Boston Red Sox Trade Spec: What Should Boston Do If John Lackey Doesn't Recover?
On Monday, the Boston Red Sox placed John Lackey on the 15-day D.L. with an elbow strain. It must be a contagious arm problem.
Daisuke Matsuzaka had a similar diagnosis when he was struggling, and by all appearances, Lackey has caught the bug.
Through seven starts, Lackey's ERA stands at a bloated 8.01. He has a 1.80 WHIP and a walk rate that is just a hair less than his K rate. Four of the seven outings have ended with Lackey surrendering six earned runs or more. He's coughed up nine runs not once, but twice. In short, he's been awful.
It's far too soon to make any pronouncements about his demise, but based on what we've seen through the early part of 2011, this is not the same John Lackey who posted sub-4.00 ERAs in Los Angeles.
So what can Boston do if their supposed No. 3 starter can't turn things around? This $85 million investment was meant to shore up the middle of what looked like one of baseball's better rotations, but has instead become a major liability.
He himself won't be traded and the team can hardly afford to bench him, but Lackey could well see some of his turns skipped as the season wears on.
Here are 12 options that the Red Sox can consider moving forward, possible replacements for Lackey if the big righty is unable to get back on track.
Felix Doubront, Pawtucket Red sox
The search for potential alternatives must begin within the organization.
Felix Doubront cut his big league teeth last year and finished with league average results in a handful of starts and relief appearances. His three outings in 2011 didn't go very well, and earned him a demotion back to Triple-A Pawtucket.
In four starts with the PawSox, Doubront's ERA is a sparkling 1.98, and his control looks good.
A groin strain derailed any return that might have been in the works, but rest assured that when he heals, he'll be tops on the list of starters-in-waiting.
Doubront could ultimately be converted to a full-time reliever, but at age 23, he's too young to give up on just yet.
Recommendation: Once the groin heals, the Sox should consider using Doubront to give Lackey a breather.
Alfredo Aceves, Boston Red Sox
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Aceves has been one of Boston's best arms out of the pen this year.
He was inexplicably optioned to Pawtucket earlier in the season which had more to do with the veteran status of his pen-mates than with his performance. If the Sox know what's good for them, they'll leave Aceves at the big league level moving forward.
The team has already discussed using the reliever in a starting role as needed. With Lackey on the shelf, it wouldn't be surprising to see Aceves draw a spot start, and that could inform the way he's used in the near future.
Even when Lackey is healthy again, Boston ought to consider giving Aceves a real audition in the rotation. If nothing else, he could evolve into an emergency starter as Tim Wakefield heads into retirement.
Recommendation: Until Lackey and Doubront heal, Aceves should get the ball. If he pitches well, the team should consider working him in more often.
Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins
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If the team does in fact have to look elsewhere for starting pitching, it would make sense to start in Minnesota.
The Twins are suffering an abominable 2011, and will almost certainly be sellers as the summer wears on. Liriano has been a popular pick to get moved despite his fairly horrific 7.07 ERA.
Linked to the Yankees earlier this year, Liriano is considered one of the better long-term bets available on the trading block, but he's not the same guy that we all remember from 2006. His phenom days are over, and since then he has fluttered between decent and terrible.
With a perceived value that remains inflated, he's not the best option for the Sox.
Recommendation: Someone will take a chance on Liriano, and with a reasonable present and future salary, he could be an interesting gamble for a team desiring to take on a project.
I wouldn't be totally opposed to bringing him to Boston, but it also wouldn't excite me.
Kevin Slowey, Minnesota Twins
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In fact, if the Sox are going to grab a Twin, I'd rather have it be Slowey. The 27-year-old had a very nice 2008, posting a 3.99 ERA and 1.15 WHIP before regressing in 2009 and 2010.
But with a low walk rate and quite a bit of upside, he wouldn't be a bad investment for a team with a good pitching coach.
Slowey is inexpensive, and because he lost his starting job to Scott Baker at the start of the season, the Twins might be willing to move him for a good price. He's depth for a team that is suffering badly, and depth can be shipped out to help satisfy other needs.
If Slowey can't stick in a rotation, he could certainly be a quality option in long relief.
Recommendation: If they can make the right deal, the Red Sox could benefit from adding Slowey to the mix. Of all the names on this list of potential trades, his is one that gives me plenty of optimism.
Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians
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This former Red Sox was a big piece of the trade that brought Victor Martinez to Boston, but don't think he wouldn't be welcomed back with open arms.
Masterson showed good stuff in middle relief when pitching for the Sox, and at 26 years old, he still has plenty of time to reach his considerable potential.
The problem is that he was Cleveland's prize when the club parted ways with its stud catcher. So to turn around and flip him back to the Sox would probably require a rather serious offer.
If Boston was willing to give him up then, how much of an effort would the organization make to bring him back?
Recommendation: All things being equal, it would be great to see Masterson back in a Red Sox uniform.
But he was expendable only a short time ago, and it's difficult to imaging the Sox finagling his return. Still, if it could happen, it would be worthwhile.
Fausto Carmona, Cleveland Indians
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There was a time not too long ago when Carmona's name was a hot topic.
He and C.C. Sabathia served as the front end of Cleveland's rotation, and it briefly seemed as though the pair might form a long-lasting 1-2 punch. That ended when Sabathia went to New York, and now Carmona may follow suit.
