The 2014 Boston Red Sox are a flawed team.
This may be a fairly simple statement as the Red Sox approach the July 31 MLB trading deadline, but at 43-52—9.5 games behind in the American League East—the chances for a complete turnaround grow dimmer with each passing week.
In all fairness, every MLB team has its flaws. Boston is no different. Yet the Red Sox's problems have remained largely consistent over the course of this season as the team attempts to defend its World Series championship from a year ago.
One could make the argument either way in regards to whether or not Boston should be buyers or sellers leading up to the deadline.
On one hand, we have seen teams ride hot streaks down the stretch after lackluster starts to the season. In contrast, however, we can deduce that Boston is gearing up to trade away some of its veteran talent based on recent transactions and rumors, which we shall get into shortly.
It is hard to fathom the Red Sox conceding the 2014 season just yet. Internally, they may have already done so. But general manager Ben Cherington and Boston's brass could be simply putting off this possibility until the last final moment.
Whatever the case may be, the Red Sox need to change a number of aspects made poignant thus far in 2014. Whether these solutions are intended for the short or long term, the incumbent nature of this franchise needs a makeover.
Let us take a look at three elements of this franchise that need improvement. With just over two weeks remaining before the deadline, Boston has a good opportunity to redress some of its ailments.
Solidifying the Rotation
Boston's top two starters—Jon Lester and John Lackey—are anchoring the rotation just fine. With respective ERAs of 2.65 and 3.79, we need not worry about this veteran tandem bringing down the rotation as a whole.
There are questions surrounding Lester's future in Boston, however, so we should at least keep that in the back of our minds.
But what of the remainder of the Sox's rotation? Jake Peavy, the 33-year-old righty, owns a 1-8 record and a 4.59 ERA and 1.411 WHIP. Granted, Peavy does not get the run support he would like—the Red Sox are averaging only 2.6 runs per Peavy's innings pitched—but the former Cy Young Award recipient may have reached "expendable" status.
Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe indicated the Red Sox could be gearing up for a Peavy trade in coming days, suggesting that Peavy being lined up to pitch no sooner than July 22 in Toronto gives Boston some time to make this decision.
Peavy is perhaps the easiest of Boston's current starters to move. He is earning $6 million in a contract year, and Boston would likely have to eat much of that if Peavy is traded, per Abraham.
In contrast, other struggling starters like Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront—5.42 and 5.17 ERAs, respectively—are signed to longer deals. Buchholz won't hit the open market until 2016, and Doubront's contract expires in 2018 although he is arbitration-eligible next year.
Peavy does have considerable value to a contending team that needs a No. 4 or 5 starter down the stretch.
The Red Sox have the luxury of a deep pitching pool from which to choose from if Peavy is moved. Rubby De La Rosa appears to be the favorite to earn an increased role if a rotation spot is opened. De La Rosa owns a 2.89 ERA over 37.1 innings pitched.
Behind him, Boston can also count on a number of major league-ready hurlers like Brandon Workman and Allen Webster at some point.
In executing such a deal, the Red Sox would be "turning the page" from an aging cast of starters and focusing on the development of younger talent. This, in turn, could provide Boston with the proverbial "shot in the arm" regarding the rotation—the effects of which should be felt for the remainder of 2014 and beyond.
Restructuring the Infield
It is strange to fathom the possibility that the only guaranteed job on Boston's infield is that of second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
Now, this isn't to say that the Red Sox are simply going to give up on players like Xander Bogaerts, but the numbers don't lie. Bogaerts is batting just .235 this season with a .658 OPS. He has struggled defensively as well, having committed 13 errors split between third base and shortstop.
Bogaerts still needs time to develop, but perhaps a bonafide, established defensive role is what's needed here for him to live up to the expectations placed upon the top Red Sox prospect.
It is also strange to consider first baseman Mike Napoli's job is in jeopardy.
But according to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, a number of teams have inquired about Napoli's services.
Napoli has certainly had a down year in comparison to his 2013 campaign.
Bleacher Report featured columnist Tyler Conway goes into further detail, writing:
This season has seen his splits go in the tank despite getting similar luck. Napoli's .355 BABIP is 16th highest in baseball, a significant leap above the league average, per FanGraphs. But he's hitting ground balls at a higher rate than he ever has, his home run-to-fly ball ratio is the second lowest of his career and his isolated power is the worst rate of his nine years in the bigs.
Does this make him expendable?
Perhaps, but Cherington has stated that one cannot do a full rebuild in Boston, per Cafardo. This essentially means the Red Sox would only be willing to part ways with Napoli—who has another full year on his current contract—if the return package was too good to avoid.
The Red Sox could shift other players over to first—Brock Holt, Will Middlebrooks and Daniel Nava are all possibilities—but it is hard to see various other MLB teams tripping over themselves to get their hands on a player like Napoli who is suffering from a down year.
The left side of the infield begs even more questions.
We have discussed Bogaerts, and the Red Sox would be wise to put him at a position where his defensive attributes would be best suited. This was at third base a season ago. Hopefully, this sort of move would give Bogaerts the chance to focus more on his offensive prowess.
Yet this would have consequences on the remaining cast of Boston infielders. The Stephen Drew re-signing has been an utter disappointment thus far. Drew is batting a mere .151 since returning to the Sox, and while he has a defensive upside, the offensive woes are enough to classify this move as a mistake.
