Next month for Sox portends big changes

​Over the next month, there will be several roster moves with Boston that could leave the team looking very different than it does right now.

Youkilis – Kelly O’Conner,

Over the next month, there will be several roster moves with Boston that could leave the team looking very different than it does right now. In fact, the outfield could be completely revamped. Let’s look at the pending decisions that have to be made…

Outfield logjam

The outfield will get backed up significantly in the coming weeks, what with Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury nearing returns from long-term injuries. There’s also the statuses of Ryan Sweeney and Scott Posednik to consider. Given the presences of Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish, Cody Ross and Darnell McDonald on the active roster, this means at least three players must find new spots. There is always the possibility the club carries two outfielders if they can clear Kevin Youkilis off the roster by the time all these decisions come to pass, but we’ll cover Youkilis fallout later on in this article. For the purposes of this discussion, assume that only one backup outfielder will be carried.

Crawford and Ellsbury are guaranteed to be put back on the major-league team, so two people need to be cleared out. Given McDonald is the only right-handed outfield bat on the bench, he likely will survive the round of cuts needed to put Crawford and Ellsbury back on the team. It just so happens that Kalish and Nava both have options remaining and are currently occupying the outfield spots that Crawford and Ellsbury would man, so it’s likely that they will head down to make room.

That still leaves Scott Podsednik and Ryan Sweeney left to contend with. It seems obvious that Podsednik would be released — even as good as he has been for the Sox and deserves a lot of credit for his production, you can’t select Scotty Pods ahead of Crawford, Ellsbury or Ross, and he hits from the wrong side of the plate to retain his gig. All that’s left is fitting Ryan Sweeney back into the club.

Sweeney does have an option left, so he could find himself squeezed out and headed to Triple-A. He hit very well prior to suffering a fracture in his big toe, but went into a tailspin when he tried to play with said fracture. It would be difficult to send him down to the farm, and may be difficult enough to warrant going with five outfielders, especially in the early going when Crawford and Ellsbury are trying to get back into the swing of playing in the bigs. (Of course, this is all pending Youkilis being traded by that point, otherwise demoting Sweeney becomes a necessity unless Middlebrooks heads down.) Alternatively, the Sox could keep Podsednik to go with five outfielders and option Sweeney, retaining their extensive outfield depth.

Youkilis fallout

Assuming Youkilis is traded and Will Middlebrooks installed at third base, the Sox will have an extra roster spot to play with. Given the outfield logjam pending, it might make sense to go to five outfielders. However, the Sox could also go with an infield backup. While Nick Punto has been scorching hot in June, I’m uncomfortable with the lack of offense shoring up the infield. Dustin Pedroia has injury concerns that might linger all year long, and there’s a concerning lack of someone who can come off the bench and provide an injection of power. There are pretty much zero options in the minor leagues to provide such power from first or in the infield.

However, it might not make sense to grab another infielder currently. The extra spot might be better allocated in the outfield. Prior to the season, the thinking was that Sweeney would platoon with Ross in the outfield. It seems like Ross might move forward as the permanent right-fielder, but someone will need to replace him in the lineup when there are days off. McDonald could always play, but that’s not a very palatable option. Not to mention, there are more injury concerns with the outfield, which you don’t need me to rehash.

But where’s the first base backup? If (when) Youkilis is dealt, who will replace Adrian Gonzalez at first base when he rides the pine? A-Gon rarely takes a day off, but it does happen, and if he continues to hit poorly, he might receive less time in the lineup. They could always slot Big Papi at first base, but then you have McDonald or Punto taking up the DH spot (or playing in the field, with one of the starters taking the DH spot for a day.) This is always a possibility, but I’m not too eager go down this road.

Perhaps the best route for the team to take would be to find someone who can play first base and the outfield and provide an injection of power into the team. It doesn’t even necessarily have to come right away. The Sox have made a practice of picking up these type of players later in the season to add power to the postseason chase. The answer to this question could come with the Youkilis trade.

The return for Youkilis

What should the Red Sox get back in exchange for Youkilis? The Fire Brand poll that just concluded says that Youkilis should be traded for prospects 2-3 years away. I’m going to go ahead and disagree with that, because the Red Sox are still in a position to win now and in the next few years, especially as minor-league reinforcements arrive. GM Ben Cherington seems to agree, given that rumors broke recently of Boston requesting Gerardo Parra from the Diamondbacks in exchange for Youkilis.

Parra is an excellent defender with a so-so offensive game that seems to be improving. He plays the outfield and is under team control through 2015. This is the type of player the Sox should be seeking — someone who can contribute now and in the coming years. But maybe the team should also be looking for that hybrid first baseman-outfielder that can fill the bench role we previously discussed. Maybe it’s as the prime piece in return for Youkilis, or maybe we find that player in a smaller deal for, say, a reliever. Perhaps even trading Podsednik for someone who can fill this role would be enough.

But what I think the Sox really need is a starter. They really need that solid No. 3 piece that can lengthen the rotation. I highly doubt that Cherington and Co. believe Daisuke Matsuzaka is the long-term answer. It might be possible to package Youkilis, Matsuzaka and a quality bullpen piece for that starter, although it would take a virtually perfect fit from another team to pull that off — and the Sox would have to eat a sizeable chunk of Youkilis’ and Dice-K’s salary, most likely. Regardless, the Sox have the ability to pull off such a trade if it falls in their lap.

