The Boston Red Sox, despite ostensibly being a team in transition, have spent the majority of the 2013 MLB season atop the standings in the American League East. Naturally, this has led fans to immediately shift their expectations from “build for the future” to “win right now.”
With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline looming, the team has several holes it could look to fill for the stretch run. GM Ben Cherington will have some tough decisions to make as he looks to plug holes in the bullpen, starting rotation and at third base.
A lot of potential deals for big name players are certainly out there. Players like the Phillies’ Michael Young and Cliff Lee, the White Sox’s Jake Peavy and the Mariners’ Oliver Perez have all been bandied about as possible targets over the next week.
Each would certainly fill a need. But would it be worth the cost?
At what position do the Sox most desperately need help?
Under the stewardship of Cherington, the Sox have built a team that will be highly competitive for years to come. They do not seem interested in giving up huge assets just for a chance to win this year. Even the deal that brought Matt Thornton to Boston saw the Red Sox give up outfield prospect Brandon Jacobs, who was, at most, the third-best outfield prospect in the system.
Making a blockbuster deal for a pricey superstar is simply not in the team’s best interest right now. They clearly believe in their long-term vision, and they must stick to it.
Instead, they should spend the trade deadline patiently waiting out other teams and seeing what players become available on the cheap as the clock winds down and desperation sinks in for teams looking to sell. Then, Cherington can swoop in and grab someone to help the Sox down the stretch.
If they had their druthers, that player would almost certainly be a middle reliever.
The almost comical attrition in the Sox’s bullpen has left the team with just four relievers with any MLB experience: lefties Thornton and Craig Breslow, and right-handers Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara. The Sox have ridden their three holdovers pretty hard all season, and breakdown definitely has to be a concern.
The minor league depth they’ve added helps, but it's not the ultimate answer. Given his recent injury, the White Sox’s Jesse Crain actually makes the most sense for Boston to pursue right now.
The Sox were already after him when they ended up acquiring Thornton, and Crain has a minuscule 0.74 ERA in 38 appearances and was named to the All-Star team. His price was too high a few weeks ago, but now that he is only just eligible to come off the DL after a bout with “right shoulder soreness,” Crain could likely be had for a more reasonable cost.
Again, this has to be the right deal for the Red Sox. With Francisco Rodriguez traded to Baltimore, Crain is the best reliever still available and will command a good prospect in return for two months of his services. It’s not worth giving up someone like Henry Owens or Garin Cecchini to get a rental, especially when this season was supposed to be a “throwaway” year anyway.
If they can get Crain (or a similarly talented reliever) for a lower-level prospect, though, the Red Sox absolutely need to pull the trigger. Such a move would not only give them a better chance of winning this season, but would also preserve the arms of pitchers like Tazawa and Breslow, who are expected to contribute in years to come.