The Boston Red Sox are 38-46, 7.5 games out of first place in the AL East and with four teams in front of them for the second wild-card spot. They are a bad offensive team, an average defensive team and average pitching team. And they are running out of time.
The MLB trade deadline is now less than a month away, and the Red Sox need to decide if they'll be buyers or sellers. According to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington believes he's going to be a buyer at the deadline. But if Boston keeps sliding backwards, the wisdom of such a decision can fairly be called into question.
The Red Sox have been unlucky at times, yes, and they've suffered their fair share of injuries. But none of that changes the fact that it's unlikely Boston makes the playoffs this year, and it'd be unwise to jeopardize what is a very promising future. This isn't a team that needs a complete rebuild, but it might be one that needs to reload for 2015.
With that in mind, here are some best-case scenarios that could await the Red Sox on the trade market if they do indeed decide to sell in the coming weeks.
Pitching depth comes into play
The old adage that you can never have enough starting pitching is certainly true, and Cherington should be commended for the deep staff he's put together this year. But if the Red Sox decide that it's time to focus on 2015 and beyond, the time is right to part with Jake Peavy, and it may be time to part with Felix Doubront, too.
Peavy has had a fairly poor year, but he still makes sense as a playoff-tested back-end starter for a competitor that's desperate for pitching help. The Sox wouldn't receive a huge return for him, but they could create permanent space for Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa in the rotation.
Doubront is a more interesting case, as even non-contenders might be interested in gambling on his services as a reclamation project. It was only last year that Doubront put together a dominant stretch of starts, and he's certainly good enough to pitch near the back of the rotation for several MLB teams.
With Peavy and Doubront gone, the Red Sox would still have enviable rotation depth at Triple-A with Anthony Ranaudo and Allen Webster, and Matt Barnes and Henry Owens aren't too far behind, either.
If the Sox decide they're not going to sign Jon Lester, he'd be an ideal trade candidate who could pay huge dividends, of course, but I'm not advocating that move here, as I think he needs to be re-signed.
Someone still wants Will Middlebrooks
It wasn't so long ago that Middlebrooks was considered a key cog in the Red Sox's "player development machine." The third baseman hit .288/.325/.509 as a 23-year-old in 2012 and looked primed to be a middle-of-the-order bat for Boston for years to come.
Injuries and ineffectiveness have derailed Middlebrooks' career since then. "WMB" has hit just .222/.277/.408 over the past two years, and his grasp on a roster spot when he returns from his latest injury will be tenuous as best. The Red Sox have considered trying Middlebrooks in left field in order to increase his versatility, according to Jen McCaffrey of MassLive.com.
The Red Sox are also fairly crowded when it comes to the left side of the infield, with Xander Bogaerts, Brock Holt, Garin Cecchini and Deven Marrero all potentially vying for playing time at some point in 2015. There's not a spot for everyone, and it might be time for Middlebrooks to go.
There's no point selling Middlebrooks for 50 cents on the dollar, and so if no team makes a legitimate offer for him, Middlebrooks should be afforded semi-regular playing time in Boston for the rest of the year. But if someone thinks there's still the potential for Middlebrooks to be an everyday starter on a first-division team, the Red Sox would be wise to flip him for a safer player, or at least one at a position of need.
A chance to undo Drew
When the Red Sox signed Stephen Drew on May 21, it was a largely unpopular move, but one that made a ton of sense. The team had a 20-23 record, was firmly entrenched in the battle for the AL East and had a need on the left side of the infield. Yes, the signing meant moving Bogaerts to third base, but that was really the only negative.
Obviously, things haven't gone as planned. The Red Sox knew Drew's bat would need time to come around, but the .136/.174/.182 line he's produced pretty much represents the worst-case scenario come to life. The Sox have gone just 11-16 since Drew's first game on June 2, and he's truly not needed on the roster any longer.
Plus, there's the strange case of Bogaerts, who has hit just .143/.186/.264 since moving to third base. I think this is a case where correlation doesn't necessarily equal causation, but it's a weird coincidence at best and a legitimate cause for concern at worst.
Despite Drew's struggles, there are still plenty of teams who would take on a plus-plus defensive shortstop with offensive upside. The Red Sox won't get a huge haul for Drew, but they could end up with a C-level prospect, a middle reliever or some salary relief. The real benefit they'd receive would be the ability to shift Bogaerts back to shortstop and evaluate his performance there for the rest of the season.
Signing Drew was a worthy gamble, but there's no shame in admitting it didn't work and moving on.
Casting off the spare parts
If the Red Sox do indeed decide it's time to sell, Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Holt should be playing every day. Workman and De La Rosa deserve more permanent rotation spots, and guys like Christian Vazquez and Travis Shaw deserve their moments in the spotlight, too.
That means it becomes necessary to create playing time and roster spots for Boston's young players, and the best way to do that is to shed the complementary pieces scattered throughout the roster.
Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp could be attractive pieces for teams looking for power. A.J. Pierzynski or David Ross could fill a need behind the plate for a contender looking for a backup. Even Daniel Nava should be available at the right price, though Boston should be more hesitant to ship him off.
Casting off some of these players would be painful for fans, but there's no use in giving these veterans at-bats when the Sox could be using this time to evaluate their future. The return for these players would be unsubstantial, but the true reward would be letting the next wave of talented Red Sox play everyday.
The reliever market pays dividends
This is going to be a wildly unpopular suggestion, but it's also a natural one: If the Red Sox do decide to punt the rest of 2014, they should be open to trading Andrew Miller and Koji Uehara.
The two pitchers have combined to form one of the most dominating setup/closer duos in the majors this year. Uehara owns a 1.40 ERA, 11.41 K/9 and 1.16 BB/9. Miller owns a 2.48 ERA, a ridiculous 15.15 K/9 and a 2.76 BB/9. They've been lights-out at the back of the bullpen.
Unfortunately, neither Uehara nor Miller is under contract for 2015. That means it would behoove the Red Sox to examine the trade market for these two, as the return in value teams receive for relievers is generally disproportionately high near the deadline. That's the argument John Tomase of the Boston Herald made earlier this week, and it's one that makes a ton of sense.
If you want to argue that Uehara and Miller should be extended rather than traded, it's a reasonable point. Big, multi-year contracts for relievers rarely end well, however, and Uehara is already 39 years old.
Instead, the Red Sox are better off listening to offers, dealing Uehara and/or Miller if the price is right, and then attempting to re-sign one or both players this offseason. It's fairly rare for a player to be dealt and then re-sign with his original team, but it's not unheard of, and there's no reason to think a trade would lead to bad blood.
Saying goodbye to Uehara in particular would be painful for many Sox fans, but it wouldn't have to be goodbye forever, and a trade could pay serious dividends for the Red Sox down the line.