Now that we're nearly six weeks into the 2013 season, the trade rumors are beginning to circle.
Some players who have gotten off to slow starts might be placed on the chopping block, while others could see their talents used as bait to fill in weak spots on the roster.
While the Boston Red Sox are off to a hotter start than anyone imagined, there's always room for improvement. Some underperforming players who could be traded won't necessarily "bait" other teams, as they currently posses pretty low value—like the injured Joel Hanrahan and hothead Alfredo Aceves.
But the Red Sox do have a few options that could potentially bring in some big bats and arms. Here's a breakdown of the best Red Sox trade bait currently.
Despite being one of four Sox players to get a run in Tuesday night's game (a solo home run), if there's one Red Sox name that's been rumored to be on the trading block lately, it's Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Frankly, he's Boston's best trade option.
The 28-year-old catcher is struggling on both sides of the plate. In 26 games this season, he's averaging just .253 for the same below-average productivity as last year (.222). He's also allowed 13 stolen bases and has caught just one runner. In 2012, he only threw out 18 runners in 104 games.
ESPN's Buster Olney told WEEI last week that Saltalamacchia, who's approaching free agency at the end of the season, could be on his way out of Boston as he's not performing up to his paid $4.5 million worth.
The Red Sox can somewhat depend on backup David Ross, who's batting .237 in 13 games and has knocked in the same number of home runs as Salty. He's also thrown out more runners (three, for 30 percent).
But the 36-year-old hasn't played more than 60 games in a season since 2007 and is not a solid full-time option.
Young prospect Ryan Lavarnway is one option, though his 46 games in the big leagues in 2012—where he batted .157—weren't very impressive. During a 16-game stint in Boston this season, he batted .136 off just six hits. He is batting .304 in Pawtucket this year with two home runs and 13 RBI in 19 games.
But before the Red Sox trade Saltalamacchia, they really need to find a replacement who's highly likely to perform better and not take a gamble.
Let me preface this by stating that I believe the Red Sox should absolutely lock up Jacoby Ellsbury, who's approaching free agency at the end of the season.
But, if they start to believe that the 2011 MVP and his agent Scott Boras are shopping elsewhere, the Red Sox should explore what they could get for him. Of all of Boston's trade bait, Ellsbury would bring back the biggest return.
Ellsbury's inspiring 2011 season (.321 batting average, 32 home runs, 39 stolen bases) was followed up by an uninspiring, injury-shortened 2012 (.271 batting average, four home runs, 14 stolen bases). As a result, he was heavily involved in trade talks this past offseason.
A healthy Ellsbury appears to have bounced back so far in 2013. His batting line is .270/.325/.378, and he has stolen 12 bases already. If his production continues to look more like the old Ellsbury, the Red Sox should do whatever they can to keep him.
But again, if that starts to look unlikely, they definitely can't just let him walk away for nothing.
It's important to note, though, that this gets a little complicated with the change made to the free-agency system last year regarding draft compensation, which could diminish some of Ellsbury's value.
Jose Iglesias' name probably wouldn't have been on this list a few months ago, but the defensive star has upped his stock since a disappointing 2012 from the plate.
The shortstop got to start the year in Boston with Stephen Drew on the DL, and he shocked everyone. After going .118 in 2012, he started off 2013 by batting .450 in six games.
He was demoted to Pawtucket upon Drew's return and has actually cooled off a bit, batting .233 in 20 games with three home runs and 10 RBI. Still, it's much improved from last year.
The Sox could very well consider trading Iglesias because there really isn't a long-term spot for him—not now or in the future. Boston spent $9.5 million on one year with Drew, and despite his .244 average (up from .182 on Monday) since returning from the DL, they're likely to give him more of a chance before considering trading him.
The walk-off double he hit on Monday night just strengthens that case.
Then there's Xander Bogaerts, Boston's No. 1 prospect. The 20-year-old is currently batting .298 in Double-A Portland and, in a year or so, is by all accounts expected to take his spot at shortstop in Boston for the long haul.
The Red Sox might not be able to get much from Iglesias, but he's extra weight and could do them some good in a packaged deal. Those six games gave the Sox a chance to show him off to other teams who previously wouldn't have even taken a look.
The Red Sox could deal prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. if the price is right.
In addition to Iglesias, the Red Sox have a handful of hot prospects who could be used as bait in the coming months. Though they might not get much on their own, the Red Sox could package a few together for the opportunity to go after a position they could really use, like a starting pitcher or catcher.
Lavarnway is at the top of this list, especially if Saltalamacchia stays on.
Outfielder Bryce Brentz could also reel in some big fish. He's batting .245 in Pawtucket this season with five home runs and 20 RBI.
Jackie Bradley Jr., who earned himself an improbable Opening Day spot after a hot spring training but then failed to produce, might also attract some bidders. He was batting .302 before being placed on the seven-day DL for tendinitis on Monday.
Pitching prospect Rubby De La Rosa, who the Sox acquired from the Dodgers in last year's salary dump, has a head-turning 100 mph fastball that could acquire some interest despite his struggles this season.
Those are just a few of the prospects we could see dealt away this year, but as the Sox look ahead to the future, they'll only let them go for the right price.
On Monday, B/R Featured Columnist Andrew Martin suggested the Red Sox consider trading pitcher Felix Doubront.
Then manager John Farrell announced that instead of starting on Wednesday as scheduled, he would be moved to the bullpen. Up-and-coming prospect Allen Webster would get the start—his second call-up of the season.
Suddenly, the case for trading the lefty is much stronger.
Another strong outing from Webster could have been the start of the end for Doubront in a Red Sox uniform. He's by far the weakest link on the Red Sox rotation. But the youngster allowed six hits and eight runs, walked three and struck out two in just 1.2 innings before being pulled and replaced by Doubront himself.
Not that he did much better, allowing 12 hits and six runs in 5.1 innings.
After a mediocre 2012 (11-10, 4.86 ERA in his first full season), Doubront started 2013 on the wrong foot by showing up to spring training out of shape. His 3-1 record in five starts is devalued by his now 6.40 ERA and 1.86 WHIP. In his last start against the Rangers, he gave up six runs off 12 hits in only 3.2 innings, not too different from Wednesday night.
High pitch counts, a slow pace, an inability to last many innings and a dip in his fast ball velocity are all areas of concern.
It's unlikely Doubront will be traded anytime soon.
But what makes him decent trade bait is that he's not awful. He's young, he's cheap and he's shown he has enough potential to get some bites from other teams. And for the Red Sox, they have a long list of promising pitching prospects in addition to Webster who could help fill in for his absence.