With the Boston Red Sox right in the thick of a heated playoff race, it is time to start thinking about trades.
As good as the Red Sox have been this season, there are several glaring weaknesses on the club that could set them back in their quest to bring an eighth World Series title to Boston.
The injuries to the bullpen have shown a disturbing lack of depth and they have received poor production from several key positions, such as third base and catcher.
Fortunately, there are several trades that the Red Sox should explore in order to patch up their holes and solidify themselves as championship contenders.
Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins
Ever since catcher and team captain Jason Varitek entered the twilight of his career, the Red Sox have lacked a quality option behind the plate.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia has shown done little to prove himself to be the catcher of the future with his sub-.300 on-base percentage in a Red Sox uniform and consistently subpar defensive play.
One way to solve the issue would be to trade for one of the best catchers in the game in Joe Mauer.
The Minnesota Twins would admittedly be reluctant to deal away their franchise catcher, but if there is any time he can be pried from their grasp, it is now.
The Twins sit 8.5 games out of first place in the AL Central with their 20-28 record and while the 30-year-old Minnesota native may draw fans to Target Field, is he going to be a part of the next great Twins team?
Obviously, the Red Sox would need to ship quite a package of prospects to bring Mauer to Boston. The catcher is hitting .339, has an on-base percentage of .411 and is slugging .483. Not only that, but his 0.5 defensive WAR is sixth-best among catchers.
Mauer's contract runs through the end of the 2018 season, so he would likely be unable to play catcher regularly toward the end of that deal. With 37-year-old designated hitter David Ortiz unlikely to be with the club at that point, the Red Sox could use Mauer as a designated hitter in his later years.
The trade would also allow the Red Sox to explore other trades involving Saltalamacchia. The 28-year-old has been better of late, and with Saltalamacchia being a free agent at the end of this season, there are teams that might give a decent package in exchange for his services.
Trading for Mauer would be a franchise-altering move, but getting a hitter like Mauer in the middle of the batting order is the kind of move that can stabilize the Red Sox's order for years to come.
Placido Polanco, 3B, Miami Marlins
The Red Sox could really use a quality utility infielder like Pedro Ciriaco, who has been solid at the plate with a .244 batting average and a .327 on-base percentage in limited playing time for the Marlins.
He has been a liability on defense, however, especially at third base. His fielding percentage at the hot corner is an atrocious .733 in 2013. Nevertheless, that is the position the Red Sox will need him most given the struggles at the plate of Will Middlebrooks.
Jose Iglesias might be hot at the plate right now, but sooner or later, his .202 batting average and .262 on-base percentage while with Triple-A Pawtucket this season will come back to bite him.
The Marlins have the perfect solution to the Red Sox problems with utility infielders on their roster. Placido Polanco might not have the best bat anymore (.233 average, 290 on-base percentage in 2013), but he can play every infield position—excluding first base—and play each one well.
Polanco has won three Gold Gloves as a second baseman, but has played third base every for all of the 2013 season so far. His .990 fielding percentage this season shows his ability to bring solid defense to the position.
If Middlebrooks continues to underperform, Polanco would give the Red Sox a viable alternative at third. Since he is 37 years old and a free agent at the end of this season, Polanco won't be a problem to let go when Middlebrooks, the third baseman of the future, comes back around.
Even if he is only used as a utility infielder in Boston, Polanco would be a great guy to pencil in to the lineup when Stephen Drew, Dustin Pedroia or Middlebrooks need a day off.
Given Polanco's age and deterioration of skill, his acquisition will not require the loss of top-caliber prospects for Boston, but would add needed depth to the Red Sox roster.
Kevin Gregg, RP, Chicago Cubs
With reliever Joel Hanrahan done for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on May 16, according to Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com, and with Andrew Bailey's own significant injury history, the Red Sox are pretty thin at the back end of their bullpen.
If they hope to contend, they will need some depth in the bullpen and a solid contingency plan for a potential Bailey injury.
Kevin Gregg, the closer for the Chicago Cubs, would be a perfect reliever for the Red Sox to target. For starters, he has the durability that the Red Sox so desperately need. From 2004-11, Gregg pitched at least 59.0 innings every season.
The only reason he didn't match that mark in 2012 was because he was a member of a phenomenal Baltimore Orioles bullpen that didn't need to use him often.
He has been a closer for much of his big league career, saving 150 games in 185 save opportunities. He could slot in as a closer nicely if Bailey were to miss any time down the stretch.
Gregg has been remarkably effective this season for Chicago. He has not allowed an earned run through 14 appearances and has kept runners off the bases, as evidenced by his 0.83 WHIP. He has also converted each of his six save opportunities this season.
The 34-year-old's great season is being wasted, however, with the last-place Cubs, who are in the middle of a rebuilding process, so they would certainly be willing to part with Gregg.
The Red Sox will have no commitment to Gregg after this season, as his contract expires at the end of the year. Even if Boston needed to ship a decent prospect or two to Chicago, it would be worth it to add a solid pitcher like Gregg to its bullpen.
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