For the past few weeks, this author has written a number of articles about the Boston Red Sox, their possible trade targets and the thought that this team would turn their fortunes around during the 2014 MLB season.
Many of these forecasted transactions were intended to fix some of the various flaws Boston has encountered this year—primarily within the outfield.
During all of these, the hopes that the Red Sox could "right the ship" were at the core of the discussion.
This discussion put Boston into a buyers' market, projecting the team would add a player, or two, on or before the July 31 trade deadline to help bolster its roster. The Red Sox had—and still have—a plethora of prospects under development in the minor leagues with which to utilize in a potential trade.
But Boston's most recent homestand—six games that saw the Red Sox go 1-5, including being swept by the lowly 38-48 Chicago Cubs—might have been the final indication that this season is all but lost. This aspect is further described by Joe Meehan of FanSided.
Granted, there is still plenty of baseball left to be played, and we have seen teams turn around their fortunes in short order. Yet one cannot overlook the fact that the 39-49 Red Sox sit in last place within the American League East—a full nine games behind the division-leading Baltimore Orioles.
It is time for general manager Ben Cherington to accept the inevitable; the Red Sox need to concede this season and focus on what the organization can do to put a better team on the field in 2015 and in years to come.
As tough as that realization is, it may be the best option for the franchise at this point during a lackluster, disappointing season.
This may shift the focus on Boston being a buyer at the deadline into a seller. There are a number of pieces that could be moved which, in turn, could bring in a number of talented prospects to better build this franchise for years to come.
Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com put together an excellent summary of some of these pieces that could be moved on, or before, the deadline. He lists, among others, guys like pitchers Jon Lester, Koji Uehara and Jake Peavy as potential trade candidates.
Also listed are position players like Jonny Gomes, A.J. Pierzynski and Stephen Drew.
In this article, let us take a look at four of the top trade candidates that Cherington could send away in the coming weeks—Lester, Uehara, Pierzynski and Drew.
We shall evaluate why each player is a candidate, which teams may have interest and the odds of a potential deal happening.
Jon Lester: Starting Pitcher
Contract: Six years at $42.75 million, expiring in 2015
Lester may be one of the hottest commodities on the Red Sox' roster heading towards the deadline. Thus, we shall first evaluate the chances of him being moved.
By this point, Red Sox fans are well aware of the lack of a contract extension for Lester this season. We also know that Lester has indicated he does not want to discuss the possibility of an extension until the conclusion of the 2014 season, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
Lester owns a 9-7 record this season along with a 2.73 ERA and a 1.148 WHIP. The 30-year-old is still pitching at a playoff-caliber level, which means teams would be interested in adding his services if the were was right.
This begs two significant questions—would the Red Sox be willing to part ways with their No. 1 ace, and would teams be willing to offer a package that's enticing enough to Cherington and the team's front office?
It is tough to envision a trade taking place within the American League East. While Heyman acknowledges the New York Yankees as being possible suitors if and when Lester becomes a free agent, Boston does not want to aid a division rival at any point in the near future.
Thus, we can rule out an inter-divisional transaction from taking place.
The same teams pursuing Price would likely show interest in Lester. The Braves, Cardinals, Dodgers, Giants, Pirates, Angels, Mariners and Royals have all been mentioned as potential Price suitors. No matter what happens with Lester and the Sox, there's sure to be a lot of posturing between now and the point at which a transaction is made.
Drenon also lists the possibility that the Red Sox hold onto Lester and see where contract negotiations go. Holding onto him would obviously be the most popular option. If Lester does depart, Boston will assuredly receive a first-round draft pick in 2015 earned by meeting the qualifying offer.
This would be the preeminent question facing Cherington as the deadline approaches. Should he feel that Boston could get more via a trade, then moving the lefty is feasible. If a possible deal does not look enticing enough, we'll have to wait until the offseason.
Odds: 5-1. Boston would be asking for a number of ready-to-go prospects in exchange for Lester's services, which would make the possibility of a move more difficult for a number of other contenders. Additionally, the Red Sox can sit on a potential first-round compensatory pick if Lester walks. There is also the possibility of an offseason extension.
Koji Uehara: Relief Pitcher
Contract: Two years at $9.25 million, expiring in 2015
Replacing a No. 1 ace is a difficult thing to do. Finding a replacement for a closer is much more reasonable and easy.
This is especially the case when considering Boston's incumbent closer, Uehara.
At 39 years old, it is safe to assume that Uehara has only a limited amount of baseball left in his body before age finally takes its toll.
There is no doubting Uehara still has significant value—a 1.30 ERA with a 0.744 WHIP and 18 saves in 2014—but closing out games is of little value to a team that is quickly dropping out of contention.
Unlike Lester, the Red Sox must understand that Uehara's age will be a primary factor. A contract extension would make sense in Lester's case if that were the direction Boston wanted to go, but giving a 39-year-old a multi-year deal makes little sense during a rebuilding period.
While teams would be wary of Uehara's age, they would be attracted to the statistics he has put up over the past two seasons. Additionally, playoff contenders are always looking for bullpen help as they enter the postseason stretch. Uehara could fit that bill for a number of teams in this situation.
Edes points out a couple of possible trade partners, citing the Angels, Giants and Tigers as teams who could be interested in adding bullpen help.
The Red Sox would not be able to command as high a trade package as they would with Lester, but they also would not be gambling away a key cog to the pitching staff. As stated, Uehara's time is limited, and Boston should attempt to get something valuable in return.
But as Lou Merloni of WEEI points out (h/t CSNNE.com), moving Uehara would be the truest of indications that the Red Sox have become sellers at the deadline.