Will Middlebrooks' eventual return from the disabled list also does not inspire confidence. Before fracturing his right index finger in May, Middlebrooks was batting a lowly .197. His job, and his future with the Red Sox, certainly appears in doubt.
A quick fix would be to part ways with both Drew and Middlebrooks and give the third base and shortstop jobs to Bogaerts and Brock Holt, respectively. Holt is a natural third baseman but has played 16 innings at short this season, committing zero errors in eight chances.
This gives Bogaerts a chance to remain at third base and concentrate on the defensive focus at the hot corner while allowing him to regain the offensive prowess the Red Sox were hoping for.
Of course, the Red Sox would have to figure out how to part ways with Drew and Middlebrooks—an aspect made difficult given both because of contractual obligations ($10.1 million to Drew in 2014) and because both players' trade values are worth almost nothing at this point.
While difficult, this avenue of approach would cement the roles of two promising young players in the franchise without significantly offsetting the losses of two underwhelming players in Drew and Middlebrooks.
It would, at least, give a clearer indication as to what the Red Sox had on the infield with the 2015 season in mind.
Upgrading the Outfield
Boston's outfield is, without question, the one area that needs the most help moving forward.
The Red Sox's current crop of outfielders is batting just .241 with an OPS of .654. Simply stated, those numbers are not getting the job done.
We have seen the various combinations of players like Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes, Jackie Bradley Jr., the oft-injured Shane Victorino and the now-released Grady Sizemore, plus others.
In a way, it is hard to blame Cherington and the front office for the ineptitude suffered by this portion of the Red Sox in 2014. Overcoming the free-agent departure of Jacoby Ellsbury was going to be difficult. Bradley was asked to fill some big shoes in Ellsbury's wake.
And, of course, no one foresaw Victorino suffering the slew of injury setbacks over the course of the season so far.
So where does one start when it comes to fixing the outfield?
The Red Sox envision Bradley—and recent midseason call-up Mookie Betts—as part of their long-term plans, so we should rule out any transaction involving either unless it is part of a major package deal to acquire a big name.
Victorino is signed through 2015, so moving him seems less than feasible at this point.
That leaves players like Nava, Gomes and Mike Carp as potential players to be moved.
When asked about some possible deals the Red Sox could make, Cafardo responded:
I don't know how you can have confidence in the offense at this point. Bradley Jr. has shown signs of life, but really I think we're looking at selling off some outfield pieces. Jonny Gomes has a nice effect on contending teams, so he might draw interest. If Victorino can come back and show he's healthy, maybe the Red Sox eat some money and trade him. Nava may also have some value. Mike Carp is a good bat. I think now, unless there's a dramatic change or they go into a big winning streak between now and July 31, they're probably open for business.
Selling off some outfield commodities may, and perhaps should, happen in coming weeks. But the Red Sox need to upgrade this unit. Who would be the ideal targets, if not for immediate impact, then as part of a long-term solution?
One name that inspires interest is Alex Rios from the Texas Rangers.
At 33 years old, Rios is batting .305 for the injury-depleted Rangers who have zero hopes at playoff contention this year. Rios can supply pop and has good RBI potential from the right side—help that the Red Sox desperately need.
The Rangers also need pitching, and Boston has plenty of that.
Should a deal like this be struck, Texas would likely ask for a top pitching prospect in return. With the crop of young pitching talent in the Red Sox's farm system, such a deal could easily be made with little ramifications.
But as Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston points out, Rios does not fit the mold of a player Boston is looking for at this point. He writes:
If the Red Sox were not nine games under .500, Rios would fit the profile of the type of the player who would be on the top of Boston's list at the deadline. He's played in the AL East (former Blue Jay), and would give John Farrell the type of lineup balance he sorely needs. But Rios doesn't fit the profile of a player the Sox would look to keep next season, and spending $5 million (rest of this season, the buyout) for a rental doesn't make a lot of sense.
Rios would unquestionably help the offense, but a 33-year-old aging veteran with contractual concerns certainly clouds the possibility.
Instead, Edes points out impact players like Miami Marlins' slugger Giancarlo Stanton—whom virtually every other team in the majors hopes will be on the market sooner rather than later.
Yet Stanton remains a pipe dream at this point, and acquiring him would cost the Red Sox—or any team for that matter—dearly in terms of prospects. He would, however, be a piece that Boston could build around for years to come.
Another less-heralded talent that could be sought is 25-year-old Chicago White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo, whose offensive numbers might benefit from the hitter-friendly confines of Fenway Park, per Edes.
Viciedo would be a much more plausible option to upgrading the outfield, and the cost would be easier to swallow from the Red Sox's vantage point. At 10.5 games back in the American League Central, the 45-51 White Sox have scant hopes of making a playoff push.
What we do know is this—the Red Sox need outfield help. It may not transpire this season depending on how Cherington approaches the rest of the year, but a simple upgrade may be the necessary boost in assisting Boston's prospectus of getting back into contention down the stretch.
We have yet to determine whether or not the Red Sox have committed to being buyers or sellers at the deadline.
Some deals have indicated the latter, but in reality, such deals may also simply indicate certain players have not panned out, and Boston is better off moving in a different direction regardless of what the team's record indicates.
Still, there remains a chance that this team is able to turn things around. But that chance is getting weaker as the deadline looms.
There are substantial areas needing improvement, and acting upon those sooner as opposed to later may be the critical component to a resurgent Red Sox team in the second half.
But all of those pieces need to fall into place.
They haven't yet.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox. Be sure to check out his entire archive on Red Sox news, insight and analysis.
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