If their current campaign continues to falter, we should most likely expect the Red Sox to sell off some of its pieces with the hopes of rebuilding down the road.
Yet there is plenty of baseball left to be played, and Boston is merely one hot streak away from getting right back into the mix of things before the end of the season.
Let us assume that this happens, and Boston is capable of turning things around in short order.
This would, in speculation, lead us to the conclusion that the Red Sox would be buyers at the trade deadline. Which targets would they pursue? What areas are of most pressing need?
Before we get into the discussion of acquisitions Boston could make, we should first establish the primary area of concern.
If one had to pinpoint the most critical weakness within the 2014 Red Sox, few other areas would come to mind over the outfield.
In short, Boston's outfield has been pretty atrocious this season. We know all too well the struggles of players like Daniel Nava, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jonny Gomes, oft-injured Shane Victorino and the now-released Grady Sizemore.
Towards the end of May, this group ranked last in baseball with a .211 batting average and No. 29 in both on-base percentage (.290) and WAR (-0.9) per Joon Lee of SB Nation.
The struggles led to a shakeup of the Red Sox outfield—speculation of which was provided by Rob Bradford of WEEI.com that same month.
Boston indeed shook things up. Sizemore was designated for assignment after falling away from his hot start to the season. Minor league prospect Mookie Betts was called up the next month, making his major league debut on June 29.
These moves—and more—could be necessary elements to turning around Boston's season. Time will be the ultimate judge.
Still, let us assume the Red Sox aren't quite finished tinkering with their outfield. They could still use an impact player or two to supplement this unit.
Who are the best options from a realistic standpoint?
Andre Ethier—CF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Let's get this suggestion out of the way since his name has been popping up a lot.
Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Andre Ethier is an intriguing option here for a number of reasons. First, the Dodgers outfield is stacked, including should-be starters like Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig in addition to Ethier.
The Dodgers also have minor league prospect Joc Pederson tearing it up in Triple-A Albuquerque.
Needless to say, there is an overabundance of talent here, which leads to speculation that the Dodgers would be willing to move a piece or two to eventually make room for Pedersen.
Ethier is an intriguing target for a number of reasons. The two-time All-Star owns a career .286 batting average and has experience at all three outfield positions. Injuries have taken their toll on the 32-year-old, however.
But there have been reports that Dodgers' outfielders have been upset at their respective roles, first dating back to 2011 per a report from Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com. Another report in May 2014 from Michael Martinez of Fox Sports suggested that Kemp is now frustrated with his lack of playing time.
There is clearly a logjam at this position. Los Angeles has the excess. Boston has the need. Could a trade be in order?
Ethier does have a rapport with college teammate Dustin Pedroia per ESPN Insider Mike Petriello (subscription required), so there's that to consider.
But there are a number of additional drawbacks that could make this transaction seem unlikely.
First, Ethier no longer hits lefties—an argument also made by Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe in his summation of possible outfield targets. Ethier is batting a mere .211 against lefties this season, which does not bode well for the Red Sox's prospects for a playoff run in the American League East.
More significantly, Ethier does not come cheap. He is in the midst of a six-year, $95.95 million contract through 2017—a contract length that stands in stark contrast with general manager Ben Cherington's approach of short-term deals.
Now the Dodgers have the pockets that would give them enough flexibility to eat a sizable portion of that deal if they decide to execute a trade with the Red Sox. This is essentially the only way Boston would be enticed to make such a transaction.
But Los Angeles would likely ask for some promising prospects in return. This would possibly be to aid some infield positions and the Red Sox do have some options, but is this something Boston would be willing to do?
If the Red Sox were able to get Ethier for cheap—both in terms of contractual obligations and prospects—then the deal makes sense.
But that is a big if.
Seth Smith—OF, San Diego Padres
If the Red Sox were eyeing an impact player who may come for cheap, they could do worse than try to acquire Padres outfielder and platoon player Seth Smith.
Smith has made a name for himself in a limited role for the Colorado Rockies, Oakland Athletics and now San Diego. During his eight-year career, Smith has netted a .266 batting average with 82 homers, 298 RBIs and an .807 OPS.
He is currently batting .281 in a depleted Padres lineup that features almost zero protection.
A number of things make this deal attractive.
For starters, Smith has long been utilized as a platoon player and/or pinch hitter. The Red Sox would not necessarily need to use him as an everyday outfielder unless his production indicated otherwise. It doesn't appear as if Smith would be disgruntled over the lack of playing time.
Additionally, Smith would likely come on the cheap—a notion also suggested by Lee in his description of plausible outfield trade targets.
With the 37-47 Padres not going anywhere in the National League West this season, they might be enticed to move his one-year, $4.5 million contract in exchange for a mid-level prospect at most. Considering their salary constraints, it may be the only way for San Diego to garner anything in return.
Smith could then easily be used to supplement both the left and right field positions, perhaps platooning—or even starting over—guys like Gomes, Nava and Victorino.
Out of all the possible impact targets, Smith may be the easiest of the deals to make.
