Even after last September’s epic collapse, the Boston Red Sox had a lot of promise entering the 2012 season.
However, despite taking a weekend series against the Chicago Cubs, Boston sits at a disappointing 33-33, good for last in the AL East. Injuries aside—which, in their defense, has been a major problem over the course of the season—the Sox have flaws that need to be corrected if they want to have any shot at turning this campaign around.
Here are three ways that Boston can correct some of those mistakes and make a run to get back into the playoff picture.
It’s difficult to watch a two-time World Series champion struggle to find his himself again.
Unfortunately for Kevin Youkilis, that’s where he is right now. He's had countless trade rumors swirling around him for the last two seasons involving a handful of clubs, combined with significant injuries that have sidelined him for prolong periods over the last few years. He struggles to get into deep counts and see good pitches, too.
Youkilis’s days in Boston may be numbered—as they should be, for any player in their mid-30s and showing regression.
Youkilis is hitting .215 this season in 135 at-bats, over 70 points lower than his nine-year career average in the big leagues. He’s also always been known as a hitter with a keen eye at the plate, able to draw plenty of walks throughout the course of his Major League and minor league careers. This year, though, Youkilis maintains a disappointing .301 on-base percentage—far from normal for him.
Youkilis has also struck out 39 times, which tells you a couple of things: He’s not seeing enough pitches at the plate on a regular bases and he is chasing bad pitches.
Having said all that, there seems to be no room at third base for Youkilis to play—especially with rookie Will Middlebrooks holding down the position and providing adequate defense. First base and DH are no options either, with Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz manning those spots.
Trading Youkilis seems to be the ideal solution for Boston at this point in time, with too many players and not enough room on the diamond.
After battling back all the criticism and dealing with everything that comes with playing in the pressure-pack environment that is Boston, Youkilis could be the ultimate “change-of-secenery” guy for a club looking for a discount on the slugger.
Even if he isn't drawing as many walks and seeing as many pitches as usual, it's hard to imagine that Youkilis has fallen completely off the cliff—especially considering the fact that he's not fully healthy. Getting out of New England may be the best career move for him right now. He would be able to hit the reset button—and at times, that can do amazing things for a player who has dealt with the adversity and troubles that Youkilis has.
The MLB Trading Deadline isn’t for another month, but look for Youkilis to be on the radar for a handful of clubs looking to get a discount for a historically patient hitter on his way back.
Rumors swirled around all winter long on who the front office and management would try to tab as the guy to fill those big shoes left behind by Papelbon, who racked up 219 saves while wearing a Red Sox uniform during a spectacular seven-year career.
Newly-appointed manager Bobby Valentine has, at times, hinted at the thought of getting flame-throwing right-hander Daniel Bard in the game for the ninth, but a battle between Valentine and the front office through all of spring training ultimately concluded with Bard landing a spot in the starting rotation instead.
Alfredo Aceves, who was one of the few saviors for Boston last season, struggled horribly in April in the role, compiling a 10.29 ERA in seven innings of work while blowing two save opportunities.
Even though Aceves has settled down since his terrible start to the season, the Sox would benefit greatly if they were able to find an arm that can consistently shut down guys in the ninth inning.
The answer: Pittsburgh Pirates' closer Joel Hanrahan.
Hanrahan has been fantastic this season for Pittsburgh, saving 17 games while holding a respectful 2.42 ERA. He also has punched out an impressive 31 batters over 26 innings (if you're scoring at home, folks, that's a 10.73 K/9 rate).
You may be asking why would the Pirates deal a big piece such as Hanrahan? Well, the bottom line is that Pittsburgh isn't playing for this year: Championships are what they're playing for, and even though Hanrahan is under contract for the next two seasons, he's a nice chip that the Pirates have to put out on the market.
Hanrahan could be a great fit for a contender or a club looking to shake things up and make a run. Boston, with a loaded payroll and high expectations—not to mention players coming back from injuries—could (and should) be one of those teams. It would add a big arm to the back-end of the bullpen, put Aceves back into his comfortable role as a long reliever and take the pressure off of Bard and allow him to correct himself in triple-A.
Look for Boston to make a run at acquiring Hanrahan at some point as the trading deadline creeps closer and closer.
It's been a long road for Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
After coming up as a coveted prospect with the Atlanta Braves in 2007, Saltalamacchia was dealt at the trading deadline for Mark Teixeira, landing in Texas and in a mess of catching prospects, all with Major-League potential.
Despite working his way up over the course of a few seasons and earning playing time, Saltalamacchia hasn't produced in the way that scouts envisioned him doing so. Last season, the once-promising catcher landed in Boston and showed signs of turning his career around.
In 2012, Saltalamacchia is finally showing signs that he's putting everything together: In 171 at-bats, the 27-year-old is hitting .257 with 12 homers and an impressive .538 slugging percentage. He also has 12 doubles and 33 RBIs, finding a way to hold his own in every way at the plate.
Saltalamacchia is getting his first real shot at catching every day for Boston this year, and he is showing every time out why he should be the guy calling the shots behind the plate on a regular basis. Valentine is also showing Saltalamacchia the love by giving him more consistent opportunities to show why he deserves to be that guy.
In reality, most teams hold two catchers on their roster and alternate them to give each time off. Catching is grueling job and puts a lot of tax on the body.
However, the more that Saltalamacchia puts everything together at the plate, the more he's going to play. It's inevitable: He's going to play if he proves that he can do so effectively and help the team win.
It's not technically a "move", per say, involving names being traded, but having a full-time guy behind the plate is a huge advantage. It creates a chain effect in the process. Valentine has more room to work with, and he doesn't have to go to the front office and say that he needs another catcher. He can focus on other issues with the team.
Saltalamacchia has performed well this season, so expect him to continue to get the job every game behind the plate.