With Kevin Youkilis now on his way to Chicago, the Sox are free to make other moves.
Youkils, who spent eight-and-a-half seasons in Boston, was an institution both on and off the Fenway diamond, but his lack of production, injury problems and the emergence of rookie Will Middlebrooks made the veteran expendable. Although the Sox got very little in return, they have managed to free themselves of a potential distraction as they attempt to rebound from their rough start and climb back into the AL East race.
Spurred in part by Middlebrooks, the Sox have begun to see positive results on the field. They have won eight of their last 10 games, and over the course of that streak the Sox offense has averaged 6.0 runs per game.
The pitching has started to round into form as well, as the resurgent Clay Buchholz and returning Daisuke Matsuzaka have restored a modicum of stability to the volatile Sox rotation. The bullpen has been outstanding as well, and has in fact been one of MLB's best since late April.
With everything starting to come together on the field, the Sox are proving that talk of blowing up the entire roster may have been premature. The injection of energy that players like Middlebrooks, Ryan Kalish and Cody Ross have provided has helped the Sox finally look like a contender in the crowded AL pennant race.
With the end of June approaching, GM Ben Cherington must now look to tweak the roster a bit more in order to help the Sox continue their upward climb. Here are five moves he should make to shore up the Sox roster as they enter the stretch run:
Despite their recent run of success, the Sox do not have a bona fide ace among their five starters. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett—the two most likely candidates to fill that role—have both battled inconsistency this season.
Of the starters that could be had at the trade deadline, two in particular come to mind: Cole Hamels of the Phillies and Zach Greinke of the Brewers. The impending free agency of both pitchers would make them less enticing to acquire without a long-term extension, but each would certainly push the Sox over the top in the pennant race.
The Sox have some chips to work with if they want to pursue one of these top arms, as several of their top prospects have developed significantly over the last couple seasons. Jackie Bradley Jr., Anthony Ranaudo and Xander Bogaerts all could be used to bring one of these star hurlers to Boston.
Although Nick Punto and Brent Lillibridge are both decent players, the Sox do not have much depth in their infield now that Youkilis is gone. They will need to add a piece or two who can come off the bench to help spell the starters.
Compounding this issue is that in both this season and previous ones, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Aviles have had problems staying healthy. While calling up Jose Iglesias to add depth is one possibility, he has also struggled with injuries this year and has not yet proven that he can hit major league pitching.
If they can bring in someone with speed and the ability to play all three positions, the Sox would be far better off than their competition in chasing a playoff spot.
After a catastrophic start to the season, the Sox bullpen has righted themselves en route to a 3.30 ERA. They have two relievers (Matt Albers and Scott Atchison) with an ERA under 2.00 and two more (Andrew Miller and the injured Rich Hill) with an ERA under 3.00.
They have several pitchers stashed in Triple-A or in roles less than what they’re capable of pitching. From Daniel Bard to Andrew Bailey to Mark Melancon to Junichi Tazawa to Clayton Mortensen, the surprising number of options indicates that the bullpen has become a position of strength for this team.
With middle relief at a premium, the Sox have the unique ability to trade off a reliever or two for farm system depth without damaging their status as contenders.
In Ryan Kalish and Cody Ross, it would appear the Sox have found two core members of their outfield for the rest of this season. With the return of Jacoby Ellsbury on the horizon, Carl Crawford appears to be the odd man out.
It may be expensive and very early to give up on such a promising player, but Cherington must realize that the team is better off going forward without this Theo Epstein albatross. A fresh start would benefit not just the Red Sox, but Crawford as well.
If the Sox were to deal Crawford, they’d still have a significant logjam in their outfield. With a Ross-Ellsbury-Kalish everyday group and Adrian Gonzalez capable of filling in as needed, the Sox would really only need one more outfielder to fill out the roster.
Judging from his performance over the last few weeks, Scott Podsednik is ideally suited to fill this role. He can play all three positions and would provide game-changing speed off the bench.
What this means for the rest of the outfielders is that they must either accept assignments to the minor leagues or be shipped out of town. While it may be tough to jettison players like Ryan Sweeney and Darnell McDonald after they’ve made such positive contributions to the team this year, it is necessary in order for each player on the 25-man roster to have a defined role.