The Boston Red Sox figure to find themselves among the sellers at the trade deadline. The team's World Series defense has lacked the magic associated with last year's run, and the chances of making a late surge into the postseason are slim to none.
Instead, general manager Ben Cherington will be at least surveying the market to see what type of return his top trade chips could bring. Pitching is the one area in which Boston could be a match for some of the buyers, both in terms of starters and relievers.
With that in mind, let's check out some of the latest trade talk making its way around Fenway Park with the deadline now firmly on the horizon.
Jon Lester was scheduled to start Wednesday before getting scratched due to the ongoing trade rumors. It's a smart move by Boston. He's the team's most valuable trade chip, and the last thing it wants to see is him getting hurt one day before the deadline.
The left-hander is enjoying the best season of his career with a 2.52 ERA and 149 strikeouts in 143 innings across 21 starts. Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald reports that success is leading to a high level of interest from around the league:
Based on information from major league sources, including executives who commented on condition of anonymity, the Red Sox have spoken with as many as eight teams about Lester’s availability, notifying them that they will require at least two elite-level prospects in any deal.
That asking price probably seems high, especially for a player who can become a free agent at season's end. It's important to remember, however, a bidding war can ensue when there's that many teams involved, and some organizations are willing to make a sacrifice to boost current title chances.
Lester is capable of stepping in as an ace or a top-tier No. 2 starter. For a team chasing a championship, that's an invaluable resource to add at this stage of the season. Even if the Red Sox are forced to drop the price tag a bit, they should get a very good return on what could amount to a rental.
John Lackey hasn't generated as much hype as his rotation mate and certainly isn't capable of being a go-to ace at this stage of his career. He falls into to the category of reliable veteran who can help fill out the middle of a rotation come playoff time.
He sports a 3.60 ERA through 21 starts after posting a 2.77 mark for the Red Sox during the playoffs last season. Jayson Stark of ESPN.com reports he could be on the move, but a lot could depend on what ends up happening with Lester:
He'd seem like a tough guy for the Red Sox to deal, given all the uncertainty about Lester's future. But teams that have asked about Lackey say the Red Sox want a major league starter in return and probably won't trade him if they don't get one back. Or, if they get an established starter back for Lester, it would give them more flexibility in fielding offers for Lackey.
One potential hurdle is his contract. He's only scheduled to make $500,000 next season as part of a clause in his contract, which is extremely low for a player of his status. "There's things to think about," he said when asked about the money issue, as per WEEI.com's Alex Speier (via Ben Watanabe of NESN).
So a team looking to add Lackey shouldn't expect him to pitch for that salary next season or use it as a reason to target him. He could definitely provide a boost for the stretch run and the playoffs, but beyond that, a new deal will likely need to get worked out.
Moving to the bullpen, Andrew Miller is a pitcher who should have widespread appeal. He's having a second straight standout season for the Red Sox with a 2.40 ERA through 49 appearances. Those type of arms are necessary late in games to survive in the postseason.
He's another player who's slated to hit the open market after the season and figures to cash in after a very successful transition from starter to reliever. Rob Bradford of WEEI reports the Kansas City Royals are among the interested teams:
According to major league sources, the Royals are one of multiple teams interested in the services of Red Sox reliever Andrew Miller. Kansas City, however, isn't currently eyeing Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes, who had reportedly drawn interest from the club a few weeks back.
Miller is intriguing because he can fill a couple different roles. Some teams may view him strictly as a lefty specialist to help neutralize power hitters from that side of the plate. But he's also proven capable of getting right-handed hitters out (lefties are hitting .153 and righties are hitting .184 against him in 2014).
The report doesn't mention what the Red Sox are seeking in return. Given the increased value of relievers who can handle the seventh or the eighth inning, they should be looking to get at least one impact prospect in the deal, if not more.