There are so many ifs here, it’s tough to keep it all straight. What is clear, however, is by the time the trade deadline rolls around, this team will have undergone once again a notable change simply because of necessity. The injured outfielders are coming back, and Youkilis is being squeezed out of a spot. It’s inevitable.

Categories: Carl Crawford Cody Ross Daniel Nava Darnell McDonald Jacoby Ellsbury Kevin Youkilis Nick Punto Ryan Kalish Ryan Sweeney Scott Podsednik Will Middlebrooks

Born on the 37th anniversary of the the day Babe Ruth died (1985) which later became the day Jimy Williams was fired in 2001 (a monumental event at the time), Evan was too young to experience the pain 1986 brought, but a deep wound was sowed in 2003. Since then, Fire Brand has become a blog that Red Sox “club officials read,” as per Peter Gammons. Evan enjoys working out, writing, reading, quality television, science fiction and history and being newly married. He is a professional baseball journalist as well as president of a state non-profit and member of the Board of Directors for a national profit. (Twitter.)

10 Responses to “Next month for Sox portends big changes” Subscribe

  1. DezoPenguin June 21, 2012 at 10:06 AM #

    Gerardo Parra? Seriously? Not that Parra isn't a good player (he is), but in what mirror universe do the Red Sox need another outfielder, with all the injured guys coming back, AAAA guys like Nava playing well, and further prospects on the way? Evan's got the right idea: *if* the Sox want to use Youk to help them win this season, then it needs to be starting pitching they pursue. Inconsistent Lester, inconsistent and injured Beckett, extremely inconsistent Buck, adequate 3rd-4th starter Doubront, and inconsistent Dice-K do not make a rotation that's going to get past two AL East teams, the Angels, and whichever two of the Tigers, Indians, and White Sox fall short. Almost certainly it'll take more than Youk to get the kind of help, but a quality starter–at least someone on Matt Garza's level–is going to be necessary to make any kind of run this year.

  2. @JDrimmer5000 June 21, 2012 at 10:55 AM #

    Well, there's an argument to getting Youkilis out for almost anything, since the situation has reached a point of addition by subtraction: there's just no space for Youk, and keeping one of (if not the best) fielding first baseman in right will only make sense for a little longer.

    But if you can't use Youk as part of a pitching move–and with the doubt around his health, frankly, I don't think you can–why not get a couple intriguing B prospects for him? This seems like the rare case where making a rebuilding move makes sense, even if you aren't giving up on this year's team. Maximum value's the game, and frankly, outside of an overqualified utility man, I don't see Youkilis pulling more value than prospects. But, hey, they can pay off.

  3. Mr Punch June 21, 2012 at 2:26 PM #

    What do the Sox expect of Crawford when he comes back? That he'll be as good as he was in 2010? That he'll be as good as he was in 2011? That he'll struggle for a time (like Pedroia, and presumably Youkilis) before becoming productive? Is there any real reason to think his presence will make the team better this year? I'm pretty sure that Nava has already been absolutely more productive this year than Crawford was last.

    I agree that the Sox are still in it (although I don't think making the play-in is worth much). I agree that a starting pitcher would be the most valuable addition. But if going for it this year is the goal, then they should stop looking at the DL and concentrate on putting a healthy team on the field.

    • evanbrunell June 21, 2012 at 6:12 PM #

      Punch, I don't think that Crawford would ride the bench at all. He has such a major contract attached to him and (presumably) the talent that got that contract in the first place. He needs to play.

      Also, I don't think trading Youkilis has anything to do with concentrating on getting a healthy team on the field. They can't do anything about getting a player healthier — they have to work on the same timetable and ensure they return healthy and in tip-top shape.

  4. Mike June 22, 2012 at 2:00 AM #

    Everyone wants a starting pitcher, but I'm not sure who to take out. Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, Dice-K pretty much have to start because of their contracts, and Doubront has pretty much been the Red Sox's most consistent starter this year. If we can add a starting pitcher, who do we take out of the rotation?

    Also, where do I go to send in questions for the mailbag???

    • Mike June 22, 2012 at 2:07 AM #

      I guess you mentioned that Dice-K would be included in a trade. I agree that such a trade would be really hard.

  5. JiminNC June 22, 2012 at 6:58 AM #

    I would offer both Youk and an outfielder to Pittsburgh, which is in the hunt, needs offense at both infield and outfield corners, and has prospects.

    • Cory June 22, 2012 at 11:34 AM #

      We won't get either of their big time righties, and there isn't a whole lot left there. I would think we would get a SP for this year and next.

  6. Jonathan Cunningham June 24, 2012 at 5:52 AM #

    I'd take youk and ross for garrent jones and some prospect. That gives someone that can play OF/1b

  7. Gerry June 27, 2012 at 3:53 AM #

    Alot of prescience here!!! Bravo! Stewart may be a project with good stuff, MLB experience and issues, but so were Acevas, Cook, Doubront,'Hill, Miller, Morales, Padilla, Prior, and we're glad they are on board. Of course Garza would help but will cost a fortune it would be wise not to spend, and imo he isn't necessary to win it all, as the seven current starters can do the job, and more pitching is moving up
    who will need slots in the next two years. Stewart & Lillingham were the best offer out there, the former a SP with highside for this year and beyond, the latter an above average glove and dirtdog utility guy who can sub for Gonzo and anyone else on the field with RHB That crushes lefties. You would think Youk would get more, but not the Youk of early 2012, so Ben did good. I hope Youk also does good in white sox.