As a Boston Red Sox fan for three decades, I know it has been a while since Red Sox Nation experienced the down side of things. Recent Red Sox teams have rarely traded top players to other teams in the playoff hunt, but it appears that time may be upon us and history has shown it may not be a bad thing. Boston has a record of 49-50 and could finish under .500 for the first time since 1997.
With a 51-57 record on July 31, 1997, the Red Sox traded the team's closer, Heathcliff Slocumb, who saved 38 games with Boston after arriving in 1996. The first-place Seattle Mariners acquired Slocumb and the Red Sox added two young players to their organization.
Jason Varitek was playing for Seattle's Triple-A team. Derek Lowe was a rookie with Mariners. Following their trade to Boston, neither player contributed much in 1997. Their contributions in the seasons that followed proved to be indelibly significant. Fast forward 15 years and the Red Sox could find themselves in a similar situation.
Josh Beckett is Boston's highest paid pitcher. Unloading all or some of his salary would give them more flexibility for the upcoming winter. Critics and observers both contend that the Texas native has lost some of his competitive desire and he was the leader of the fried chicken and beer incidents during the collapse of 2011. To make matters worse, the three-time All-Star has been injury-plagued and inconsistent to the point of being unreliable. Moving Beckett would be my first choice, but it might be unrealistic. Teams won't have trouble finding a better option than dealing for a highly-paid pitcher with a 5-9 record and 4.57 ERA.
A healthy Jacoby Ellsbury could be a solid addition to a team looking to make a playoff push. Ellsbury, who is represented by agent Scott Boras, becomes a free agent in 2014 and could be difficult to re-sign. The Red Sox could trade him now and get something significant in return for the 2011 AL MVP runner-up. With Boston's abundance of outfielders on both the major and minor league levels, they could also consider unloading Carl Crawford or trading Ryan Sweeney.
All-Star David Ortiz has spoken out about his displeasure with the team and the possibility that this year's roster is "cursed." Although Ortiz accepted arbitration this past offseason, he believes he deserved a two-year deal. The slugger will be a free agent after this season and could leave the Red Sox, however I doubt any team would match what Boston is paying the 36-year-old designated hitter. Ortiz may very well take less money elsewhere to get a multi-year deal. He is having his best season since 2007, batting .316 with 23 homers, 58 RBI and league-best OPS of 1.024. Trading him might be a good baseball operations move, but could upset fans of "Big Papi" and hurt team sales.
An Alfredo Aceves move would be the most reminiscent of the Slocumb trade. Aceves can strengthen a bullpen that is in need of help and trading him now would be a wise move for the Red Sox. He was thrust into the closer role and has done a quality job, recording 21 saves and leading all closers in innings. Despite this, judging a reliever from one year to the next is difficult and Aceves may not be capable of being a closer for Boston next year. Being out of the playoff hunt, they can rely on someone else to temporarily handle the closing duties. Mark Melancon was effective as the closer for the last-place Houston Astros in 2011 and he can be for a last-place Red Sox team.
GM Ben Cherington would be wise to avoid the temptation of the second wild card race and look to the future. Boston will most likely not win a championship in 2012, but a championship team can be built this year. When looking back at the fortunate acquisition of Varitek and Lowe, I wonder which rising stars could be added to the current group to create memorable moments to start the next 100 years of Fenway Park.
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