The defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox are 43-52, eight games out of a playoff spot and 9.5 games back in the AL East. While the postseason is not completely out of the realm of possibility, it is going to take an extraordinary amount of good fortune for the Red Sox to contend down the stretch.
Because of Boston's long odds, it doesn't make sense for the franchise to deal away its top prospects for a superstar in hopes of saving the season.
A blockbuster move isn't always necessary to alter a team's fate, though—sometimes seemingly minute changes can be the catalyst for a turnaround. In fact, it's possible such a scenario has already begun to take place for the Red Sox.
Since cutting catcher A.J. Pierzynski and promoting Christian Vazquez from Triple-A on July 9, Boston is 4-1. The league's lowest-scoring offense in the first half (367 total runs at the All-Star break) is finally showing signs of life, as it pounded out 41 hits in the past three games, the most in any three-game span for the ballclub this year.
In an effort to continue that trend, here are three trades the Red Sox could make to get back into the race this season, without sacrificing their future.
Boston's most glaring offensive deficiencies stem from its outfielders. Daniel Nava, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Jonny Gomes are all hitting below .240, with on-base percentages of .330 or lower. On July 7 ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes wrote the following about the lack of home runs by Red Sox outfielders:
The Sox outfield is on a pace to hit 22 this season, which would be the team’s fewest in at least 101 seasons, according to baseball-reference.com, whose research goes back to 1914. It would match the 1979 Astros for the fewest home runs in a full season in that span.
Alex Rios' four home runs wouldn't do much for Boston's power numbers, but his .305 average could be a nice addition to the Red Sox lineup. At 38-57 the Rangers are firmly planted in the basement of the AL West and likely won't mind parting with their right fielder—especially considering Rios is in the final year of his contract, which carries a team option for 2015 at $13.5 million.
Boston could start by offering Texas young, affordable players Will Middlebrooks and Felix Doubront. Middlebrooks is expendable now that Xander Bogaerts is at third base, and Doubront lost his spot in the starting rotation to Brandon Workman. Both Middlebrooks, 25, and Doubront, 26, are paid less than $600,000, and neither factors heavily into the Red Sox's long-term plans.
If the Rangers are interested in an outfielder in return, Boston might also include Nava, Gomes or Mike Carp, all of whom would be relegated to even smaller bench roles upon Rios' arrival.
Trade for Detroit Tigers OF Rajai Davis
Another of the Red Sox's glaring weaknesses this year is speed. Boston has just 30 steals on the season (second to last in the AL), and its 60 percent success rate is the worst in the league. By comparison, Rajai Davis has swiped 24 bags on his own while compiling a .296 batting average along the way.
The Tigers are leading the AL Central and have designs on a world championship of their own, but that doesn't mean they won't consider dealing away Davis. From John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press:
[Andy] Dirks is on target to return to the Tigers in late July, shortly before the annual July 31 trading deadline. So there figures to be plenty of trade talk about the time Dirks returns. ... With the emergence of J.D. Martinez, the Tigers already have a jam in the outfield. Martinez has intruded on what had been the starting outfield: Rajai Davis, Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter. Dirks would make five outfielders.
Might Detroit be interested in veteran starter Jake Peavy to bolster the back of its rotation? Drew Smyly has been shaky in the Tigers' No. 5 spot recently—he's allowed four or more earned runs in each of his last three starts. Boston could easily replace Peavy with Rubby De La Rosa, who has a 2.89 ERA in six starts in 2014.
Peavy is a former Cy Young Award winner (2007) with postseason experience, which is exactly why the Red Sox acquired him for their playoff push a year ago.
He's often been a victim of bad luck (and poor offensive support) this season, and a change of scenery might rejuvenate him. Through 19 starts for Boston, Peavy owns just a single victory, but on 11 separate occasions the righty has been dealt a loss or no-decision despite allowing three earned runs or fewer.
Any of Boston's players mentioned in the previous section could be added to the deal as well to sweeten the pot for the Tigers.
Bring SS Hanley Ramirez Back to Boston
In 28 games since returning to the Red Sox, shortstop Stephen Drew is hitting just .151 with a .218 OBP.
Onetime Boston farmhand Hanley Ramirez is batting .275 with 11 home runs and 48 RBI with the Los Angeles Dodgers this year. Clearly Ramirez could be a major upgrade for the offensively challenged Red Sox. But why would the first-place Dodgers be interested in trading their 30-year-old All-Star?
Ramirez is a free agent at the end of the season, and there is a distinct possibility that L.A. will not re-sign him. Last month Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal wrote the following about Ramirez's poor defensive play after his error cost teammate Clayton Kershaw a perfect game:
Many expected the Dodgers to sign Ramirez to an extension by now. It hasn’t happened, in part because the Dodgers want to see him stay healthy, in part because they might not be sure what the heck to do with him long term. ... Maybe the Dodgers could win the 2014 World Series with Ramirez at short — heck, the Red Sox pulled off such a feat with Julio Lugo in ‘07. Advanced metrics, however, portray Ramirez as one of the worst defensive shortstops in baseball. And strong up-the-middle defense should be a requirement for a team built around starting pitching, no?
Ramirez's DWAR (Defensive Wins Above Replacement) this year is minus-1.1. Drew's, on the other hand, is plus-0.4. Obviously the Dodgers won't make an even swap for the two, but it's possible Boston could add enough other enticing pieces to the deal to get it done. L.A. might like Peavy as a fifth starter with Josh Beckett on the disabled list, as well as help for its bullpen.
From ESPN Los Angeles' Mark Saxon: "The Dodgers need another reliever, preferably the kind you can hand the eighth inning to and feel as if it's in good hands." If the Red Sox offered Andrew Miller and his 2.23 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and whopping 58 strikeouts in 36.1 innings pitched, along with Drew, Peavy and maybe Middlebrooks too, could it be enough to pry Ramirez away from Los Angeles?
Losing Miller would be a major hit to Boston's relief corps, but it might give Doubront an opportunity to find a new role as a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen.
A bit of luck would clearly be necessary for such a move to work out, but in reality that's the case with all three of these trade options. For the Red Sox to get back into the race at this point, luck is going to have to be a key factor regardless of what deals they make.