Yesterday was one of my favorite days of the year. July 31st. The baseball trading deadline. To commemorate it, I thought I’d take a look at what happened and what didn’t happen for the Red Sox yesterday when the clock struck 4:00 p.m. ET.
What did happened?
At long last, the Red Sox finally traded first base prospect, Lars Anderson!
Yesterday, the Red Sox traded him to the Cleveland Indians for knuckeball prospect, Steven Wright. This trade represents something of a fresh start for Anderson. The Indians are currently starting an underperforming Casey Kotchman (.226/.290/.357) at first base, so it stands to reason Anderson could get some playing time before too long. Plus, he has been playing quite a bit of left field this season, and he could certainly grab some playing time from the corpse formerly known as Johnny Damon.
As recently as Spring Training 2009, Anderson was widely considered to be the Red Sox top prospect. Drafted in the 18th round of the 2006 draft (due to signability concerns), he has a solid 6’4″ 215 pound frame with a sweet left handed swing and tremendous power potental. It was tough not to dream about what he could become. Many felt he could be the long-term, middle-of-the-order power hitter the Red Sox had failed to develop until that point. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.
He struggled mightily through his first full season in AA, the great minor league equalizer, and soon was passed by fellow prospect, and current Chicago Cub, Anthony Rizzo on the depth chart. He rebounded nicely in AA in 2010, and received a much deserved promotion to AAA at midseason. Although he performed admirably for Pawtucket, his somewhatunderwhelming (albeit average) performance is part of what prompted the Red Sox to pull the trigger on a deal to acquire Adrian Gonzalez. He was nearly traded to Oakland at last year’s deadline, but the deal fell apart when Harden failed his pre-trade physical. He’s been languishing in AAA ever since.
Wright is an interesting piece to pick up. For AA Akron this season, he’s posted a 9-6 record a 2.49 ERA and a 101/62 K/BB ratio in 115-2/3 innings. The high walk rate is clearly a concern, but this should be expected from a knuckleballer. Due to his age, 27, we can’t really consider him a prospect. Still, he fills the Red Sox knuckleballer quota of at least one in the system per season. Chances are good that he never turns out to be anything other than an organizational soldier, but the same could be said about Anderson as well. He does bring is some badly needed depth to the Red Sox minor league pitching.
With considerable surplus in both the outfield and bullpen, Ben Cherington set out to shed some depth in hopes of bringing in useful players in return. In trading Podsednik and Albers, he did just that. Interestingly enough, the player he brought back in return is a major league reliever who does little to open up the bullpen situation. As it stands, the likes of Junichi Tazawa and Mark Prior will stay in Pawtucket.
Still, Breslow’s an interesting pitcher to have on the staff. He pitched for Pawtucket in 2006 and 2007, and made a cameo with the big club in late 2006. According to several rumors, Cherington tried to acquire Breslow this winter. Instead, he fell a little short, and the right-hander was traded to the Diamondbacks in the Trevor Cahill deal.
As luck would have it, opportunity knocked again this summer, and Cherington got his man. For Arizona this season, Breslow has put together a solid season out of the bullpen producing 2.70 ERA and a 42/13 K/BB in 43-1/3 innings. It remains to be seen how his performance will translate to the AL East, but he was successful in his short 13 inning stint with the Red Sox in 2006.
The Red Sox traded away surplus in Albers and Podsednik. Albers had been pitching well, as judged through his 2.29 ERA, but his 5.02 FIP indicates he’s due for a big bucket of regression toward the mean. His strikeout rate has plummeted from 23.5% in 2011 to 15.9% this season. His walk rate, though on par with his 2011 rate, is unacceptable considering the drop in strikeouts. His home run rate, though also likely to regress, has shot through the rough this season. The Red Sox were smart to move him before the wheels came off again.
Podsednik was the odd man out. The club already has Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, and Cody Ross encumbering the starting jobs. Daniel Nava and (until an ill-advised temper tantrum) Ryan Sweeney were covering the back-up situation. Even with Sweeney out for the next eight weeks with a broken hand (and severely bruised ego and potentially ligher wallet), the Red Sox appear to feel more comfortable turning to Ryan Kalish.
What didn’t happen?
According to WEEI’s Rob Bradford, this package was being discussed between Cherington and Rangers GM Jon Daniels before the deal fell apart. There are conflicting reports as to how serious the discussions were, but all indications show the subject was at least broached.
Obviously it depends on the return, but it makes for the Red Sox to move each one of these players. Beckett’s widely considered to be a bitter, malcontent who’s a clubhouse cancer that revels in creating drama where none should exist. His $36M in remaining salary hangs as an albatross around the team’s neck, and he’s not performing up to expectation to boot. The Red Sox are looking for some additional payroll flexibility, and moving his deal would certainly provide some additional cushion.
With Cherington on the hunt for flexibility, he clearly wouldn’t want to eat the majority of Beckett’s remaining salary. (This is something he’d have to do in most trade scenarios.) In hopes of sweetening the pot, he added Ellsbury to the mix. Last year’s MVP runner up is eligible for free agency after the 2013 season, and has Scott Boras as his agent. Unless the Red Sox are willing to overpay for Ellsbury outside of free agency, the odds are great he’ll test the market and potentially leave. With the Red Sox wallowing around .500 and near the rear of the Wild Card race, it made sense to shop him now. If the Red Sox strike a deal, they at least get something in return for him.
It’s unclear what the Red Sox may have asked for in return for this package. Had Beckett and Shoppach only been included, it’s unlikely they would have been able to command much. With Ellsbury in the mix, it’s possible they could have asked for Jurickson Profar or Mike Olt. Profar (2B/SS) is widely considered to be the top position prospect in the game, and virtually untouchable in trade talks. It’d take a Cliff Lee or Felix Hernandez type of pitcher to wrestle him away from the Rangers. Olt, a power hitting third baseman, is thought to be somewhat obtainable, but he’s not an ideal fit as the Red Sox already have a young power hitter manning the hot corner.
Regardless, no deal came to fruition. Any such similar deal would probably need to be revisited during the offseason as Shoppach and Ellsbury are unlikely candidates to pass through waivers unclaimed in August. Beckett, though, has a great chance to slip through waivers due to his unattractive salary. A Beckett deal could be struck prior to the August 31st deadline assuming all of the planets align.