Boston Red Sox Trade Speculation: Fact or Fiction
If you're a Red Sox fan, you're worried.
Don't deny it.
Even those of us with unshakable faith in the organization can't ignore the club's weaknesses. Players we had hoped would be solutions have so far been problems. And while some, like Carl Crawford, are turning things around, others have not yet shown signs of life.
In particular, the bullpen is in trouble. The Sox addressed the aftermath of last year's relief struggles by making sweeping changes. Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez are gone, Matt Albers, Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler were brought in.
But both Jenks and Wheeler have been major liabilities in the early going. The duo has combined for a 10.42 ERA and 2.16 WHIP in 19 innings pitched. Hideki Okajima has been shaky since getting called up from Pawtucket. And it appears that Tim Wakefield is now unable to be the rubber-armed long reliever the club had planned for, needed instead in the rotation.
Starting pitching is another issue for the team. Daisuke Matsuzaka has swung between being unhittable and rock-bottom awful. And his recent elbow stiffness bears watching. Clay Buchholz's velocity and command are suffering badly, although he has shown recent signs of getting his fastball back into the mid-90s. Overall, the back end of the rotation is at best unpredictable, and at worst unreliable.
These woes could change as the weather warms up, players settle in, and the team shakes off an absurdly poor April. But even if they do, most fans agree that some moves will be required at or before the trading deadline in order for Boston to get back to the postseason.
Yet much of the trade talk that has swirled around the team simply does not make sense. It's time to separate fact from fiction.
The Red Sox Should Target San Diego's Heath Bell
Yes, Bell is one of the best relievers in the game. And yes, his name will be at the top of the list when it comes to trade rumors involving teams that need bullpen help. But the odds of him coming to Beantown are virtually nil.
The recent Adrian Gonzalez trade allowed these two clubs to get what they wanted from one another. Current San Diego GM and former Boston assistant GM Jed Hoyer knows the Red Sox as well as Theo Epstein, and he got what he wanted when he moved his all-star first baseman.
Teams like San Diego live on their ability to develop and flip players. Look at the club's recent wheelings and dealings and you'll see that outgoing talent is shipped for incoming prospects. Boston's main trade ammunition this year will be major leaguers like Jonathan Papelbon, not budding young talent.
Which leads to the next point...
The Red Sox Can't Afford to Raid the Farm System
Since the current ownership took over, a major point of emphasis for the organization has been player development. Boston's farm system has been one of the strongest in baseball over the past decade or so, but after Casey Kelly and Anthony Rizzo left for San Diego, the talent pool needs to be replenished.
Boston doesn't have the minor league firepower to get involved with such trades. The team's best pitching prospect, Anthony Ranaudo, is only 21 and pitching for the Greenville Drive in A ball. Other arms like Drake Britton and Stolmy Pimentel, both of whom are also 21 years old, are still a couple of years away from the majors.
Ryan Kalish is the team's best hitting prospect, but is currently sidelined with a labrum injury. Infielder Lars Anderson has hit a plateau in his development, and shortstop Jose Iglesias is too important to Boston's future.
Whatever happens at the 2011 trading deadline, the Red Sox must leave the farm system alone.
The Red Sox Should Go After Jose Reyes
Jose Iglesias may be Boston's future shortstop, but the position is currently up for grabs. While Jed Lowrie is playing very well (.919 OPS through 90 plate appearances), some Sox fans aren't convinced that he's the long-term answer.
It's that doubt that keeps Jose Reyes' name circulating around Red Sox Nation, but it's time to put this speculation aside.
Boston doesn't need Reyes. Boston shouldn't want Reyes, and neither should fans.
It's not that he isn't talented. He clearly has great speed, respectable on-base skills and a decent glove. But Reyes, like Heath Bell, would cost prospects. The Mets are rebuilding and will certainly demand young talent in return for their one-time superstar.
Additionally, Reyes would add nothing new to the Boston lineup. His skill set is similar to, but slightly worse than, Carl Crawford's. And of course, he's going to be looking for a sizable contract. If the Sox were to get him, it would either be a half-season rental, or a trade-and-sign situation given his pending free agency status.
Reyes simply does not make sense for the Red Sox.
The Red Sox Offensive Target Should Be a Catcher
No points for originality here. We can all agree that catcher is a major sore spot for this team. We knew it coming into the season, and nothing has happened since to change our minds.
I'm not ready to give up on Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but to pretend he's a good option moving forward would be naive and dangerous. Boston needs something to fall back on when it comes to a backstop. As much as I respect Jason Varitek, and as well as he works the pitching staff, his tenure in Boston is just about over, and the club needs to have a succession plan in place.
One that involves more than just Salty.
I'd prefer to see Boston make trades for pitchers this year, but if the team decides to pursue a bat, it almost has to be a catcher.
The Red Sox Should Move Jonathan Papelbon
Papelbon has done an excellent job while in Boston. His career numbers include a 2.24 ERA and 1.03 WHIP, and he strikes out more than a batter per inning.
But he's also a $12 million per year arm that will likely be seeking (and getting) a raise.
The Red Sox have Daniel Bard ready and waiting to assume the closer role. While they certainly have their share of bullpen problems, and while keeping Papelbon would obviously be helpful, it's a luxury that the team should avoid.
There are more pressing needs, better ways to spend the kind of money that Papelbon will earn with his next contract.
Plenty of teams will be looking for late-inning relief and a reliable fireman, and Boston must leverage that need to get value in return before Papelbon walks as a free agent.
The Red Sox Should Shop Jacoby Ellsbury
This is one rumor I just don't understand. After missing almost all of 2010, Ellsbury has a lot to prove both at the plate and in the field. His value is nowhere near its highest point. And yet, I've seen people calling for him to be put on the block.
In terms of pure economics, it would far better to trade him if and when he begins to post consistently good numbers. But frankly, I'm not inclined to move him at all.
Baseball is changing. Remember last year's "Year of the Pitcher?" The gaudy offensive totals of the Steroid Era seem to be regressing, and skills other than power-hitting are becoming important again. It's not just that Ellsbury has blazing speed, though any guy who can swipe 50 or more bags a year at better than an 80 percent clip is clearly a weapon. It's that he's 27 years old, under control through 2014 and showing signs of becoming and improved hitter and fielder.
Ellsbury has the tools to become one of the game's better leadoff hitters. Giving up on him now would be foolish.
The Red Sox Should Keep 2012 in Mind
I'm not saying that the Sox should give up on 2011, or that they shouldn't make a serious run at the playoffs. Despite the slow start, the club has enough talent to vie for the division. It is, after all, a long season.
But next year, the Sox will see $52 million come off the books. The lead weight that is J.D. Drew will be gone. David Ortiz's contract will be up. Papelbon's too. Ditto for Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro and Varitek.
Gordon Edes pointed all of this out back in February in his discussion of why and how the team could conceivably go after Albert Pujols. I think a Pujols-to-Boston deal is unlikely, but the underlying point remains.
The end of the 2011 season frees up a ton of money for the Sox. There's simply no point in team mortgaging its future in the short-term. We all want to see the Red Sox win now, but doing so at the expense of future success won't do any of us any good.
I don't expect the Sox to stand pat at the deadline, but a blockbuster move isn't in the cards, and that's probably okay. With good decisions, the club should be in good shape for next season.