Red Sox Do Exactly What They Needed to Do to Rebuild Last-Place Team

Jason Catania@@JayCat11MLB Lead WriterJuly 31, 2014

USA Today

As the clock counted down to Major League Baseball's trade deadline at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, no team was busier than the Boston Red Sox, no general manager more active than Ben Cherington. He needed to be, given that Boston, fresh off a 2013 World Series championship, was in the middle of a terribly disappointing season.

The Red Sox entered Thursday with a 48-60 record, the worst in the American League East and the worst by five full games. As far as the rest of 2014 goes, it was time to turn over a new leaf, blow things up and [insert obligatory change-related cliche here] to get a head start on the 2015 season.

Red Sox GM Ben Cherington was a busy, busy man as the trade deadline approached.
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington was a busy, busy man as the trade deadline approached.Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

"We're going to do whatever we feel gives the Red Sox the best chance to be as good as possible as quickly as possible," Cherington recently told WEEI's Dennis & Callahan radio show in Boston (via ESPN Boston).

That's just what Cherington did by pulling off not one, not two, not three, but—count 'em—four trades in a matter of hours. At day's end, the Red Sox roster was barely recognizable from the one that began the year, aside from David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia.

In this case, that's a good thing.

Here's a quick rundown of the four swaps Cherington swung on Thursday alone:

Boston Red Sox Trades on Thursday, July 31
Traded by Red SoxTrade PartnerAcquired by Red Sox
LHP Jon Lester, OF/DH Jonny Gomes and cashOakland AthleticsOF Yoenis Cespedes and comp round draft pick
RHP John Lackey and cashSt. Louis Cardinals1B/OF/DH Allen Craig and RHP Joe Kelly
LHP Andrew MillerBaltimore OriolesLHP prospect Eduardo Rodriguez
SS Stephen DrewNew York YankeesINF/OF Kelly Johnson

(Note: The above trades don't include those from earlier in the week, in which the Red Sox sent right-hander Jake Peavy and lefty Felix Doubront to the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs, respectively. Those two returned lefty pitching prospect Edwin Escobar and relief prospect Heath Hembree, both already at Triple-A, as well as the infamous player to be named later from the Cubs.)

Of the five players Cherington sent packing on Thursday, the only one who is under contract beyond this season is John Lackey, who has a quirky, prescient clause in his contract that puts his 2015 salary at the major league minimum because he missed all of the 2012 season with an arm injury.

Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes, Andrew Miller and Stephen Drew? All of them are set to become free agents in a little more than three months.

As for the five coming back to the Red Sox, only one is not under team control through 2015. That would be Kelly Johnson, who has only $1 million remaining on his salary, compared to about $4.5 million left for Drew.

Otherwise, Boston did extremely well to cash in nearly all of its chips—All-Star closer Koji Uehara surprisingly stayed put despite being another free-agent-to-be—toward a group of players and prospects who can help the franchise turn things around as soon as 2015.

In his prime at 28 years old and under contract through next season, Yoenis Cespedes (17 HR, 67 RBI) will provide much-needed power for an offense that ranks in the bottom eight in baseball in both runs scored and home runs.

Allen Craig, 30, has had a terrible 2014 (.237/.291/.346) but had been one of the sport's most underrated hitters the previous three years with a .312/.364/.500 slash line. Owed just $26.5 million through 2017 (with a $13 million option for 2018), he presents a worthwhile gamble as a bounce-back candidate.

Joe Kelly and Eduardo Rodriguez are two back-of-the-rotation arms, but both are young and cost-controlled. While the 21-year-old Rodriguez, a lefty, has yet to reach the majors, he's not far off at Double-A; and Kelly, a 26-year-old who has spent the past three seasons splitting his time in the majors between the rotation and bullpen, owns a career 3.25 ERA.

In the short term, this leaves the Red Sox with all sorts of corner bats capable of starting at a corner infield or outfield position, including first baseman Mike Napoli, right fielder Shane Victorino, as well as Cespedes, Craig and Ortiz, who is entrenched at designated hitter. There's a good chance Cherington will put that excess to use between now and the winter to polish off the roster heading into 2015.

Another short-term factor here is that all the wheeling and dealing opens up shortstop for Xander Bogaerts, the 21-year-old phenom who has disappointed overall but was exponentially better at his natural position (.296/.389/.427) than he was at third base (.182/.217/.300) over the past two months after Drew was signed.

It also, presumably, gives former top prospect Will Middlebrooks, still only 25 years old, another (and perhaps last) shot to see what he can do at the hot corner.

To be clear, for all the maneuvering Cherington has done over the past week, he still has plenty of work to do in the months to come and over the winter. That could involve dealing one or more of those hitters or going hard after a big-time pitcher or two via trade or free agency, like Max Scherzer, James Shields or even, yep, Lester.

As it stands, the current five-man rotation is the enigmatic Clay Buchholz followed by youngsters Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Brandon Workman and Kelly, all of whom are either unproven or inconsistent but have potential. The Red Sox also have right-handers Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes as well as lefties Henry Owens, Brian Johnson and Rodriguez, five prospects who could be ready to join the mix sooner than later.

Speaking of prospects, while center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and Bogaerts didn't totally pan out in 2014, there's still hope that they can adjust to the majors before long. And there are more position players on the way in second baseman/outfielder Mookie Betts, third baseman Garin Cecchini and catcher Blake Swihart.

One thing is for sure: Cherington certainly is going to have to be more active than he was last offseason, which is part of the reason the club was in this mess in the first place. The good news is he'll have money to spend and coveted commodities with which to work.

The bottom line is that Cherington showed once again that he's adept not only at recognizing when something isn't working—remember that whole August 2012 waiver-trade blockbuster to end all blockbusters with the Los Angeles Dodgers?—but also at doing something about it.

There's a long way to go, but it's not out of the question that what Cherington pulled off Thursday could lead to another quick Red Sox turnaround, not unlike what the franchise experienced in going from the utter disaster of 2012 to the absolute pinnacle in 2013.

If nothing else, Cherington needed to shake things up by being active before the trade deadline. And with the deadline now in the rearview mirror, no team looks more different than it did mere hours before than the Red Sox.

Again, that's a good thing.

Statistics are accurate through July 30 and come from MLB.com, Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs, except where otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11.