an ace. In addition to two wins, he’s pitched six innings or more in each of his starts.
Any team who chose to pursue the 36-year-old righty—who is a free agent after the season—wouldn’t be getting a true ace, but they would get someone reliable. Pavano has thrown well over 600 innings over the past three seasons, rendering his injury-plagued tenure with the Yankees a distant memory.
The Twins are in rebuilding mode, and they’d no doubt love for another team to swoop in and take some of Pavano’s $8.5 million salary off their hands.
It’d be a full circle journey for Pavano if that team was the Red Sox—the organization that traded him in exchange for Pedro Martinez in 1997.
This is, admittedly, a reach. The thought of the famously taciturn Ichiro agreeing to a trade that would send him to a high-pressure media market like Boston seems like lunacy.
Then again, what is trade projection if not hypothetical posturing?
Everything that the Red Sox wanted Crawford to be—a pesky, left-handed bat at the top of the order who plays spectacular defense—Ichiro has been for the past 11-plus seasons. And he can still steal a base when need be (40-plus SB in three of the last four seasons).
Boston’s best sales pitch would be to appeal to Ichiro’s (assumed) desire to play for a World Series title. (His lone postseason appearance came in his rookie season, in 2001.) Seattle might be willing to part ways with him, as this is the final season of his contract.
And as solid as Ryan Sweeney has been in 2012, it would represent a big upgrade in right field for the Red Sox.
The way that Big Z has started 2012, folks are starting to forget his embarrassing flameout with the Cubs at the end of last season.
Zambrano has strung together five straight quality starts, the latest of which was a three-hit, nine-strikeout shutout of the Astros on Monday. The only reason he has but one win is a lack of offensive support and the inability of his bullpen to hold leads.
Boston was considered one of Zambrano’s biggest suitors last August when he was still regarded as damaged goods. It would be a gamble bringing him over to the AL, and his hot start might be due to his closeness to Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen more than anything else.
But, eager to hope that one team might want to pick up the $19.25 million vesting option on his contract for 2013, Zambrano could be valuable to any team playing meaningful baseball during the stretch run.
Garza spent several seasons as a thorn in the side of the Red Sox. The thought of him returning to the AL East and returning the favor to division rivals—but in a Boston uniform—is a nice one.
If talks of an extension with the Cubs fall through, Garza could be on the trading block at this year’s deadline (as FOXSports.com’s Jon Morosi predicted in February).
Four of Garza’s first five starts in 2012 have been quality ones. Overall he owns a 2–1 record with a 2.67 ERA, 36 strikeouts in 33.2 IP and a sparkling 0.89 WHIP. His three seasons in Tampa Bay demonstrated that he’s well-equipped for battle in the AL East.
Of course, negotiating with two of Boston’s former front office executives (Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer) could be another battle in and of itself.
Marcum is a free agent after this season and if Milwaukee’s current slide persists for the rest of this season, they could look to unload him.
With 13 wins, an ERA under 4.00 and a WHIP under 1.20 in his past two seasons, he would bring stability to any rotation that he joined. Like Garza, Marcum is familiar with the rigors of being a starting pitcher in the AL East (from his time in Toronto).
It would certainly be an opportunity to cash in on a player who looks locked in to his quest for a new contract. Five of Marcum’s six starts in 2012 have been quality ones and he’s averaging nearly a strikeout per inning.
Theriot is a solid utility infielder who can put a bat on the ball (career .280 hitter), draw a walk (.342 OBP) and steal a base (20-plus SB in four of his last five seasons).
Ryan Kalish will be the primary pinch-runner once he returns from injury, but that might not be for a while. Even when he does, having an infielder to use in those situations never hurts.
Theriot is only in San Francisco on a one-year deal, and when Freddy Sanchez returns from his shoulder injury he’ll likely reclaim his job as starting second baseman. Theriot will be expendable and could be a nice role player for a contender.
Before landing on the DL with a lat strain, Street was off to a nice start in his first season in San Diego.
Nine of Street’s 10 appearances have been scoreless, he’s striking out more than a batter per inning (13 in 9.2 IP) and he owns a 0.93 ERA and four saves. Not a bad resume on a team that could end the year with the National League’s worst record.
Street’s contract has a $9 million player option for 2013. Whichever team has him at season’s end can pick that up or buy him out for $500,000, and you can bet Street would prefer the former.
Despite a history of hiccups every now and then, Street would be a nice edition to Boston’s beleaguered bullpen—a running theme in this column and, unfortunately, their season so far.