The Boston Red Sox are 39-51, in last place in the AL East and tied for the sixth-worst record in all of baseball. They've lost 50 games before the All-Star break for the first time since 1966 and have a 2.4 percent chance of making the postseason, according to Baseball Prospectus' postseason probability metric. They are 10.5 games out of first place, coming off a home stand in which they went 1-7 and boast the fourth-worst offense in all of baseball.
All of this makes the Red Sox's trade-deadline blueprint simple: They must do everything they can to open up playing time for their next wave of talent.
There was a time not so long ago when the decision to sell was not so cut and dry. Just 10 days ago, the Red Sox finished up a series in which they took two of three from the New York Yankees and were headed home just six games out of first place. There was much talk of Ben Cherington looking to add talent to the team at the deadline, rather than purge it of veterans, and there was a bit of optimism remaining.
That sense is gone now, and rightfully so. 2014 is a lost season, and the sooner the Red Sox accept that and create opportunity for their plethora of talented youngsters, the better
Rather than starting with who the Red Sox should send off, let’s take a look at who they should be providing opportunities for on a daily basis.
The first two names that come to mind are obvious but worth mentioning, nonetheless—Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley should play nearly every game for the rest of the season, and they should do so at their natural positions.
The Red Sox have a host of third base options, and Bogaerts was clearly displeased about moving to the hot corner. Moving him back to shortstop gives the Red Sox a little less than half a season to evaluate his defense there and would likely make him happier, too.
Bradley has lost playing time to the likes of Grady Sizemore, Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes and Mookie Betts this year. That should stop now. Bradley is finally showing signs of life at the plate, is already one of the two or three best defensive outfielders in baseball and is an important part of this team’s future. He should be playing every day, even against left-handers.
The subsequent moves here are obvious: the Red Sox should move Stephen Drew and Gomes. Drew was a worthwhile gamble when the Sox signed him back in June, but there’s no reason to keep him any longer. Even if he fetches a minimal return, the Red Sox should cut their losses and move Bogaerts back to his natural position. Gomes provided a major spark to the 2013 championship team, but he’s a journeyman corner outfielder who plays on the short side of a platoon. There’s no reason to give him more plate appearances (PA) at the expense of younger players.
Next, the Sox must consider the development of Betts and Christian Vazquez, both of whom should be playing every day either in the majors or in Triple-A. Betts has played sporadically since his call-up from the minor leagues, and that’s not good for anyone. He looks unsure of himself in the outfield, and it’s nearly impossible for him to develop a rhythm at the plate this way. He should be playing every day in left or right field, or he should go back to Pawtucket.
Vazquez doesn’t have a ton left to prove in Triple-A, but the way catchers develop, leaving him there for a majority of the year isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Still, it would be equally reasonable to see what Vazquez can do at the major league level and to begin familiarizing him with the MLB staff.
Moving Gomes already frees up some space for Betts until Shane Victorino comes back, and moving Drew actually helps his case, too, since it means Brock Holt would see more time in the infield. The solution for getting Vazquez more playing time is simple—the Red Sox should trade A.J. Pierzynski, who brings nothing to the table at this point, or designate him for assignment.
Next, and perhaps most trickily, come Holt and Will Middlebrooks. The former has cemented himself as an important part of the Red Sox organization moving forward, albeit we’re not quite sure in what role. He’s served admirably as Boston’s leadoff man, but he’s not going to keep hitting like this forever. Still, he deserves to play every day given his performance, whether his plate appearances come at third base or from a corner outfield spot.
Middlebrooks is set to return from a long stint on the DL in short order, and he’ll receive what is perhaps his last chance to solidify himself as a starter in Boston. It will be tough to find consistent at-bats for Middlebrooks, but it’s something the Red Sox need to do this season in order to assess what they have moving forward. Even if Middlebrooks gets some time at DH and first base to spell David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, his bat should find itself in the lineup regularly.
Subtracting Drew and Mike Carp from the equation opens up roster spots for Holt and “WMB,” though to be honest, it will still be difficult for these two and Betts to coincide on the roster. Nevertheless, the solution here is likely to have WMB and Holt let their play determine who sees the most at-bats, and it’s pretty obvious who’s likely to come ahead in that battle.
Finally, that brings us to the rotation, where Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa have both earned rotation spots, and where Anthony Ranaudo and Henry Owens are knocking at the door.
Workman has been unspectacular but solid as of late, and the Red Sox could learn much about his status moving forward if they afford him another 10 or so starts this year. He’s still a safe bet to perform as a No. 4/5 starter. De La Rosa has considerably more upside but comes with more risk, too. Still, he’s also performed well in limited MLB duty this year, and the Red Sox will learn more from letting him start in the majors than they will from shuttling him back and forth between Boston and Pawtucket.
With Felix Doubront already in the bullpen, Jake Peavy is the most obvious candidate to be dealt. As The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham and many others reported Tuesday, a Peavy deal seems likely, and the right-hander has already spoken to Cherington about the possibility of being moved.
Subtracting Peavy would allow both Workman and De La Rosa to pitch every fifth day in Boston unless their performance dictates they should be removed. And if one falters, that creates an obvious opportunity for Ranaudo. Plus, such a move would also create a Triple-A rotation spot for Henry Owens, who has absolutely nothing left to prove in Portland.
You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned what the Red Sox should expect to receive for any of the players above, and that’s because, in all honesty, the return is of secondary importance. Other than Peavy and maybe Drew, none of the players listed above are likely to fetch much of use on the trade market.
But what’s more important is that moving these players gives the Red Sox a chance to develop and evaluate their next wave of talent, and to make decisions that will have serious ramifications on their aspirations next year.
The 2014 season is all but over for the Red Sox, from a competitive standpoint. Now they should use the trade deadline to ensure that the players who will still be here in 2015 gain experience.