Odds: 2-1. Boston's only reason to keep Uehara at this point will be directly related to whether or not the team gets back in the race. This possibility is looking bleaker as the trading deadline looms. If the Red Sox continue to fall out of contention, do not be surprised if such a deal happens.
A.J. Pierzynski: Catcher
Contract: One year at $8.25 million, expiring in 2015
Moving a player like Pierzynski would be another plausible option given the fact that he was brought in on a one-year deal prior to the 2014 season, filling the void left by Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Like Uehara, Pierzynski is an aging veteran with perhaps only a handful of productive years left in his body. Unlike Uehara, Pierzynski's 2014 performance has not exactly been overwhelming.
In his first year with the Red Sox, the 37-year-old backstop is hitting .253 with four home runs, 31 RBI and an OPS of .633—surprising numbers considering his career .300 batting average at Fenway Park prior to the 2014 season.
Pierzynski essentially becomes expendable at the end of the season when considering Boston has two catching prospects working their way up through the farm system—Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart.
Mark Polishuk of MLB Trade Rumors points out that Pierzynski could be an easy commodity to move because of this, citing the desire to get Vazquez some major league experience.
Now the only question is what teams would want his services.
The trade market for catchers is an interesting one. Playoff teams typically have solid rapports between pitching staffs and their backstops. These rapports are often critical elements to their success. Still, there are teams out there who could use some help.
Matt Collins of SB Nation points out two AL East rivals who may be interested in a possible trade for Pierzynski—the Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays. Baltimore is without Matt Wieters for the remainder of the year after he suffered a season-ending injury.
The Blue Jays have Dioner Navarro, but he has put up better numbers than Pierzynski and offers better defense, per Collins.
Collins also lists the Los Angeles Dodgers as potential candidates given the injury sustained to incumbent starter A.J. Ellis. But Ellis has since returned and, like Navarro, offers good on-base numbers and better defense.
This essentially leaves the Orioles as the only legitimate option for a Pierzynski trade offer. The Red Sox would ideally like to get something—anything—in return for his services, but given the nature of the market, such a deal would not command much in return.
Odds: 5-1. Pierzynski is perhaps the easiest commodity to move from the Red Sox's vantage point, but there are few teams looking for help behind the plate and even fewer that would be willing to offer up anything substantial. The odds are in favor of Pierzynski simply walking via free agency at the conclusion of 2014.
Stephen Drew: Shortstop
Contract: One year at $10.1 million, expiring in 2015
"Ready or not, here comes Stephen Drew," was the statement made by Alex Speier of WEEI.com back in June after Boston re-signed the shortstop earlier this summer.
Drew was brought in as reinforcements for a Red Sox infield that was suffering the lingering effects of an oft-injured, underwhelming Will Middlebrooks and defensively challenged Xander Bogaerts.
Since returning to Boston, Drew is hitting a paltry .141 with a .429 OPS—numbers that unquestionably drive down his trade value.
Sure, Drew is still shaking off the rust of having been off a major league roster during spring training and for the first couple months of the 2014 season, but the numbers don't lie.
So do the Red Sox regret re-signing him and potentially hindering the development of Bogaerts?
According to OutsidePitchMLB.com, they do—citing sources within the organization. But according to Peter Gammons' comments on the Dennis & Callahan Show (h/t Conor Ryan of WEEI.com), Boston doesn't regret the transaction when considering the entire context of the situation.
We'll let the fans and other pundits be the judge of that, but one cannot overlook the fact that the future resides in Bogaerts and not Drew.
Bogaerts' development at shortstop will take time. Many rookies can struggle with this adjustment, so we should not jump to conclusions so quickly. But we can take away the notion that Drew is hindering Bogaerts' future at shortstop simply by taking away opportunities for maturation.
Okay, so moving Drew makes a lot of sense from Boston's future prospective, right?
Well, there are a couple of problems that get in the way.
First, Drew's statistics drive down any asking price, as we've already indicated.
Then there is the contract. At $10.1 million, Boston would have to eat a sizable portion of his deal in order to come close to enticing potential suitors—an argument made by Edes when it comes to moving Drew.
However, Edes does mention that Drew's defense provides a little upside.
So which teams would be interested?
According to OutsidePitchMLB.com, the only likely landing spot would be with the Detroit Tigers, who would probably offer very little as far as a return goes.
But in this case, addition by subtraction may be the key.
It may be best, and most realistic, for the Red Sox to "bite the bullet" on Drew's return and accept whatever ramifications that may follow.
Odds: 6-1. Drew simply doesn't command a huge market at this point during the season. Enough can be said by the lack of interest he drew from other teams before re-signing with Boston. If Drew is moved—and that's a big if—only the Tigers seem to be of interest.
Trades are extremely difficult, complex maneuvers to predict. We can all speculate which deals may happen and what chips will be used in exchange.
But the reality is that few deals offer up the best-case needs for both parties involved. In short, one has to give up something to acquire something else.
For the Red Sox—assuming they become sellers—a fire sale of aging veterans on short-term contracts may produce a decent return in prospects and young talent. Unfortunately, names like Lester and Uehara are plausibly the only commodities that could garner something substantial in return.
A Lester trade would be a tough transaction for Boston to swallow. The ramifications would be long discussed. Uehara would be easier to handle, and a Pierzynski or Drew deal would shortly become an afterthought.
In the end, we will not be able to grasp what the Red Sox' future holds until the team decides whether or not it has conceded the 2014 season.
But that decision is looming.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox.
Follow @PeterMcShots on Twitter.