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After beating up on the doormats of the AL East, the Red Sox are finally back to .500 on the season. Despite the recent success, this team has yet to win a series against a winning squad and has exhibited many alarming signs in the early-going. Time to hit the panic button?
Not quite, but with the way the Red Sox have been playing, GM Theo Epstein may soon be looking for upgrades in several areas. One heavily discussed possibility to improve the struggling offense has been to trade for Padres’ first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. The Red Sox certainly have the pieces to put together such a trade, but to acquire a hitter of his stature would take some serious prospects in return.
Gonzalez is going into the prime of his career, about to turn 28 in May. Last year, he finished the season seventh in the MLB with an OPS of .958, playing in a home stadium known to be tough on hitters. He also hit 40 home runs, more than any member of last year’s Red Sox team. Off to a fast start this year, Gonzalez is batting .319 with 6 homers, good for an OPS of 1.063. Suffice to say, he would be the middle-of-the-order bat with big-time power that the Red Sox have lacked since the departure of Manny Ramirez.
In terms of whom the Red Sox would likely give up in a deal, Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz have been names recently tossed around by the media and fans. However, both are unlikely to be included in a potential deal because of the major league service time they have already accumulated. Being new to his role as GM in San Diego, Jed Hoyer is trying to build a winning team for three or four years in the future. At that point, Ellsbury and Buchholz will be close to reaching free agency and would be due to make significant money through arbitration, something the small-market Padres take seriously.
Flamethrowing reliever Daniel Bard is more likely to be desired by Hoyer, with less than a year of major league service under his belt. However, Bard is currently a vital part of what has been a shaky bullpen so far for the Sox. It seems unlikely the front office would want to further weaken the bullpen at this time by trading him.
If neither of these three are included in the trade, would the Red Sox still have the pieces to pull off such a trade? The answer is yes. The strength of the Red Sox farm system is its incredible depth. The Sox could give up their top five prospects in a deal and still have a higher-rated system than several other clubs. It should not take quite that much to get Gonzalez, but it’s not that far off either. The Padres are dealing from a position of strength, since Gonzalez has two years left on his current team-friendly contract. So, it will take a particularly enticing offer to convince the Padres that now is the best time to trade away their star.
Without including any of those three young major-leaguers, and because the Red Sox’ much-heralded outfield prospect Ryan Westmoreland is out indefinitely following brain surgery, a prerequisite to any potential deal is the inclusion of top pitching prospect Casey Kelly. The Sox could include as much of their depth as possible in a deal, but nothing would take the place of the ceiling Kelly has at age 20. He has the potential to be the ace of a major league pitching staff, and is likely to be at least a very good second or third starter in most rotations in the near future.
The real question is who the other prospects included in such a deal would be. A similar deal several years ago was the trade of then-Texas Rangers first baseman Mark Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves. In that deal, Atlanta included shortstop Elvis Andrus, closer Neftali Feliz, left-handed starter Matt Harrison, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and pitcher Beau Jones. All, with the exception of Jones, have become major league impact players and are currently on the Rangers’ roster. Gonzalez is not a switch-hitter like Teixeira or as young, but a deal for him will command comparable players.
As in the Teixeira deal, Hoyer is likely to want one or two close to major league-ready prospects, in addition to Kelly. The Red Sox have two such players in outfielders Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish, generally considered the second and third best prospects in the system (excluding Westmoreland). Reddick had a huge spring, batting .390 in 20 games with the big league club. He is known for his power and free-swinging ways, whereas Kalish is very disciplined at the plate and a little speedier.
One of these two outfielders would likely be included in any deal. Reddick is more likely because, similar to Saltalamacchia in the Teixeira deal, he could immediately be placed in San Diego’s lineup as the face of the deal. The Red Sox are also more likely to want to keep Kalish because he fits their disciplined batting style better. The similarities between them likely makes one expendable in the Red Sox’ eyes.
Kelly and Reddick would serve as the centerpieces of the deal, but another significant piece would need to be included to get this deal done. A second pitcher is likely to be that piece, namely right-hander Michael Bowden. Bowden, 23, has done well in Triple-A Pawtucket for parts of the last two seasons, posting an ERA of 3.13 in 126 innings last season, but has struggled in his brief stints in the majors. He may never get the chance to be a full-time starter in Boston, but could immediately plug into San Diego’s rotation and be a reliable, innings-eater in the NL West. This makes him appealing to San Diego, and in all likelihood someone with whom the Red Sox would be willing to part.
The last piece to the deal would likely be a lower-level prospect with a high ceiling. One such prospect that Jed Hoyer has been rumored to be enamored with since his time working in the Red Sox front office, is middle infielder Derrik Gibson. Gibson, 20, is entering his third season in the Red Sox system, beginning the year in Low-A Greenville. He has the potential to be a prototypical leadoff hitter, possessing excellent plate discipline and speed. However, he is likely at least three seasons away from seeing major league action.
A Kelly-Reddick-Bowden-Gibson for Gonzalez deal would be a high price to pay for the Red Sox, but it takes a significant load of prospects to acquire a player projected to be a perennial MVP-contender for years to come. This deal represents a slight step down from the talent Atlanta gave up for Tiexiera, as they included four top, close to major league-ready prospects and one throw-in. Still, this deal would give up three top prospects, and one young boom-or-bust player in Gibson.
The Red Sox would have a tough time letting go of this many prospects, but with the depth of young players in the system ready to fill the void, it would be a reasonable price to pay. The Padres would be receiving a solid mix of high-ceiling players who may take some time to develop (Kelly and Gibson), as well as major-league ready talent (Reddick and Bowden) that could be played in majors immediately to show the fans the benefits of trading away such a talented player. Though it may not be the most logical time for the Padres to deal their star away, this package would make Hoyer think twice about waiting until the trade deadline or longer.
Should we be hitting the panic button? It’s too soon, but Adrian Gonzalez is within reach if Epstein decides the Sox’ offense needs a boost.