5 Players the Boston Red Sox Should Aggressively Shop
To buy or to sell?
It's a difficult question for the Red Sox to answer right now.
At 38-45, the Red Sox sit in no-man's land in the AL East. As such, determining which players the Red Sox should aggressively shop leading up to the trade deadline is murky.
If the Red Sox become sellers, Jon Lester leaps to the top of the list.
If they become buyers, Boston needs to consider moving some of their best prospects.
In a winnable AL East, the team will take all the time it can get leading up to the trade deadline on July 31 to evaluate its prospects for contention.
The first half has seen a gradual infusion of young talent into the team. Xander Bogaerts is entrenched in the lineup, Brock Holt has emerged as the leadoff man with position versatility and Mookie Betts became the latest top Sox prospect to hit the majors when he debuted Sunday night. Brandon Workman is now a member of the rotation, and Rubby De La Rosa made a convincing case to remain included on the staff when he filled in earlier in June.
For now, the best tactic for the Sox is one that doesn't significantly compromise the team's chance to contend.
With so many underperforming players in the first half, it can reasonably be expected that their production will start improving. Combined with new and eventual contributors from the farm system, a second-half run would not be surprising.
So which players should Boston aggressively shop in a trade? Let's find out.
No. 5: IF Jonathan Herrera
Boston's acquisition of Jonathan Herrera to be the club's backup infielder made sense.
On December 18 the team traded pitcher Felix Morales to the Colorado Rockies for Herrera, who was expected to be the primary backup at second base, shortstop and third base. While Herrera was known for his defense more than his offense, he handled himself ably at the plate with a little pop and a career .265 batting average.
Nothing's gone right for the 29-year-old in Boston, however. He's hitting a putrid .224/.295/.282 in 98 plate appearances and is a forgotten man on the bench. The Red Sox have found themselves with sudden positional versatility given Brock Holt's ability to roam virtually any position on the field. The promotion of Mookie Betts gave the team another option to move around the diamond as well.
The only reason Herrera beat out Holt for the backup infield job out of spring training was Herrera's ability to play shortstop, the Providence Journal's Brian MacPherson recollects. However, now that the team has Stephen Drew manning short and can slide Xander Bogaerts over from third base to short in case of an emergency, Herrera's advantage of playing short has vanished.
With the way Boston's roster is currently comprised, Herrera doesn't make sense. A player with more power (such as the injured Will Middlebrooks or Mike Carp, who appears on this list at No. 4) makes more sense for the club at the moment.
While Herrera certainly won't fetch much in a trade, there have been several teams interested in the switch-hitter's services, as Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe writes (subscription required). Herrera could fetch the club some depth for the Triple-A ballclub, which will become important in the second half as the club keeps promoting its prospects from the farm, compromising its depth.
No. 4: 1B/LF Mike Carp
The Red Sox love the potential in Mike Carp's bat, which is one big reason why in 2013 they jumped at the chance to acquire the 28-year-old from the Seattle Mariners.
During the 2013 Saberseminar conference held in Boston, Mass., Red Sox officials stated (with this author in attendance) that the team had been monitoring Carp for years as a possible player to acquire. The club believed at the time that Carp could eventually develop into a strong hitter in the middle of the lineup.
At the time Boston acquired Carp, Alex Speier of WEEI wrote that the club valued the first baseman as someone who "consistently demonstrated power, the ability to control the strike zone, the ability to work deep into counts who fits the team’s roster needs."
Carp, who also played left field, returned great value to the Red Sox in 2013 by hitting .296/.362/.523 in 243 plate appearances, earning a reputation for big hits in tight spots. One of the more memorable victories of the 2013 season for the Red Sox came thanks to Carp, who hit a go-ahead grand slam in the top of the 10th inning on September 11 against the second-place Tampa Bay Rays that essentially clinched the division title for Boston.
Despite his successes, Carp struggled to find at-bats in 2014 before hitting the disabled list with a fractured right foot. While he still has power potential, he's also freshly 28 years old and the window is closing for him to establish himself as a full-time player. That won't come in Boston, especially since Brock Holt has established himself since Carp hit the DL. The former Mariner will also have to compete for at-bats with Mookie Betts and a resurgent Daniel Nava, who has begun to reclaim his starting left-field job.
Carp doesn't appear to fit on the Red Sox roster given his limited positional flexibility (the club employs five other outfielders who all need playing time). It's possible that Boston demotes Jackie Bradley Jr. to Pawtucket and rolls with Betts in center as a way to fit Carp on the roster, but long-term the fit just doesn't appear to be viable—especially since manager John Farrell didn't go out of his way to get Carp in the lineup even when the left-handed hitter was healthy.
If Boston can find a player in a trade who fills more of a need for the club moving forward, it should consider dealing Carp. Several teams out there would jump at the opportunity to add a player with Carp's power potential to their regular starting lineup. The Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres, Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners are just a number of teams that could be interested in Carp.
No. 3: SP Felix Doubront
The Red Sox once hoped Felix Doubront could give the team a weapon in the starting rotation. Despite being an unheralded prospect, the left-handed pitcher showed promise of emerging as a back-of-the-rotation starter who could strike batters out.
In an uneven 2012 rookie season, Doubront flashed the strikeout potential that tantalized front-office evaluators. However, he took a bit of a step back in 2013, finishing the year in the bullpen.
The 26-year-old returned to the rotation in 2014 and underwent specialized strength and conditioning in spring training to prepare for the season, as Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe writes.
