Just as they did last year, the Boston Red Sox are expected to make a saving-grace trade this offseason. However, this year's target will not be a left-handed first baseman from San Diego, but a starting pitcher.
The Boston pitching woes were blatantly obvious in September, and I fully expect Ben Cherington to make an acquisition. Players such as Matt Cain and Felix Hernandez remain too expensive, but guys like Jair Jurrjens or Anibal Sanchez are just within our reach.
Ben Cherington was a member of the Gang of Four, the group pivotal in acquiring Josh Beckett heading into 2006. In 2004, Theo Epstein ingrained himself with Boston by trading for Curt Schilling. Do you see the parallels being drawn here? If Ben Cherington wants to hit the ground running, then the best way is to fetch the Boston Red Sox a starter.
Woah, woah, woah—no one get too hasty. There are some restrictions we need to put in place here. Boston is a young team, but they are not without their holes. The farm system is rich in valuable talent.
Should the Boston Red Sox make a trade for a front-line starter? Absolutely.
Should they sacrifice the integrity of the farm system while doing so? Absolutely not.
You have to give something to get something—that we hold true. However, precautions are always necessary in any trade. The BoSox farm has some shiny eye candy, but that does not mean it should all be funneled into one move. Here are some guys that I think should be untouchable as the Red Sox move forward.
1. Will Middlebrooks, 3B
The kid everyone is talking about. Middlebrooks has quickly risen up the rungs, and currently sits at the top of the ladder as Boston's most promising prospect. The third baseman rocked AA this season, hitting .302/.345/.520 with 18 home runs in 371 at-bats with the 'Dogs. While his hot-corner defense requires refining, he is rounding into a stellar defensive player with a cannon for an arm.
Middlebrooks can hit, and hit with power, but his patience is frightening. Last season the 23-year-old had a 95-21 K-BB ratio...and that is actually good for him. He has more contact in his bat than patience, but Middlebrooks still needs to learn to defend the zone and cut down on strikeouts.
Nonetheless, he is blazing a trail through the farm system and will be itching for the bigs soon enough. With Kevin Youkilis' future approaching a crossroad, it would be a disservice to the team to lose Middlebrooks.
2. Ryan Kalish, RF
Everybody who misses the Dirt Dog say I...I!
Well, you are all in luck. Meet Ryan Kalish—Ryan Kalish, meet the people. This Trot Nixon acolyte is one of Boston's most popular prospects, and his ceiling is huge.
You may remember Kalish from his 2010 appearance in Boston. He spent that time hitting .252/.305/.405 with four home runs (including a grand slam off Jered Weaver) and 10 swipes in 163 at-bats. And, who could forget that amazing somersault catch he made at the Trop?
Kalish, 23, has a gritty attitude, a golden glove and an affinity walks. The left-hander is a demon on the basepaths, and his power is developing at a steady pace. So, where is the catch?
Well, Kalish's explosive game has turned him into an injury risk. The outfielder spent the majority of 2011 on the DL. However, Kalish has rebounded before and I have no doubt he can do it again. His athleticism will win him the right field job this spring, as long as Cherington makes sure the kid stays with the team.
3. Ryan Lavarnway, DH/C
People continue to disregard Lavarnway because he does not show up on prospect rankings. He was not even on Baseball America's list of top 10 Sox prospects last year. But, neither was Will Middlebrooks (see how I just blew your mind there?). Lavarnway is a catcher by trade, but his defensive skills are, well, lackluster.
The Red Sox have used AA and AAA as an opportunity to evolve Lavarnway into the DH of the future. Top prospect rankings are filled with five-tool players; you are not going to see any DHs on those lists.
The fact of the matter: Lavarnway is a beast with the stick, and knows how to mash. The 24-year-old spent 2011 destroying baseballs, hitting .290/.376/.563 with 32 home runs between AA and AAA. His performance got better with the jump to AAA, as his OPS rose 133 points! Lavarnway drank some coffee with Boston in 2011, and though it was not eye-popping, he did launch two bombs in the final game of the season.
Lavarnway is the DH of the future, his right-handed bat brings balance to the lineup and his power is something Boston cannot scrimp on.
4. Jose Iglesias, SS
Now we are getting old school. Remember the days when a shortstop would hit .260, but be one of the most valuable guys on a team? Enter Jose Iglesias.
Iglesias defected from Cuba in 2009 and the Boston Red Sox quickly signed the then-18-year-old. Iglesias is a light hitter, as evidenced by his minor league .261/.308/.316 slash line. However, the now-21-year-old is absolute dynamite with the glove. Scouts rank him an 80 on defense, which in scouting logic is the highest grade in a "tool" category.
Red Sox Nation is ready for the revolving door at shortstop to be closed, and this kid can do it. The bat is light, but Iglesias will have to learn to hit at the major league level. His defense is where the value is, and it is too golden to keep in the minors.
5. Drake Britton, SP
Okay, just trust me on this one. Drake Britton equals valuable. I understand the logic seems flawed, especially after a brutal 2011 that saw the lefty go 1-13 with a 6.91 ERA in 26 starts at High-A Salem.
In all that muck is a hidden variable: Out of any Boston prospect, there is a great chance that Britton has the best stuff out of anyone. The 2007 23rd-rounder (even his draft rank is unimpressive) features a mid-90s fastball, a ridiculously developed curve, a semi-flat two-seamer and a no-confidence changeup (which is not too bad, just needs some faith).
Britton's biggest issue is his mechanics. Despite offering some stellar pitches, to say his fastball command is shaky might be a compliment. That is why there is a minor league system though. Mechanics can be fixed and developed. It was not that long ago Britton had a 2.97 ERA and 3.39 K/BB ratio at Greenville; that, ladies and gentlemen, is called potential.
6. Alex Wilson
No one seems to know this guy, so now is the time to get acquainted with the closer of the future. This kid has a diverse repertoire and will be on the Daniel Bard track to the bullpen in 2012. Wilson, a 25-year-old out of Texas A&M, has taken on a new level each year in Boston. The Red Sox have worked him as a starter, but he projects as a reliever.
Last year, Wilson posted a 3.11 ERA and 2.8 K-BB ratio in 25 starts between AA and AAA. He throws about everything, but his most devastating offering is a tight slider that sits in the low-80s. The right-hander deserves a look in 2012, and could eventually develop into Boston's best bullpen arm.
Who is Boston's #1 Untouchable?
So, that covers a good chunk of Boston's top prospects. I understand it is hard to get a deal done when your team is not willing to part with its talent. However, remember how I said the farm system was "rich"? That was not a lie, I promise.
Below is a list of some guys Boston could still move in a deal.
1. Josh Reddick
No longer considered a blue-chip prospect, but regained stock in 2011 (.280/.327/.457 in 254 Boston ABs). He is MLB-ready, which means some team will bite.
2. Mid-Level Pitchers
Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes or Trey McNutt (if acquired by the Cubs for Theo Epstein) could fit this bill. All three are developing pitchers who have second- or third-starter ceilings.
3. Xander Bogaerts
Nineteen-year-old SS from Aruba. Hit .260/.324/.509 with 16 home runs at Class-A Greenville. Thought of to have the best ceiling of any Sox prospect.
4. Bryce Brentz
Twenty-two-year-old drafted out of Middle Tennessee State in the first round of the 2010 draft. Hit a combined .306/.365/.574 with 30 home runs, between Greenville and Salem, in 2011.
5. Mid-Level Middle Infielder
List could include Kolbrin Vitek, Oscar Tejeda, Sean Coyle or Ryan Dent.