The Boston Red Sox head into the second-half of the MLB season tied for last place in their division and an assortment of issues which prevents the team from making a consistent push into playoff contention.
For a team that began the 2011 season as a prohibitive favorite to contend for a world championship, the current franchise status has left much of Red Sox Nation with a sense of anxiety about the team's immediate future.
As the roster is currently constituted, there is a wide variance between young, inexpensive talent and the over-priced and under-performing veterans. Recent acquisitions like John Lackey and Carl Crawford have paid little dividends for the team; while promising youngsters like Jacoby Ellsbury get caught in a financial game play each offseason. The fiscal rationale of the Red Sox brass is difficult to understand; as consistently productive players like David Ortiz face an annual salary battle while some less established talent is signed to long-term lucrative contracts.
The team is at a significant crossroads in their history; with a rabid fan base that expects a championship contending team and a front office with escalating salaries with increasingly less return on their investment. It has become difficult to see value on the field from a roster that is paid in excess of $150 million.
Unfortunately for Red Sox fans, there is no quick fix to what ails this team. The overpriced and under-productive players have little market appeal; unless Boston is willing to part with young talent to accompany them or the team is willing to eat a sizeable portion of the guaranteed money owed them.
Of the players currently on the Red Sox roster, Dustin Pedroia and Will Middlebrooks appear to be two players who would likely be here through the team's transition. Boston needs players to build around and these two could begin to be the foundation for the future. The same could be said for Jacoby Ellsbury; but with a likely contractual battle in the not so distant future, the team may find retaining him more difficult.
Below is an assessment of prominent Red Sox players, with a breakdown of which have market appeal and those that will be tough to move if the team wishes to do so.
The Red Sox players below are some who have reached their impasse with Boston fans. Each represents talent that are more costly than their production indicates, will be difficult to move, or have reached the crossroads of their Red Sox tenure.
Simply put, if anyone would be willing to trade for him it would be a surprise. Coming off Tommy John surgery, Lackey is expected to resume baseball activity towards the end of the 2012 season. For any team willing to gamble on Lackey for next season, the Red Sox would have to consume most of the guaranteed money left on his contract. With two more years in excess of $30 million remaining; the Red Sox will likely wait to see what type of pitcher Lackey is when he returns before deciding their next move.
Unlike Lackey, Beckett still offers some talent to entice potential suitors but his production this season is not commensurate with his price tag. His contract is sizeable and would have to include some form of cash compensation to get a team to want to acquire the two-time World Series champion. Becket is now heading towards the down side of his career and has never been a work horse starter capable of 35 starts or 200+ innings. Like Lackey, Beckett has two more years left on his contract with a dollar amount exceeding $30 million. A team with a higher payroll tolerance may be willing to roll the dice on a trade; offering low prospects in return and force Boston to eat a good amount of the money.
Another of the Tommy John surgery alums, the one-time Japanese phenom is unlikely to draw much interest and would garner little in return. Since he is in the final year of his contract, the Red Sox front office may feel that they have seen enough and sever ties with him; but in doing so will bring back no meaningful talent. If he were to be traded, a sizeable piece of the remaining value of his $10 million contract would have to be absorbed. That amount (somewhere in the $5 million range) might be appetizing enough if another team would send a low to mid level prospect in return.
Given his enormous contract, his poor production last season and injury issues in 2012 make Crawford nearly impossible to move. Just two seasons ago, Crawford was a highly sought free agent, but the Red Sox overpaid for what they were getting in return. In hindsight, the Red Sox may have come to realize that a speed player on the wrong side of 30 should not have received the contract he did. Now that he is here, Boston must hope to see some production from him before any team would give him a look. With recent rumors that Crawford may need Tommy John surgery in the offseason, the team will either be rash and outright release him or wait another 12 months to see what they get for their investment. The former makes little sense while the latter is not very promising.
If Lester is a pitcher that the Red Sox can still build around, as he is young enough to keep. If his production at the end of 2011 and into this season is what can be expected moving forth, he may be one of the more moveable pitchers on the roster. His attitude, coupled with his poor performance this season has made his stay in Boston tenuous. I do not believe the time has come to let Lester go; given the fact that talented left-handed starters are at a premium in the major leagues. Lester's current $7 million salary balloons to over $11 million in 2013 which may make it timely to move him if the right offer presents itself.
Like Lester, Buchholz is young enough to stick with. His relatively favorable contract make him worth keeping, but his injury issues and loss in velocity are causes for concern. Buchholz is only two years removed from a 17-win season and is young enough to build around if the team feels he has long-term viability. If the team feels his better days have passed him he could be an enticing pitcher for a team that wants to take a chance on a once-proven pitcher with a manageable contract (full contract averaged $6 million per year). The Red Sox may decide that there is still time left before his contract escalates to $12 million in 2015 to work with him further to rediscover his form.
