The Red Sox have waited all season to get healthy. They placed second baseman Dustin Pedroia on the disabled list on Thursday, and could do the same with third baseman Will Middlebrooks on Friday. So, imagining this team as healthy probably is unrealistic, not to mention premature.
Still, the possibilities are intriguing.
The Sox, who host the Yankees this weekend (MLB on FOX, Saturday, 7:15 p.m. ET), need not only consider the time-honored prospect-for-veteran trades at the July 31 non-waiver deadline. They also might be in position to move some of their own veterans, increasing their trade options.
By the deadline, the Sox could — repeat, could — be dealing with seven healthy outfielders: Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and Cody Ross; Daniel Nava, Ryan Sweeney, Scott Podsednik and Ryan Kalish.
They also could be dealing with six healthy starting pitchers — right-handers Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz and Aaron Cook; and lefties Jon Lester, Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales.
The latter list does not include right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is back on the disabled list and cannot be expected to be one of the Sox’s top five starters down the stretch.
Nor does the list include “Pitcher X” — the starting pitcher whom the Sox are likely to acquire in a trade, be it Cubs right-hander Matt Garza or some other upgrade.
In a perfect world, the Sox will make a killer deal and Buchholz will recover from a gastrointestinal illness, enabling Morales to rejoin Andrew Miller and possibly the injured Rich Hill as the left-handers in the bullpen.
The return of Morales to the ‘pen, of course, will be less appealing if he remains one of the team’s best starters — he is 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA, 24 strikeouts and three walks since moving to the rotation. But the Sox would love to entertain such a “problem.”
The equation in the outfield is somewhat less complex — both Nava and Kalish have minor-league options remaining, so the Sox conceivably could keep all seven of their outfielders. Nava, though, has a .401 on-base percentage and .849 OPS in 188 plate appearances. Demoting him would be just plain wrong.
So, the Sox could be in position to trade at least one outfielder, not to mention catcher Kelly Shoppach, who could be moved to clear a spot for Triple-A catcher Ryan Lavarnway. It’s doubtful they would trade a pitcher, but first-year GM Ben Cherington at least can explore all sorts of ideas.
The Sox have been in a position of weakness all season, fighting through their injuries.
Soon, they could be in a position of strength.
2014 LUXURY-TAX THRESHOLD: A TOUGH OPPONENT
Much has been made of the Yankees’ desire to reduce their payroll below the $189 million luxury-tax threshold in 2014, a strategy that essentially would require the sport’s biggest spenders to endure two seasons of relative austerity.
The Yankees are intent on reaping the financial benefits from getting under the threshold, but also plan to keep second baseman Robinson Cano and center fielder Curtis Granderson, both of whom are signed through 2013.
So, the Yankees likely will pass on free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton and left-hander Cole Hamels this offseason. The team’s concern with the threshold also makes trading for Hamels less attractive; he only would be a rental if the club was unwilling to sign him long-term.
The Yankees’ austerity kick will be tested if A) their season ends in disappointment; B) long-term signees Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira continue to decline and C) the Yankees’ young pitchers — Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, even Michael Pineda — do not fulfill their potential.
Yet, the Red Sox also are in a difficult spot.
According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Yankees’ luxury-tax commitments for 2014 are either $74.4 or $88.4 million, depending upon whether shortstop Derek Jeter exercises his player option. The Sox’s commitments, on the other hand, already total $90.1 million — and would rise to $97.2 million if the team exercised Lester’s $14 million option (average annual values are used for luxury-tax purposes).
Add $10 million to that for benefits such as health insurance for the entire 40-man roster, and the Sox are looking at about $82 million for 18 players — and that’s not counting Ellsbury, who is unsigned beyond ’13. Keep Ellsbury for say, $20 million per season, and we’re talking $60 million remaining for 17 players. Lots of luck.
The good news for the Sox is that they’ve got young players coming. Doubront and third baseman Will Middlebrooks began the most recent wave, which figures to continue next season with Lavarnway and shortstop Jose Iglesias. The rapid development of Double-A center fielder Jackie Bradley could make it easier to part with Ellsbury, perhaps even this offseason in a trade.
THE BRAVES: A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
In a recent notes column, I mentioned that some in the industry already are speculating on which general managers could be in trouble and including Braves GM Frank Wren on the list.
Their rationale was that Braves ownership, after showing restraint when the team collapsed last September, might be more inclined to make changes if this season also ends in disappointment.
Still, it’s important to view the Braves in context.
Under Wren, the Braves won more games while spending less money from 2009 to ’11 than all but one team — the Rays. The Braves averaged 89 wins and payrolls of $89 million during that period; the Rays averaged 92 wins and payrolls of $59 million.
Something else to consider: As of Thursday, the Braves also had the fifth-youngest roster in the majors, with an average age of 27.5. Only the Nationals, Athletics, Astros and Royals were lower.
The Braves, who visit the Phillies this weekend (Saturday, MLB on FOX, 7:15 p.m. ET), recently lost their best pitcher, right-hander Brandon Beachy, to season-ending Tommy John surgery. They entered Friday six games behind the Nationals in the NL East and 1 1/2 games back in the wild-card race.
WHICH WAY JAYS?
Too often at this time of year, fans and media are too quick to assign the labels of “buyer” and “seller.” Some teams do neither. Some teams do both. A one-word description is not always accurate.
Take the Blue Jays, for example.
While speculation persists that the team could sell, the Jays are not interested in trading potential free agents for long-range prospects, according to major-league sources. If they make deals, the idea will be to acquire players who could help them win next season.
The Jays’ preference, in fact, would be to retain potential free agents such as first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion, second baseman Kelly Johnson and reliever Jason Frasor rather than accept meager returns and weaken the club short-term.