Update: The Padres have reportedly given Smith a two-year contract extension per Matt Snyder of CBS Sports. This likely means Smith is staying put, but the Padres could still feasibly consider exploring trade options if an offer was to their liking.
Alex Rios—RF, Texas Rangers
Just like the Padres, the Texas Rangers are going nowhere in 2014. A slew of injuries has thwarted any hopes for a return to the postseason, and the team now sits at a lowly 37-46—14 games back in the American League West.
At 33 years old, Rios is still providing plenty of production for the depleted Rangers' roster. Currently he is batting .303 with three home runs, eight triples and 34 RBIs.
He also owns a career .300 batting average at Fenway Park.
Lee describes why Rios may be on the trading block come the deadline:
With the Rangers' season in the tank following a hurricane of injuries, most recently Prince Fielder, the squad will likely look to trade off some of their more valuable assets to gain a return. Rios has been one of the better all-around outfielders in baseball this year, and the 33-year-old is signed through the end of the season with a team option for 2015.
Rios' seven-year, $69.84 million contract could be a bit of an obstacle from the Red Sox's perspective, but the fact that his contract is up at the end of 2014 could provide Cherington with some options if the team chooses not to retain him at the conclusion of the season.
The deal's attractiveness was also described by Bleacher Report Senior Writer Jonathan Cullen. He writes:
Boston would be on the hook for roughly $8 million this season and then the $1 million for next season. At that price, they could afford to evaluate Rios this season to see how he would fit into next year's roster.
The reason the Rangers might do this deal now is the potential to save the $8-9 million left on Rios' deal, while opening up playing time for younger players like Michael Choice and potentially acquiring a prospect or two for a player in the last year of his deal.
Cullen also notes that the Rangers are thin when it comes to developmental pitching. The Red Sox have a flurry of young, promising arms—not all of which will be in their future plans considering the depth of Boston's pitching.
So in this scenario, we could seriously envision a move where the Red Sox send a promising mid-level pitching prospect, or two, to land Rios.
Rios would then be a substantial upgrade to Boston's lackluster outfield in 2014 and perhaps beyond.
Martin Prado—3B/LF, Arizona Diamondbacks
From the upside, a player like Martin Prado could be the type of impact player the Red Sox so desperately need to upgrade their outfield. But Prado may not necessarily be the easiest for Boston to acquire in terms of what they would have to give up.
Let's stick with the positives first.
Prado has posted a .290 batting average over his nine-year career, split between the Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks.
He also has good defensive flexibility, having seen experience both in left field, second and third base. This would give the Red Sox the type of upgrade they need in left while also providing an attractive option at third in case the combination of Brock Holt, Will Middlebrooks (injury) or Garin Cecchini (minors) does not immediately work out.
"Prado is a very upbeat, energetic player who is currently playing third but certainly can play the outfield," wrote Cafardo. "This is an intriguing right-handed hitter who has played 252 games in left field."
Arizona (35-50) is floundering in the National League West, and while Prado was once a part of what should have been a promising offense, the Diamondbacks will likely look to build a team around upstart slugger Paul Goldschmidt and not Prado.
This, in theory, makes Prado an expendable commodity.
But there are some drawbacks, first of which are contractual in nature.
Prado is two years into a four-year, $40 million contract that expires in 2017. The 30-year-old still has plenty of baseball left in his body, but this fact may entice Arizona to ask for a bit much in return for his services.
Some, like Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, feel as if the Diamondbacks are better off keeping Prado given his intangibles, but when Arizona's season is floundering, moving Prado and his contract should be considered an option.
Cherington would have to be comfortable with the Red Sox eating most, or all, of Prado's contract—not necessarily a setback given Prado's pedigree and relatively short amount of time left on the deal.
But the Diamondbacks would likely not part with Prado for cheap.
Like the Rangers, Arizona's pitching has been downright awful this season. Only two of their crop of starters—Josh Collmenter and Chase Anderson—have ERAs under 4.00.
As mentioned, Boston has a plethora of young pitching being developed within the farm system. But it seems likely that the Diamondbacks would be asking for multiple prospects considering Prado still has another two years remaining on his contract.
Is this a price the Red Sox would be willing to pay?
If so, Prado could be that shot-in-the-arm player Boston so desperately needs at this point. He has both offensive and defensive upsides as well as plenty of playoff experience.
Speculating about trades is always a difficult thing. We can easily point to some favorites. Some targets, like Miami Marlins' slugger Giancarlo Stanton, always whet the whistle but are far removed from reality.
But the reality is that trades are complicated by the baseball economics of supply and demand. Rare are the transactions where one gives up almost nothing to get something sizable in return. The other franchise also has to be on the same page.
There is no doubting that an impact player would greatly benefit Boston's outfield production in 2014. If the Red Sox's season turns around in short order, it is not out of the question to expect such a deal being made.
Perhaps the best move made is none at all. Perhaps Boston admits defeat in their 2014 campaign and sells off some of its talent. We will let Cherington decide upon that.
In the meantime, all we can do is continue our speculation and theorize which players would make the best fit.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox. Be sure to check out his entire archive for Red Sox coverage, insight and analysis.
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