The 2016 Boston Red Sox have lots of strengths, but a clear shortage of starting pitchers, and a bullpen that lacks depth have the team in a very tough spot.
The American League East is not that strong a division, and the teams that appear most likely to challenge the Red Sox for divisional superiority are not exactly overflowing with starting pitching talent.
The Blue Jays and Orioles both have better team pitching numbers than the Red Sox, but they don’t have the Red Sox offense. If you’re willing to take a leap of faith and assume that David Price will be better through what remains of this season than he was for the first two months of it, then even with both Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly in starting pitching purgatory, the numbers should still improve a bit.
It might even be enough to get the Red Sox into the playoffs. Even if that were to happen, there’s just no way that a Red Sox team with a rotation comprised of Price, Rick Porcello, Steven Wright, Eduardo Rodriguez, and a guy who remains to be named, combined with a bullpen that features a great closer, and two not-that-durable late-inning options, will be able to get the Red Sox through a grueling major league postseason.
This team needs help. The midseason trade deadline is less than two months away. Unfortunately for Red Sox team president Dave Dombrowski, the franchise has significantly less assets to try and wheel-and-deal with, than they did just a few weeks ago.
Sam Travis, Blake Swihart and Brian Johnson are all injured. Travis is definitely done for the year, Swihart is possibly done for the year, and there’s no real timetable for Johnson’s return.
Pablo Sandoval and Michael Kopech are also injured. Kopech is on the mend, but he’s got a history of behavior that will no-doubt impact his trade value.
Last season he was suspended for testing positive for a banned substance. This year he broke his hand when he punched a teammate.
Positive PED tests and a hot temper are not two qualities that rival gm’s seek out in trade talks.
Sandoval? Not only is he out until next season, but his poor performance, bad reputation, and outsized contract render him almost impossible to trade for anything of value.
For a team looking to make at least one, and possibly more than one midseason acquisition, the Red Sox have a lot of obstacles to overcome.
Every team that Dave Dombrowski contacts will ask for one or more out of a group of current and potential future major leaguers.
Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr, Travis Shaw, Christian Vazquez, Yoan Moncada, Eduardo Rodriguez, Andrew Benintendi, Rafeal Devers, and Anderson Espinoza.
Parting with anyone on that list presents the franchise with some problems.
Forget about the team parting with the likes of Betts, Bogaerts, Bradley, Shaw or Vazquez.
Not only are they all young, cost-controlled and extremely talented, they’re all going to be needed on this season’s roster if the team hopes to win or compete to win the World Series.
That leaves the big four prospects.
Forget Moncada, the Red Sox invested too much money in the potential five-tool star to ship him off in midseason trade. Any deal involving Moncada would have to be an absolute blockbuster.
Don’t count on the Red Sox including stud-pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza in too many deals either. He’s 18 years old, throws close to 100 miles per hour, and he’s got loads of talent and poise for his age.
Those type of prospects do not come around too often, and the Red Sox will want to avoid trading what may end up as a homegrown ace starting pitcher.
Devers and Benintendi are different.
If you’re under the assumption that Travis Shaw is likely to be patrolling third base for the foreseeable future, then Devers, a third baseman by trade, would need to be moved to the outfield to fit on a major league roster.
Bradley and Betts certainly aren’t going anywhere, and Benintendi is closer to being major league ready than Devers is.
Outfielders are always available on the free agent market, especially when the center field position is already filled by the likes of Jackie Bradley Jr.
In other words, the Red Sox could part with either Devers or Benintendi and still have themselves a very talented outfield for years to come.
Don’t forget that Thursday night the 2016 MLB Draft will take place. The Red Sox have the No.12 pick, and Baseball America has them selecting high school outfielder Taylor Trammell . In other words the Red Sox could have a player in place to replace either Benintendi or Devers before the end of the week.
As much hype as Benintendi has had, he’s probably the guy most likely to be dealt.
Devers has struggled in High-A ball this season, and in order to add major league talent, the Red Sox will need to part with at least one prospect who has a realistic chance of cracking the big leagues within the next year.
Benintendi is that guy. He’s struggled a bit at Double-A Portland, but odds are he’ll make the adjustment and start to hit his stride in the not-too-distant future.
No one wants to deal away what looks like a very viable major league outfield prospect, especially one that might be ready before the conclusion of the 2017 season.
Nothing is free though. The Red Sox are not going to be able to add a decent starting pitcher without saying farewell to at least one very good major league prospect.
The Royals had to part with Brandon Finnegan to get Johnny Cueto. To acquire David Price, the Blue Jays had to ship Daniel Norris to the Tigers. It doesn’t matter how good either Norris or Finnegan end up being. What matters is that both players were highly rated, close to being major league ready prospects when they were dealt.
Sam Travis could have been that player, but his torn ACL will slow his path to the majors by at least a year.
It looks increasingly likely that unless the Red Sox can find a rival general manager who really likes Henry Owens or Devin Marrero, the Red Sox will ultimately have to bite the bullet and part ways with one of their very best prospects.
That might not sit well with Red Sox fans who already watched Dombrowski deal Manny Margot and Javier Guerra to the San Diego Padres in exchange for current closer Craig Kimbrel. MLB.com has Margot and Guerra as the two top-rated prospects in the Padres organization.
It is important to remember that adding Price was one of the most critical ingredients in the Blue Jays run to the AL East title in 2015. The Royals didn’t get great outings from Johnny Cueto, but he was still part of a Royals squad that returned to the World Series, and won the title for the first time since 1985.
When the Red Sox started the 2016 regular season, Benintendi was likely considered practically untouchable. The team’s electric offense, the play of Jackie Bradley Jr, the weakness of the starting rotation, and a spate of injuries have combined to create a situation where a deal involving Benintendi is probably not as far fetched as it once was.