And if the Jays buy, they are unlikely to make a “go for it” trade in which they would overpay, one source said. GM Alex Anthopoulos covets players that he can control, not rentals who would amount to temporary fixes.
In a recent notes column, I floated the idea of the Jays trading center fielder Colby Rasmus for a pitcher with comparable ability and service time. I didn’t mention names, but I was thinking of someone like Rangers lefty Matt Harrison or Nationals righty Jordan Zimmermann, not that either would necessarily be available.
Well, the Jays aren’t trading Rasmus, a source said.
The team has two highly regarded center-field prospects — Anthony Gose at Triple-A, Jake Marisnick at Single-A. But Gose, 21, might not fully develop for several years. The same goes for Triple-A shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, 23, who — lest anyone forget — repeated Double-A and batted only .235 last season.
The Jays struggled to find a center fielder for the future even before trading Vernon Wells to the Angels in January 2011. Rasmus was their solution, and one club official describes him as “a totally different animal” than he was after they acquired him at the deadline a year ago.
Not only has Rasmus made changes to his swing, but he also has become even more driven, the club official said.
COULD THE ATHLETICS BUY?
Now there’s a question we haven’t asked in a while. But while the Athletics are only four games out of a wild-card spot, they are an example of a team that could buy and sell.
Right-hander Bartolo Colon remains the player that the Athletics are most likely to trade. Righty Brandon McCarthy and lefty Brett Anderson are on track to rejoin the rotation during the first week of August, and that’s not all.
Right-hander A.J. Griffin, a 13th-round pick in 2010, has a 1.50 ERA in his first three starts. And Triple-A right-hander Daniel Straily, a 24th-round pick in ’09, leads the minors in strikeouts, with 134 in 104 1/3 innings.
Colon, who will be owed less than $700,000 at the deadline, would be an absolute bargain for a contender, particularly one in the National League. But because his salary is so low, the Athletics will want value in return.
Now, what kinds of upgrades might the A’s pursue?
Take your pick — the team ranks next-to-last in the AL in OPS at shortstop, next-to-last at third and 11th at second. The Athletics, though, would be reluctant to displace Jemile Weeks, one of their future cornerstones, at second.
If the A’s do actually try to make improvements, look out — their GM, Billy Beane, is on a roll.
Virtually all of the team’s recent acquisitions are succeeding, from first baseman Brandon Moss to outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick to pitchers Colon, Jarrod Parker, Ryan Cook and Tommy Milone.
STREET-GEREN REUNION UNLIKELY IN NY
The Mets, actively seeking relief help, are willing to bring back Brewers right-hander Francisco Rodriguez, as first reported by the New York Post. But Padres closer Huston Street might be another story.
In May 2011, Street sharply criticized Mets bench coach Bob Geren, his former manager with the Athletics, calling him, “the least favorite person I have ever encountered in sports.”
Geren then was in his final days with the A’s. Street was pitching for the Rockies. It’s highly doubtful that the Mets would acquire Street and put Geren in an uncomfortable position, particularly when the team will have numerous other relievers to choose from.
Athletics right-hander Grant Balfour could be one of those relievers, but Balfour’s contract includes a $4.35 million option that the Mets might not want to exercise. That would reduce Balfour to a rental, and the Mets will part with only so much talent for such a player.
The Mets, in fact, are adamant that will not trade top prospects such as right-handers Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey. They likely will wait until the deadline to make any move, wanting to be sure they remain in contention.
WHAT ABOUT GREINKE AND CARPENTER?
While on the subject of past remarks that could influence trade discussions, let’s not forget what Brewers right-hander Zack Greinke said about Cardinals righty Chris Carpenter during last year’s NLCS.
Greinke remarked that some of his Brewers teammates didn’t like when Carpenter shouted at hitters from the mound, saying that, “his presence, his attitude out there is sometimes like a phony attitude.”
So, how is that Greinke trade for the Cardinals looking?
Well, Greinke’s comments wouldn’t necessarily stop the Cardinals from pursuing him, according to one official with knowledge of the team’s thinking. But the Cardinals would not be willing to meet the Brewers’ price, and doubt that the Brewers would even trade Greinke to a division rival, the official said.
The Cardinals, who are reluctant to part with their top prospects, are more likely to pursue a mid-rotation starter than an ace, particularly when they cannot recoup draft picks the way they did last season after their trade for right-handers Edwin Jackson and Octavio Dotel.
Second base is another position that the Cardinals could seek to improve, but the team does not want to block Double-A second baseman Kolten Wong, their first-round pick in 2011. Skip Schumaker could see increased playing time at the position.
AROUND THE HORN
• The work of Rick Peterson, the Orioles’ director of pitching development, might be starting to take hold.
Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman averaged 95 mph with his fastball and topped out at 97.2 mph against the Mariners — quite a jump, considering that Tillman’s average fastball over 62 innings last season was 89.3 mph, according to Fangraphs.com.
Peterson, known for his biomechanical analyses of pitchers’ deliveries, also is working with Orioles lefty Brian Matusz, among others.
• In case you’re wondering, the Red Sox are not pondering a trade of right-hander Josh Beckett. They view him as part of the solution in an area — starting pitching — that they are trying to improve.
Beckett has full veto power as a 10-and-5 player, and his $15.75 million salaries through 2014 also would make him difficult to move.
• The Diamondbacks, according to a major-league source, believe they need a third baseman more than a starting pitcher — they expect that right-hander Trevor Bauer will settle down, and view left-hander Patrick Corbin as another alternative.
• How surprised are the Athletics that right-hander Ryan Cook is an All-Star? Put it this way: Club officials weren’t even sure he would make the team out of spring training after arriving in the Trevor Cahill trade.