Considering the wave of injuries that have overcome the Red Sox pitching staff during the past several weeks, I think most of us figured the front office would focus on finding creative ways to shore up the pitching staff at the trade deadline. Apparently, not so much.
“I don’t see a ton of pitching help out there unless it’s the few guys who can really make an impact, who will take your farm system to get,” [Theo Epstein] said. “I think we could benefit from a complementary position player in the right spot.”
While it’s possible Theo is playing a little game of misdirection here, I’m apt to believe he’s telling the truth. In an age where pitching has become increasingly expensive, and young, cost controllable talent is highly coveted; the cost of trading for a pitcher at the deadline, in many cases, has become prohibitive. For the Red Sox this season, this is especially true given the Red Sox dealt three highly regarded prospects to San Diego in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez. In all likelihood, they’ll probably pass on starting pitching, unless they stumble upon an unbelievable deal.
Instead, as Epstein indicated, the Red Sox will likely look to trade for a “complimentary position player in the right spot.” Translation: they’re looking for a corner outfielder that will help mitigate the lack of production coming out of right field. Darnell McDonald (of the totally “awesome” .192 wOBA) is currently holding down the fort as the backup right fielder, but with Carl Crawford likely being activated on July 18th, he’ll likely be the man to lose his spot on the roster. While this season’s likely trade targets is weak on headliner talent, it’s heavy on role players. (Don’t expect the Dodgers to move Andre Ethier or Matt Kemp. It’s not happening. Plus, the Sox don’t have the resources to make a trade for either player without seriously compromising their future.) Heading the list of potential targets are:
Josh Willingham – Willingham has been targeted by the Red Sox for several years, and often been thought of as a “Theo Epstein kind of player.” While he’ll never hit for a high average, he does a lot of other things well offensively like work counts, draw walks, and hit for power to make up for it. He’s received the reputation of being the kind of player who should be used in a platoon situation, but he’s historically hit well against both lefties and righties. Since the Red Sox will likely use him in RF, defensive abilities are key. His range is below par, and his arm is average; thus making him an imperfect fit. Still, with him eligible for free agency after the season, they might take a chance on him if the price is right.
David DeJesus – DeJesus is another “Theo Epstein kind of player” that Red Sox have coveted for a couple of years. In fact, last July, they were rumored to be closing in on a trade before he suffered a season ending thumb injury on July 6th. In a way, DeJesus is J.D. Drew-lite. He does everything pretty well, but nothing spectacularly. He hits for average; gets on base; has 10-12 home run pop; runs the bases well; and has good range in the outfield. Although he’s best suited for a corner spot, he can play CF in a pinch without embarrassing himself. He’s struggled at the plate this year, but it appears he’s been plagued mostly by poor luck. Despite producing a batted ball profile consistent with his career norms, his .246 BABIP sits 71-points below his career average. A change of scenery to an offensive friendly ballpark could be precicely what he needs to get moving at the plate. At 31, DeJesus could be a good short-term option to replace Drew starting in 2012.
Coco Crisp – Are you noticing a trend? Crisp is the third A’s outfielder I’ve mentioned in a row as a potential trade target. With the A’s falling further from contention in the weak AL West, Billy Beane will likely be interested in dealing one (or more) of his soon-to-be free agent outfielders. Crisp putting together another decent season for the A’s. Despite his .310 wOBA being slightly below average, he remains one of their most productive offensive players this year. He’s a switch hitter who hits equally well from the left and right side, so he brings greater versatility at the plate, which is something the lefty-heavy Red Sox desperately need. He still exhibits decent range; remains a plus baserunner; but lacks an adequate arm for CF. If the Red Sox landed him, they’d likely use him in a role similar to the one he played in 2008–utility outfielder. As a CF, there’s likely to be more interest in Crisp than there is in either Willingham or DeJesus with the Atlanta Braves likely being at the forefront of the discussion.
Ryan Ludwick – While Ludwick will probably never replicate his outstanding 2008 season where he produced a .406 wOBA, he’s still a useful player if placed in the right role. This season, he’s struggled a little bit in terms of his power numbers, but that likely stems from playing half of his games in the vast expanses of Petco Park. Moving to a ballpark that plays more to his offensive skill set would likely help improve his extra base statistics considerably. Despite a mediocre defensive reputation, advanced statistics show Ludwick being consistently league average in a corner outfield spot. Almost 33 years old, he still has decent range and runs the bases well. Despite platoon splits that favor hitting against righties, Ludwick could still be a good option to partner with Drew in RF.
Jeff Francoeur – Frenchy is the classic tease. With every new team he goes to, he gets off to a hot start, then predictably fizzles. He did it to the Braves, Mets, and most recently to the Royals. No matter how hard he tries to change his approach, he’ll always be a free swinger that creates too many outs for his own good. Despite decent speed on the base paths and solid stolen base numbers, Francoeur is surprisingly mediocre. Defensively, he makes up for his average range with a plus arm that limits opposing base runners from taking the extra base. As a hitter that hits decidedly better against lefties, he’d probably be a good platoon partner for Drew. Although I would really like to say he’d be an awful fit for the Red Sox (like I did on Toucher and Rich last week), the rational side of me has caused me to rethink that position. The Red Sox could certainly do worse. He might be a solid pickup if the price is right.
Hunter Pence – Ok. This one might be a pipe dream, but it seems like a reasonable possibility. While he’s only making $6.9M this season, he has two seasons remaining of arbitration eligibility that could potentially push his salary in the $10-12M range by 2013. With the Astros in a rebuilding mode, it’s probably in their best interest to at least explore trading Pence in the future; especially if it seems unlikely they can sign him to a team friendly long-term deal. Given his performance his season, it’ll probably be cost prohibitive to bring him to Beantowne at the deadline. Presuming his BABIP regresses back toward the mean before the end of the season, they might have a better shot to land the RF during the offseason. Still, wacky things can happen around July 31st, so you never know.
As I mentioned above, the trade market seems to be pretty shallow this summer with no “must have” talents emerging on the market. While that’s unlikely to change in the weeks leading up to the deadline, the list of obtainable players typically grows as teams determine whether they’re “buyers” or “sellers.” Hopefully, additional attractive candidates will materialize. Unfortunately, as Fangraphs’ Joe Pawlikowski noted the other day, a strong “east coast bias” is wreaking havoc on the trade market this year. With most of the dominant teams primarily located in the AL and NL East divisions and the wild card seemingly wrapped up, teams may ultimately decide they’re not serious World Series contenders; thereby making them reluctant to “buy” at the deadline. By the same token, the degree of parity among the remaining four divisions is so great; we could have a large number of teams that are also unwilling to be “sellers.” With so many teams unwilling to commit to a particular course of action, we could be looking at a pretty inactive trade market this summer.