As the offseason progresses, you’re going to see a lot of pieces that rank Red Sox.
They’ll rank each Red Sox on the 40-man roster. They’ll rank each projected Red Sox starter. They’ll rank the Red Sox prospect. They’ll rank the handsomeness of the Red Sox manager. Rank, rank, rank.
What these rankings will all do is attempt to tell you who is projected to be among the most valuable Red Sox for 2014 and beyond.
But what about the players who are on the fringe of relevancy, or whose status in the organization is in question thanks to Boston’s enviable depth? What about the expendables?
There’s plenty to learn about those players as well, as how and if they fit into Boston’s plans could be a major story line throughout the winter and into spring.
Will Middlebrooks, 3B
This one might puzzle some people. As the team stands right now, Middlebrooks is the starting third baseman. He’s still only 25, he’s a source of one of the game’s rarest commodities – right-handed power – and he’s under team control for four more years.
The reasons “WMB” might be considered expendable are pretty simple: The Red Sox might prefer a more defensive-friendly alignment on the left side of the infield, which would see wunderkind Xander Bogaerts playing third and a strong defender – say, someone like Stephen Drew – at short. There’s also the matter of Garin Cecchini, who’s a very different prospect than Middlebrooks was, but who might be ready to play third base at some point in 2014.
Middlebrooks’ stock is down after a bad 2013 campaign, but as a young, cost-controlled power hitter, he’d fetch a significant piece back in any trade. If the Red Sox do resign Drew or trade for a starting shortstop, there’s a good chance WMB will be on his way out of town.
Franklin Morales, LHP
The Red Sox did well to steal Morales from the Rockies in 2011. While he hasn’t blossomed into the No. 1 starter some saw when he was a highly-regarded prospect, Morales has turned into an intriguing lefty swing-man for Boston, starting 10 games and overall throwing 281.1 innings in 195 appearances over the past two-plus years.
Morales would be a secondary or even primary left-handed option in plenty of bullpens, but the Red Sox currently have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to southpaw relief. With Craig Breslow and Andrew Miller (if healthy) essentially guaranteed to serve in the bullpen come April, there may not be room for Morales, given that Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Edward Mujica, Burke Badenhop and Ryan Dempster are likely to occupy the other five slots in Boston’s bullpen.
Morales wouldn’t garner a huge return by any means, but he could be part of a larger deal and the Sox will be motivated to move him, as he can’t be optioned back to Pawtucket. With Drake Britton ready to serve should a Breslow or Miller injury arise, the Red Sox have some lefty insurance, too. If the Red Sox deal a starter, though, Morales could find himself as Boston’s long reliever once more.
Anthony Ranaudo, RHP
In some ways it’s odd to list a nearly-MLB ready pitching prospect as a player who’s expandable. That’s especially true considering this is an organization that relied on the likes of Aaron Cook and Kyle Weiland not too long ago. But when you look at the names ahead of, at the same level as and behind Ranaudo on the organizational depth chart, it becomes clear that he’s the arm the Red Sox should be most willing to part with from the minor leagues.
2013 was a good year for Ranaudo and a down year for Matt Barnes and in some regards Allen Webster, which might lead you to the conclusion that Ranaudo is the best right-hander in Boston’s system. That’s far from the truth, and as you’ll see in the plethora of prospect rankings that come out this offseason, Ranaudo’s ceiling is as a No. 4 starter, with a career as a No. 5 starter or a multi-inning reliever perhaps more likely.
Not only is Ranaudo not ahead of Webster or Barnes in terms of prospect status, but I’d put him behind Brandon Workman, and obviously Henry Owens, too. If Boston does decide to pull the trigger on a trade for a shortstop, an outfielder or an elite starter, Ranaudo is the pitching prospect they should be most inclined to deal.
Ryan Lavarnway, C/1B
Lavarnway has been one of the Red Sox most intriguing, and in some ways, most frustrating, prospects to follow in recent years. We’ve seen him destroy pitching in the upper minors, and perform quite well in 82 MLB PA last season. We’ve seen him slowly become a better defender behind the plate. The power is real, as is the patience. We were all hoping for a steal.
The truth, though, is that Lavarnway just isn’t good enough defensively to catch on a regular basis, and his bat isn’t good enough to translate to first base. He’s a classic tweener, and with the signings of David Ross last season and A.J. Pierzynski this season, it’s pretty clear the Red Sox don’t view Lavarnway as a significant part of their future.
Lavarnway is a great player to have as the third catcher in your organization, but with Christian Vasquez quickly climbing the MiLB ladder, Lavarnway is likely to lose that distinction at some point in 2014, too. He’s a spare part for the Red Sox, but he could be viewed as a viable backup for many other teams throughout the league. If Boston needs to clear 40-man spots at some point next season, Lavarnway could be on the move.
Ryan Dempster/Jake Peavy, RHP
This is perhaps the most obvious inclusion on the list. The Red Sox have six MLB starters on their roster right now. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lackey and Peavy are locks to start the season in the rotation, and odds are Doubront would hold the No. 5 spot over Dempster. On the one hand, you can never have enough pitching depth. On the other hand, Dempster and Peavy are expensive options and the Red Sox have many MiLB starters ready in case of an injury to Boston’s starting five.
Dealing Demspter would do the least amount of damage to the 2014 club, but would also offer the least return. It’s possibly Boston would need to pair him with a lesser prospect in order to see any salary relief in a trade. Peavy would be more difficult to give up, but could fetch something in return, and likely wouldn’t require the Red Sox to eat much salary.
It’s not a sexy option for a team looking to return to the mountain top, but harboring six MLB starters, and what would equate to be a $13 million swing-man, may be a luxury the Red Sox can’t afford. Boston could also look into moving Doubront or Lackey for a more significant piece, but I think that’s less likely than shipping Peavy or Dempster out of town.
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