After falling out of contention, the Boston Red Sox chose to deal away a number of their impending free agents before the July 31 MLB trade deadline passed. Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, Jonny Gomes, Andrew Miller and Stephen Drew were all shipped out of town to ensure that Boston wouldn't lose their services at season's end without getting anything in return.
As it now stands, the majority of the current Red Sox roster is under contract through 2015. It's only natural for a ballclub to have some changeover from one year to the next though, so which Boston players are probable candidates to no longer be wearing a Red Sox uniform next season?
Two of Boston's soon-to-be free agents, David Ross and Koji Uehara, appear destined to continue their careers with the Red Sox.
The 39-year-old Uehara is in the midst of his second consecutive outstanding season as Boston's closer. In 2013 and 2014 combined, Uehara has converted 47 of 52 save opportunities, recorded a remarkable 0.65 WHIP and struck out 171 batters over 130 innings pitched.
On August 8, the Boston Herald's Scott Lauber wrote the following:
As well as Uehara pitched for the Red Sox, and his 1.21 ERA over the past two seasons is a quarter of a run better than any other pitcher who has thrown a minimum of 100 innings, he isn't about to get a three-year contract. Not with his 40th birthday looming next April 3.
But the Red Sox consider Uehara part of at least their short-term plan, a feeling that became clear last week when they didn't trade him despite receiving what general manager Ben Cherington labeled 'a fair amount of interest' from contenders looking for a late-inning reliever.
Ross will be 38 years old by the start of the 2015 season, but the veteran catcher could be a valuable mentor for rookie Christian Vazquez, or possibly even Blake Swihart, who's currently in Triple-A Pawtucket. When asked about his future, via Tim Britton of the Providence Journal, Ross recently said:
I definitely want to play next year...I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I don't know if they [the Red Sox] feel that way. I don't know how bad they want back a .170 hitter. It's easier for me to fit in fast when you're surrounded by good people. The players here are good guys, the coaching staff is amazing, the front office, the ownership — they treat us more like family than as business pieces. They treat my family great. All the on-field staff that help our kids and wives, they just really make it easy for you to be a baseball player here and just focus on baseball. In that aspect, it's better than any place I've ever been.
Relief pitcher Burke Badenhop will also be a free agent when the 2014 season comes to a close. Badenhop has put together a solid year for Boston, posting a 2.59 ERA in 53 appearances. Like with Uehara, the fact that the Red Sox held on to Badenhop at the trade deadline may be a sign they're interested in keeping him going forward.
Only one other member of Boston's active roster is guaranteed to be a free agent this offseason, and he is among those least likely to return in 2015:
Kelly Johnson, INF/OF
The 32-year-old Kelly Johnson's best days as an MLB player are clearly behind him. In 2010 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Johnson hit 26 homers, drove in 71 runs and batted .284 with a .370 on-base percentage. However, Johnson is now on his fifth team in the past four seasons, and he's hit just .225 with a .306 OBP ever since.
As Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said in his press conference immediately after the trade deadline, Boston dealt Drew with the idea of moving Xander Bogaerts back to shortstop and giving Will Middlebrooks an opportunity to prove himself at third base.
In a sense, it was addition by subtraction to move Drew to the New York Yankees, and acquiring Johnson in the process is not what mattered to Boston in the long run.
The aging utility player may fill in from time to time around the diamond as the season winds down, but there's no reason why the Red Sox should look to re-sign Johnson for next year or beyond.
Craig Breslow, RP
Boston found a hidden gem in Craig Breslow in 2013, as the journeyman lefty managed a 1.81 ERA in 59.2 innings while holding opposing hitters to a .228 batting average.
However, it's been a different story for the aging reliever in 2014. Over 44 appearances, Breslow has a 4.85 ERA and a 1.76 WHIP. He's also allowed left-handed batters to hit .299 against him with a .393 OBP, disastrous numbers for a southpaw out of the bullpen.
Sean McAdam of CSNNE recently wrote that Breslow's time with the Red Sox "might be running out." Said McAdam:
The Sox hold a $4 million option on Breslow for 2015 that they obviously have no intent of picking up and the next seven weeks might be better spent looking at a younger arm rather than trotting out a 34-year-old reliever who isn't part of their long-term plans.
This tweet from Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe also sheds a bit of light on the situations of both Johnson and Breslow:
While revocable waivers are just that, revocable, clearly this does not bode well for the futures of these two players in Boston.
Will Middlebrooks, 3B
It's only been two weeks since Cherington said he wanted to give Middlebrooks a chance at third base, but in that time the 25-year-old has struggled mightily. Middlebrooks is just 4-for-30 (.133) in the month of August, with zero home runs, a single RBI and 10 strikeouts. For the season his average sits at .178, his OBP at .265 and his slugging percentage at only .267.
Middlebrooks has battled injuries throughout his major league career, and the Red Sox may be wondering if they will ever again see the player who batted .331 with nine home runs and 33 RBI over his first 40 games as a rookie in 2012.
With left-side-of-the-infield prospects Garin Cecchini and Deven Marrero waiting in the wings down in Pawtucket, how long can Boston continue to be patient with Middlebrooks?
In a Globe article by Cafardo, Middlebrooks had this to say regarding his outlook toward the remainder of the season, which the writer states "could be his final chance" with the Red Sox:
I want to end the year on a high note. It just doesn’t benefit me but the organization as well. If I do well it takes worries off my mind and theirs. It gives me confidence to go forward and they’re able to make the tough decisions they have to make. I understand that I’m in the center of it and I need to perform like I envisioned and like they envisioned me performing.
Unless Middlebrooks starts tearing the cover off the ball over the last several weeks of the season, it should come as no surprise if Boston looks to part ways with the third baseman this winter.
The Red Sox are now resigned to the fact that 2014 is officially a lost season, and their eyes are firmly set on retooling for 2015.
Don't expect Johnson, Breslow or Middlebrooks to be a part of it.