Unfortunately for the left-hander, he posted a 5.12 ERA in nine starts before hitting the disabled list on May 20. Exactly a month later, Doubront returned to the team with another poor start and lost his job in the rotation.
Doubront just hasn't been able to control his pitches in 2014, matching his career rate of four walks per nine innings. His strikeout rate has also regressed, dropping from a career-high 9.3 K/9 in 2012 all the way down to its current 6.2 mark.
Despite that sobering trend, people still believe in Doubront's arm, as Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe writes (subscription required). A special adviser to an AL GM stated of Doubront: "He’s attractive because the price is right, he’s a proven major league left-handed pitcher, and he’s got very good stuff."
With the wealth of arms the Red Sox possess at the major- and minor-league levels, it would make sense for Boston to explore opportunities to move Doubront. The Red Sox could find a more permanent solution in the outfield in return for Doubront in lieu of constantly mixing and matching. The team could also elect to acquire a prospect who could contribute to Boston later in the season or in 2015.
No. 2: C A.J. Pierzynski
When the Red Sox signed A.J. Pierzynski in the offseason, the club thought they could get home runs numbering in the high teens or beyond from the 37-year-old. After all, in nine of the backstop's past 11 seasons, he's reached double digits in home runs.
The other thing working in Pierzynski's favor was his career .283 batting average. A catcher that can contribute to the offense is valuable, and the cost seemed small: a simple one-year pact.
Except that Pierzynski hasn't done much of anything in Boston. The veteran is struggling through the worst season of his career, hitting just .249/.278/.350 in 253 plate appearances. With these kind of numbers, there's no reason why Boston shouldn't just promote prospect Christian Vazquez from Triple-A.
The 23-year-old Vazquez isn't any great shakes with the stick either, hitting .274/.325/.386 for Pawtucket, but he brings something that Pierzynski does not: defense. Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks raved (subscription required) about Vazquez's defense in the offseason when he named Vazquez the ninth-best prospect in the system. According to Parks, Vazquez has a "plus-plus arm, a quick release, good receiving skills, and improving footwork and blocking ability."
Whether or not the Red Sox are contenders or pretenders, Vazquez will represent a better value for the team moving forward, so why not get something for Pierzynski?
Unfortunately for Boston, Pierzynski has been one of the least valuable catchers of the year thus far. While the Rockies' Wilin Rosario and the Mets' Travis d'Arnaud have been less valuable according to baseball-reference.com's WAR, it doesn't make sense for either team to prefer Pierzynski in the positions these clubs are in. Further, while the Orioles need catching help with Matt Wieters' season-ending injury, intra-division trades are very rare.
For the Red Sox to offload Pierzynski, some catcher somewhere is going to have to suffer an injury.
Otherwise, the best route for Boston would be an outright release of Pierzynski. It would behoove the team, however, to aggressively shop him first before taking that route.
No. 1) SP Jake Peavy
World Series champion.
133 games won.
Cy Young Award winner in 2007.
Two-time major league leader in ERA.
A lot of teams would want a pitcher with these credentials playing for them, which is why Boston should aggressively shop Jake Peavy.
Peavy isn't the pitcher he was back in 2007 when he took home the National League Cy Young Award with a 19-6 record and 2.54 ERA. He's no longer a strikeout pitcher and his once vaunted command has hit the skids this season.
Despite his 4.82 ERA through 17 starts, teams crave veteran pitchers with a history of success, and it was only last season that the 33-year-old helped pitch Boston to the World Series championship.
The Red Sox are in an enviable place when it comes to the rotation. The club is so flush with starting pitchers that it moved Felix Doubront to the bullpen and sent Rubby De La Rosa to the minor leagues. De La Rosa made five starts in the rotation when Doubront and Clay Buchholz were sidelined with injury and posted a 2.51 ERA, making it abundantly clear the right-hander is ready for big-league action.
The team also has Allen Webster and his 2.92 ERA in 17 Triple-A starts marinating on the farm. Fellow top prospect Henry Owens is dominating Double-A, and a promotion to Triple-A may not be far off.
That kind of depth gives the Red Sox the luxury to listen to trade offers on Peavy. Given that De La Rosa has already proven he can outperform Peavy, Boston should not only listen on Peavy, but aggressively shop the right-hander.
As previously mentioned, the Red Sox should be looking to deal Jonathan Herrera, Mike Carp, Felix Doubront, A.J. Pierzynski and Jake Peavy regardless of whether the team becomes sellers or buyers. But eventually, a course will have to be charted.
Once Boston decides which path to pursue, here are three players per course the Red Sox should add to their list leading up to the trade deadline:
If the Red Sox want to contend, they should consider shopping:
Will Middlebrooks, 3B: Middlebrooks has tantalizing power potential, but increasingly appears squeezed out of Boston's future. Until his injury resolves itself, however, he goes nowhere.
Garin Cecchini, 3B: Cecchini has an intriguing career ahead of him as someone who gets on base, but his defense is questionable at third and his bat isn't strong enough for left field.
Anthony Ranaudo, SP: With the starting pitching depth Boston has, it can afford to part with some. Ranaudo is a sure bet for a major league career as a mid-rotation starter.
If the Red Sox pack it in for the season, these players should be wearing other uniforms come August 1:
Jon Lester, SP: Losing Lester would hurt, but there's no reason Boston couldn't re-sign him in the offseason. Why not get some real value back in the meantime?
Stephen Drew, SS: Plenty of teams could use a veteran shortstop like Drew, who has a steady glove and capable bat.
Koji Uehara, RP: An impending free agent who is 39 years old does not fit on a rebuilding team and could fetch a nice return.