A year ago, the idea of the Boston Red Sox trading Josh Beckett would have been absurd. He had a record of 9-4 and an ERA of 2.17 when the trade deadline rolled around, and the Red Sox were 66-40 and in first place in the AL East.
Beckett ended up going 4-3 with a 4.50 ERA to finish the 2011 season, and he is 5-9 with a 4.57 ERA so far this season for a Red Sox team that is in last place in the AL East.
As a result of all this, the vibes have changed. Beckett has gone from being untouchable to being a guy who the organization wouldn't mind getting rid of.
So says the rumor mill, anyway.
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported on Sunday that the Red Sox have explored the possibility of trading Beckett in recent days, and Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wrote that the Red Sox are actively trying to find a taker for Beckett. Among the teams they have called are the Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves, both of whom have needs in their starting rotations.
For what it's worth, Sox general manager Ben Cherington flat-out told Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe that the rumors that are out there regarding Beckett are inaccurate. One supposes he would know.
Still, it makes perfect sense for the Red Sox to try and trade Beckett now for a variety of different reasons.
Just take a look at the market for starting pitching at the moment. The demand is there, but the supply has shrunk now that Anibal Sanchez, Zack Greinke and Francisco Liriano are all off the market. To boot, the price tags for Josh Johnson and James Shields are high, Matt Garza is hurt, and Ryan Dempster has made it pretty clear that he only wants to play for the Dodgers.
In putting Beckett out on the market, what the Red Sox are doing is seeing if anybody is desperate enough to swing a deal for him. Now is as good a time as ever for the Red Sox to see if they can get a top prospect or two for Beckett while also unloading some of his contract.
Such is the perfect-world scenario for the Red Sox. Alas, this is not a perfect world.
The Red Sox probably will be able to unload a good portion of Beckett's contract if they deal him elsewhere, but they're not getting a top prospect for him. There's no chance at all of that happening.
Teams appear to be more hesitant than usual to part with their top prospects this season, and the clubs that have parted with top prospects have done so to acquire players with at least a shred of dependability.
The Dodgers gave up a talented prospect in Nathan Eovaldi to get a talented hitter and a change-of-scenery candidate in Hanley Ramirez. The Tigers parted with Jacob Turner to get a solid starting pitcher in Anibal Sanchez and a solid second baseman in Omar Infante. The Angels parted with Jean Segura and two other top prospects to get a true No. 1 starter in Zack Greinke.
The trouble with Beckett is that he's one of the most undependable players in baseball right now. He's had a ton of trouble staying consistent over the last year, and he has essentially lost his status as an ace pitcher.
The best-case scenario for Beckett in a given start used to be seven or eight dominant innings. Now, the best-case scenario for him is a mere quality start. He's become a middle-of-the-rotation starter, similar in many respects to trade bait like Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton.
Such players aren't worth top prospects, as clubs are only going to part with the best prospects to get players who they think will help. Beckett could help, but that's just the thing—"could" is not the same as "will."
Beckett's case is further complicated by several other matters.
He does have value because he's under contract through 2014, but he's set to make nearly $16 million in both 2013 and 2014. That's money that other clubs will want the Red Sox to eat. The less they agree to eat, the less they'll be able to get for Beckett in a trade.
The only way the Red Sox are going to get what they perceive to be fair value is if they eat most or all of the money remaining on Beckett's contract, and that's something they're probably not going to do. If they're going to pay for him, they may as well let him keep pitching for them.
The other thing that hurts Beckett's value is the fact that there's only so much that a change of scenery can fix. His fastball has lost a lot of zip, and that's not something a new team and a new city can fix. He's also not getting hitters out with his cutter as much as he was in 2011 (check the PITCHf/x values on FanGraphs), and it's hard to imagine a new city changing that either.
Now more than ever, Beckett needs good location and smoke and mirrors to get hitters out. He's in the middle of a transition—one that is proving to be difficult for him.
And then there are the character questions. Beckett doesn't bring a ton of positive energy to the Red Sox, and Heyman noted in his article that the Red Sox fear that Beckett's presence itself has had a negative impact on the rest of the starting rotation. That's a point of view that is clearly linked to the chicken and beer scandal.
For the Red Sox to actually deal Beckett, they're going to need to find a club that is just as willing to trade for him as the Red Sox are to get rid of him.
It's already apparent that no such trading partner exists, and it's not hard to decipher why. Even in a market where starting pitchers are hard to come by, Beckett isn't very appealing because of his contract, his reputation and, above all, his stuff.
If Beckett is to be traded, it's more likely to happen this offseason. There will be a little less money owed to him, and the interest could increase because clubs will be able to look forward to easing him into a new environment in spring training.
The Red Sox will also be able to market Beckett to more than just contenders. His situation will be similar to A.J. Burnett's this past offseason.
For the time being, Beckett is probably staying put. The notion of the Red Sox getting what they want for him while also dumping his contract is just too good to be true.
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