Gonzalez is on this list simply because of his drop in power production and his massive contract. Like Crawford, his contract makes him difficult to move; but his defensive skills and ability to hit make him a likely candidate to keep in Boston. While he has yet to hit for power in 2012, there has yet to be a proven injury-related reason for the power outage. With it being so early in their investment there is no sense of urgency to move a gold glove first baseman unless an attractive offer makes itself available. Unlike Crawford there is no lengthy injury issue which will prohibit him from being a middle of the lineup hitter for years to come, in hopes the former perennial 40 home run hitter regains his slugging prowess.
The players below would be some of those that could draw the most appeal and could bring back relative value from teams in need.
Of all the players on the Red Sox roster, Ortiz would offer the most market appeal. The slugger is on a one-year contract and is producing at levels consistent with his prime seasons of 2003-2007. He is the one player who could bring back talent in return but his market is mostly limited to American League teams looking for a designated hitter. A National League team may take a flyer on Ortiz but there may be concerns how playing the field would impact the 36 year-old's production at the plate. "Big Papi" is also one player who could bring back meaningful talent in return, and allow the Red Sox to find a cheaper alternative for designated hitter and free up some roster flexibility.
N ext to Ortiz, Ellsbury is perhaps the most appealing player that the Red Sox could make available. After the MVP-caliber season in 2011, the centerfielder became a player that many teams would covet. His shoulder injury has kept the five-tool player off many team's radar; but his eventual return may heat up interest around the league. With Scott Boras as an agent, keeping Ellsbury might not come cheap for the Red Sox to retain and Boston has a very long track record of overpaying for talent. As much as I feel he is worthy of being part of the future foundation; Ellsbury could attract significant talent in return and would be a viable trade chip if his asking price becomes unreasonable.
His production for the Red Sox and his favorable contract ($3 million) would be attractive to many teams, including mid-market clubs. Teams like Pittsburgh, Washington, and Cleveland are teams outside Boston's division with less financial resources than the teams they are competing with for a playoff berth. These teams also are building with young talent that could be brought back in return for Ross; whose per at-bat power produciton this season is among the best in the American League.
With Ryan Lavarnway hitting well and waiting in the minors, the Red Sox would likely be willing to listen to offers for the veteran catcher. If this team is going to rebuild, moving Shoppach would make sense and the right team in need may send a lesser prospect back in exchange.
The left-handed outfielder would not draw as much interest but is a relatively inexpensive role player who could fill a need for a team needing a left handed bat/platoon outfielder. With his demand likely low, the returning package would likewise be low and might not be worth moving.
The veteran pitcher has performed well for Boston in his limited appearances and has a track record for durability. As a career .500 pitcher with an earned run average of 4.52 might draw interest from a contending team looking for a back of the rotation starter. With pitching always at a premium, the team may field offers for Cook if they feel this season is lost.
Saltalamacchia is entering his final season of arbitration eligibility this winter and is likely to get a decent raise over his current $2.5 million. If the switch-hitter is not the catcher of the future, he may be a player that the Sox want to shop before the trading deadline. His career-best home run totals and improvement as a defensive catcher would be of interest to other teams. With Shoppach also a trade option, the Red Sox will likely keep Saltalamacchia for another season as the team's primary backstop and consider offers for him in 2013.
If the Sox are truly looking to bring in young talent, Aviles could be shopped to open the door to promote highly-touted shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias. The recent promotion of relative unknown Pedro Ciriaco and his breakout performance against the Yankees give the Sox another player to consider for the future. Aviles has performed well for Boston and is under team control for two more seasons (arbitration). His low contract might warrant keeping him in Boston in a veteran utility role.
With his control issues this season, Bard is unlikely not going to draw much interest from other teams. The Red Sox will likely look to work with the young fire-baller to find his form and return to the powerful reliever he demonstrated he could be last year.
Sadly for Red Sox fans, the many high-priced and over-valued contracts that the team currently possesses will be difficult to move. The Boston baseball market has become accustomed to the Red Sox trying to keep pace with hated rival New York Yankees; but in doing so have paid steep prices.
The way the team has performed this year; there is still a slight chance that some of this talent (Beckett, Lester, Bucholz) may improve enough to keep the team in contention this season. The prospects of trading them otherwise will be a daunting task.
If Boston's front office feels that the team is no longer capable of contending for the playoffs in 2012, there is a greater likelihood that the players who have performed best would be the ones shipped out of town due to their comparatively reasonable salaries.
Coming off the all-star break, the Red Sox have a very narrow window with which to assess their short term goals. The team will face six straight teams with a record of .500 or better before the July 31 trade deadline. Red Sox fans will see very soon whether this team really is a playoff contender and whether it is time to move on from the current roster configuration. Hopefully the Red Sox front office will come to the same conclusion as their faithful fans.
Scott Duhaime is a life-long Boston Red Sox fan with a career statistics/analytics background. His passion for baseball and his quantitative skills translate into a deep analysis of player statistical contributions both to their respective teams and the sport in general.
Follow Scott on Twitter: @Scott_Duhaime .
Baseball-Reference.com Red Sox player salaries
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