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July 31st has been an important day several times in the history of the John Henry era Red Sox. Nomar Garciaparra was traded in 2004, leading of course to the magical World Series run. The following year, Jonathan Papelbon made his debut while Manny Ramirez failed to start, although he pinch hit after the deadline had come and gone, signaling that he had reached the first of many accords with the Red Sox. Manny would find himself the focus of the trading deadline in 2008 when he journeyed to the West Coast and Jason Bay took over left field duties. Victor Martinez would be the 2009 acquisition, signaling the beginning of the end for Jason Varitek, whose role would continue to diminish over the following two seasons.
The takeaway: the Red Sox have been buyers and sellers – sometimes at the same time – when the trade deadline rolls around, looking to make a deal that give each side something of value, not simply dumping salary or taking on a bad contract from another club. With the four o’clock deadline rushing towards us, Ben Cherington’s club is at the bottom of the AL East, the back of the pack for the Wild Card spots. Fans are disappointed that the club has missed the playoffs the past two years, but they understand that 2012 is most likely a lost year. The Sox GM can take this time to make the Red Sox his team, not Theo Epstein’s, rebuild, and plan for 2013 without substantially hurting what are already long odds of a postseason berth two months from now.
Despite rumors about Carl Crawford and the Marlins last week, the troubled left fielder isn’t going anywhere. Ditto for Adrian Gonzalez. Moving either player would require the Red Sox eating a lot of cash or taking on another big contract. Despite the frustrations each player has had during the past season and a half, both are likely better bets to perform well over their remaining tenure than most of the bad contracts out there. David Ortiz won’t be going anywhere either, although if he were not on the DL, he would be an interesting piece to move. Dustin Pedroia is probably as safe as any player.
Should the Red Sox explore buying and selling in the remaining hours, Cody Ross and Mike Aviles are obvious names to move. Ross is having a great year while hitting .260/.331/.523 with 16 home runs, but as a free agent at the end of the year, and with a crowded Red Sox outfield, his future with the team is limited. Ross might be able to bring back another piece, maybe a back end starter who is also approaching free agency and could shore up the rotation, or simply a prospect along the lines of Clayton Mortenson, who has lost some luster but might be able to right the ship.
Aviles has struggled since a fast start to the season; he’s hit just .241/.259/.354 since May 1st. While the shortstop has 11 home runs on the season, eight of those came in April and May. With Pedro Ciriaco, Nick Punto (also tradable), and Jose Iglesias, the Sox could probably get by with a more defense-oriented player since Aviles hasn’t been hitting well for a few months. Again, the return wouldn’t be great, but another team might have a need and could take a flyer on the former Royal. After all, in his transition to the Red Sox, Aviles thrived, maybe a change of scenery once in awhile is all he needs to get things working again.
The bullpen is full of extra pieces that could be desirable to other teams: Andrew Miller, Matt Albers, and Vicente Padilla could be replaced by the Sox with Mortenson, Andrew Bailey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka (or Aaron Cook).
Kelly Shoppach is another extra piece. The catcher is having a fine season in limited at bats, .261/.346/.504, but could be an upgrade for another team. If the front office considers Ryan Lavarnway capable of stepping in to handle backup catching duties, trading Shoppach could be a nice favor to the player (who doesn’t want to end up on a contender?), let the Sox get a long look at a guy on the farm, and not risk a large drop off is production.
These are minor moves that could let the Red Sox turn over a good portion of the roster, cut some payroll by promoting minor leaguers, and generally shake up the team. With the ground they need to make up, Matt Albers is not the answer. The problem has been and remains the starting rotation.
Josh Beckett. Jon Lester. Jacoby Ellsbury. All three have become the subject of trade rumors, especially Beckett. While Gordon Edes is reporting that Beckett is not on the move, until 4 PM nothing is certain.
Reports have linked Beckett to the Rangers, Dodgers, and Braves, but so far nothing has come together. While there were rumors of a deal with the Rangers Monday afternoon, the idea died off quickly. Given the nearly $40 million remaining on Beckett’s contract, the Sox would likely have to eat a significant amount of salary to move their Texan this summer. Should Beckett finish strong, maybe a deal could be worked out in the winter. Because Beckett has 10/5 rights, he can’t be traded without his permission, although if he wants out as much as the fans would like to see him gone, getting that permission may not be an issue. Like the Manny Ramirez situation, the Red Sox may not have a trading partner for Beckett until the waning minutes of the three o’clock hour.
Lester faces a different problem than Beckett: he has been really bad this year. While his start against the Yankees on Saturday was encouraging, the guy who was so good from 2008 to 2011 hasn’t been taking the mound this year. The lefty is owed $11,625,000 in 2013 but his contract includes a $13 million team option for 2014. Should the Red Sox trade Lester, the receiving team would only be on the hook for $13 million plus the remainder of what he is owed this season, minus whatever cash Boston sends along. If Lester remounds, that 2014 option looks like a pretty good deal.
Unsurprisingly, Edes also reported that the Sox have no plans to trade Jacoby Ellsbury, although there have been calls from other teams about his availability. Ellsbury is probably the most valuable major leaguer the Red Sox have to trade. The center fielder is coming off an MVP-caliber season, has looked healthy since since return, and is under team control for 2013 before hitting free agency. Unlike Beckett and Lester, there is no large contract hanging like an albatross around his trade value. While he is the least likely of the potential trade candidates, Ellsbury would also fetch the most in return.
In a dream scenario, the Sox could extract a package similar to what the Braves paid for Mark Teixeira: a couple of top prospects. Like Teixeira, the receiving team would have a full year of control beyond this season rather than a rental. With B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn – both center fielders – hitting free agency this fall, Ellsbury could be a very attractive trade chip this winter as well.