The Indians are playing very well at the moment, but if the Central auto-corrects and the favorites climb back in front, the Tribe will want to move what it can.
But because he's under control through 2014 via three team option years, the 27-year-old will probably not come cheap.
Recommendation: Carmona has had an up-and-down career, and I can't forget his 2008 or 2009. If the Sox want to deal with Cleveland, they should try to get Masterson back instead.
Jason Marquis, Washington Nationals
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Marquis is putting up strong numbers in 2011. His 3.54 ERA through eight starts is something that I'm sure is being caused by some rare cosmic radiation or other equally preposterous occurrence.
His efforts will make him popular as the deadline nears, and the Nats won't be averse to moving him.
The problem is that Marquis isn't good–and he's 32 years old to boot. He wouldn't offer much in Boston and would probably be destroyed by baseball's toughest division.
There are better options out there, including just riding out Lackey's bad streak.
Recommendation: Don't run away screaming. But do run away.
Tom Gorzelanny, Washington Nationals
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While not a superstar, Gorzelanny is a much better option than his teammate Marquis.
Only 28, he's had flashes of...well, if not brilliance, then certainly effectiveness. 2008 and 2009 were rather ugly, but those campaigns were surrounded by some decent years.
Gorzelanny was targeted and snapped up by the Nats this off-season, which means that to part with him, the team would need a good reason. Or reasons. That could make the price to get him too high.
However, as much as Washington is trying to build itself into a legitimate contender, signing names like Jayson Werth and developing its stud draft picks, the club is still likely to be a seller for the time being.
Recommendation: Gorzelanny is worth thinking about, depending on the price. But in Boston, he would probably be a fifth starter, at best.
Joe Blanton, Philadelphia Phillies
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There's really not much to like about Blanton, and I personally see no reason for the Sox to consider acquiring him.
But he's been among the most talked-about starters with regard to this summer's trading block. Blanton is under control through the end of 2012 making $8.5 million this year and next, so he wouldn't break the bank.
He's also not without some upside. A low walk rate is appealing, but it's hard to disguise his pedestrian ERA and WHIP totals that border on dangerous.
For a team in an easier division, he might be a decent back-end starter. For the Red Sox, he'd be little more than a body to put out there every five days.
Recommendation: Pass. Let someone else absorb mediocrity.
Paul Maholm, Pittsburgh Pirates
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Like many names on this list, Malhom has been consistent in his inconsistency. But in fairness, pitching for the Pirates can't be easy.
Only 29, Malholm has had a couple of strong seasons and could benefit from a change of scenery.
With a low K rate and a tendency to walk batters, he's certainly not the ideal add for Boston. But the team could do worse.
Pittsburgh could be motivated to part with Maholm before having to face next season's $9.75 million team option. Interested parties could probably win Maholm for a reasonable price.
Recommendation: A 3.67 ERA through nine starts is nice, but Maholm is unlikely to evolve into more than a role-player. If he comes cheap, he might be a possibility, but the Sox shouldn't offer too much.
Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Cubs
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I remember Manny Ramirez. I remember Carl Everett. The last thing in the world I want is another head case in Boston.
Zambrano has had nine consecutive seasons with an ERA in the threes, but is his production worth the grief?
Emotional outbursts, dugout fights, a prima donna mentality...it could be too much to take.
Big Z also buts too many runners on base, especially via the walk. His WHIP totals routinely hover on the edge of disaster, and even though he usually manages to stay effective, he's a risky bet.
Would Boston really want to replace one risk with another?
Recommendation: Even if the craziness doesn't scare off the Sox, Zambrano is probably too expensive to be a legitimate option.
He'll average about $18 million per season through the end of 2013.
Shaun Marcum, Milwaukee Brewers
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You're probably confused, wondering why I'd include a guy whom Milwaukee acquired in the offseason to stabilize the front of its rotation. Here's the thing.
If the Brewers stay in contention, then Marcum will be a big part of their plans. But if the team falls off the pace, it wouldn't be shocking to see Marcum's name on the trading block.
He's arbitration-eligible next year and a free agent in 2013; depending on how he does he would be extremely marketable and appealing from a financial standpoint. That could mean a big return for the Brew Crew.
As Buster Olney mused back in February, the Brewers went for a "win now" scenario this winter, but if winning now fails, their plans could easily change.
Recommendation: Consider a deal for a guy who has proven to be effective in the A.L. East. But don't sell the farm.
Bonus: Pedro Martinez, Free Agent
And for your bonus, I offer Pedro. The greatest pitcher in Red Sox history, and arguably the best starter that the game has ever seen.
Sure, he's publicly stated that he's probably finished as a big leaguer, but what if..
What if this Boston icon, who claims that he's been "staying active", decided to tack one more half-year onto his storied career? What if he wanted to return to the site of his greatest success? Would the Red Sox say no?
Remember that Pedro posted respectable numbers in nine starts with the Phillies in 2009. A 3.63 ERA and 1.25 WHIP were a far cry from his peak production, but serviceable nonetheless.
Currently 39 years old, it's a long shot that Martinez would ever have interest in such a deal.
But what a story it would make if it all panned out.
Recommendation: Dare to dream, Boston. Dare to dream.