Red Sox Should Hold on to the Farm This Trading Season

Keith TestaCorrespondent IJuly 20, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 14: Shortstop Julio Lugo #23 of the Boston Red Sox plays in the field against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on May 14, 2009 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California.   The Angels won 5-4 in 12 innings.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Rumors of a trade in which the Red Sox would acquire mentally unhinged outfielder Eric Byrnes, he of the mighty .215 batting average and clearly degenerating skill, would admittedly not usually be cause for celebration.

This morning, however, was the exception. For said rumor had the Red Sox sending Julio Lugo to the Diamondbacks in exchange for the wayward wildman. 

In an upset the likes of which the sporting world hasn’t seen since the U.S soccer team toppled Spain last month, that means the Red Sox would actually get something tangible for Lugo, even after they spent the last two-and-a-half seasons showcasing to the rest of the league that he no longer possesses the skill to be an everyday player, at least not in the Boston market.

I’m no ardent Byrnes supporter, but about him I will say this: he’s breathing.  At last check, despite the fact that some of his numbers might suggest otherwise, he’s alive.  That alone is a step in the right direction considering the most logical offer any sane fan could have cooked up for Lugo would have included the rights to Ted Williams’ frozen remains and a player to be dead later.

One has to assume, though, that even if this move is made, it won’t be the most critical swap the Sox are involved in near the trading deadline.

The Sox have made a habit of the “big splash” trade over the last few years, as evidenced by the fact that in three of the last four seasons they have either traded or traded for Nomar Garciaparra, Eric Gagne, Manny Ramirez, and Jason Bay.  They have been anything but gun shy.

But Theo and his entourage have also proved adept at scanning the waiver wire for less-heralded—and less expensive—moves that provide critical depth, adding the likes of Dave Roberts, Bobby Kielty, and Mark Kotsay over that same span.

This deadline season is one of the more interesting in recent memory, given that the Red Sox have been linked—even if just through media chatter—to blockbuster deals involving pitchers (Roy Halladay) and hitters (Adrian Gonzalez, Victor Martinez) as well as under-the-radar pick-ups like Nick Johnson and, more recently, Scott Rolen.

The Sox could blow up the farm system as part of a major shake-up, or glide quietly into August with primarily the same roster they have now.  The rumor mill is churning at full speed, and what it eventually spits out is anyone’s guess.

I, for one, am hoping to avoid the blockbuster route.  The Red Sox are in the enviable—and rare—position where they don’t need, in the literal sense of the word, to add a big piece like a Halladay or a Martinez.  They are among the World Series favorites already.

And I like how they got there.  The Red Sox have become the trendy team to hate, like the Yankees of the late '90s, because they have obnoxious fans and girls in pink hats filling opposing stadiums around the league.  But the comparisons don’t hold water. 

Sure, the Red Sox have a massive payroll. Yes, they signed Lugo and J.D. Drew to ridiculous contracts. But look around the diamond at the amount of homegrown talent on the roster: Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Manny Delcarmen, Justin Masterson.  That’s something the Yankees could never match during their run.

And the potential is there for much, much more.  Clay Buchholz showed again Friday night that he is ready to retire Major League hitters on a regular basis.  Daniel Bard is becoming the underrated story of the year—how do you quietly retire 29 of 31 batters, including 17 via the strikeout, as Bard has done over the last few weeks—and Michael Bowden lurks as another AAA prospect that could become a regular contributor.

That doesn’t take into consideration Lars Anderson, the powerful first baseman and Spring Training pick for next hitting star in the Sox lineup, or Aaron Bates, who played so well through the first half of the season that he overtook Anderson on the depth chart.

I’d rather see the Red Sox use their considerable resources to keep all these guys around into their mid and late-20s. The potential is there for six or eight All-Star caliber players groomed in their own system.  It’d be a waste to see four of them grow up as Blue Jays because the Sox rented Roy Halladay for a year-and-a-half.

Here’s hoping the Sox stick to the small stuff.  Despite the media’s intimation that Brad Penny is pitching too well to trade, I think it’d be prudent to explore the options.  Buchholz is clearly ready for another extended shot at the big league level, and you have to assume that John Smoltz’s performance will only increase as the stakes do, making Penny slightly more expendable.

It’d be great to acquire a Johnson or a Rolen or another unheralded corner infielder, or a lefty relief specialist, or a shortstop, or an outfielder as insurance should Rocco Baldelli suffer another injury.  All would be low-risk, high-reward moves that could provide enough depth to put the Sox over the top down the stretch.

And all are the kinds of moves Epstein’s been known to make at this time of year.  Here’s hoping this time that’s the entirety of the work and not a tiny complement to a bigger trade headline.