With Memorial Day behind us, attention is slowly turning towards the trade deadline in Major League Baseball. For perhaps the first time since 2013, the Red Sox are in a strong position as the calendar flips to June, which means they should be buyers in the market, looking to add pieces for a championship run rather than selling them to assist a rebuild.
Right now, Dave Dombrowski doesn’t need to worry about offense or defense. The Red Sox lead baseball in almost every offensive category, and the everyday lineup could produce some historic numbers before the season is over. Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Xander Bogaerts have taken another step forward. Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are turning back the clock with tremendous performances. And even unheralded guys like Travis Shaw and Christian Vazquez have taken their turn leading this team. All around the diamond, the Red Sox are really solid with the leather, which is also fun to see.
So, we come to the one area where Boston must improve: pitching. At this point, almost everybody on the planet must know that the Red Sox lack elite rotation depth. Boston starters have a 4.57 ERA, thanks mostly to Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly. That ranks 21st in baseball, and must improve if Boston is to compete for a World Series championship.
What Can the Red Sox Give Up at the Trade Deadline?
We’ve already heard enough about potential trade targets for the Red Sox, and those discussions will intensify in the coming weeks. By the time July arrives, you will likely be tired of hearing about Sonny Gray and Julio Teheran, so it’s time to take a different approach. Let’s look not at what the Red Sox can acquire at the trade deadline, but rather what they can actually give up. Who, exactly, are their most realistic trade chips?
By hiring Dombrowski, signing David Price and acquiring Craig Kimbrel, the Red Sox signaled a shift in philosophy, away from prospect conservation and toward a win-now mentality. However, we live in an age where sustainable contention is only achievable by delivering constant waves of young talent to the major league roster. Therefore, it’s still safe to assume that certain elite prospects are untouchable in trade deadline negotiations. Personally, I would include the following players in that group: Betts, Bogaerts, Yoan Moncada, and Andrew Benintendi.
Due to a very deep system, that still leaves plenty of chips with which Dombrowski can work. Down on the farm, guys like Rafael Devers, Anderson Espinoza, Brian Johnson and Michael Kopech may be expendable, although the latter three are promising pitchers in an organization starved of talent at that position. Elsewhere, fringe big leaguers like Henry Owens and Rusney Castillo may also be better utilized as trade deadline currency at this point.
Yet, at present, I think the Red Sox’ biggest trade chip is Blake Swihart. He possess a really strong bat with plenty of upside, but has struggled defensively behind the plate. Given the dearth of catching talent, many teams would overlook that deficiency in favor of his offense, but the Red Sox are in a position where their lineup is so dominant that carrying an elite defensive catcher like Christian Vazquez is preferable. That leaves Swihart without a position and, perhaps, without a future in Boston.
Ultimately, Dombrowski has many options as he attempts to tweak and improve his team. For that, he can thank Ben Cherington and – to a lesser extent – Theo Epstein, who did tremendous work stockpiling such a wide array of young talent. Now might be the time to flip some of these prospects for a true difference-maker in 2016 and beyond. With young stars blooming at the major league level, the future has finally arrived for the Red Sox. The trade deadline is an opportunity to grasp it and take full advantage.