The Red Sox put themselves in a hole early. They started the season 6-10, and even after they recovered by going 18-11 in their next 29 games they still found themselves down 8.5 games in the AL East on May 23. Since then they have rattled off a few winning streaks, but injuries have kept key players off the field. They headed into the All-Star Break in something of a funk, losing five of their last seven games. The Yankees sit five games ahead of them while the Rays are three up.
Buy or Sell?
One of the AL East powerhouses won’t make the playoffs, and all season it has looked like the Sox would be the odd team out. It started with the slump and continued with the injuries, and while they were as close as a half game out in early July, it looks like everything is catching up to them. The Red Sox might be buyers in name, but they shouldn’t get overeager. Players returning from injuries might be the only additions they need.
At catcher the Sox look particularly weak right now, with a combination of Kevin Cash and Gustavo Molina — not that kind of Molina — sharing the duties while Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek recover from injuries. That basically puts a pitcher in the No. 9 spot, which puts any American League team at a disadvantage. Reports suggest that the Sox could seek help here, with the names Chris Snyder and Chris Iannetta mentioned. To acquire one of these players, however, would be to ostracize Varitek. Martinez will certainly return to his catching duties upon return, since he has nowhere else to play. Would the Red Sox, with so many injuries, actually carry three catchers? It doesn’t strike me as a particularly smart move for a reputedly savvy front office.
If the Sox are going to add a piece it will likely be in the outfield or the bullpen. For most of the season the team has been without Jacoby Ellsbury, who continues to suffer rib and other torso injuries. There’s no timetable for his return, and judging from reports the Sox probably shouldn’t count on him too heavily. They have received excellent production from his fill-in, Daniel Nava, a late bloomer who raked at every level of the minors. He currently has a .371 wOBA through 89 PA, and while he could certainly remain in the .350 – .370 wOBA range, I don’t think the Sox are counting on it.
Adding to the trouble is Mike Cameron, who has suffered various injuries, including a sports hernia and kidney stones. He technically lost only 36 days to the DL, but has taken regular days off since his return, starting three days in a row just twice since May 25. Jeremy Hermida is also on the DL with fractured ribs, but he’s been ineffective even when healthy. The only fully healthy member of the opening day outfield is J.D. Drew. The Sox could look to add a piece here in order to fortify the unit, hedging against declining production from Nava and providing a more reliable option than Darnell McDonald to spell Cameron. David DeJesus is the oft-mentioned player here.
The rest of the offense seems just fine. Dustin Pedroia put on a laser show before fouling a ball off his foot, and it sounds like he’ll be back soon enough. David Ortiz has recovered after the press pronounced him dead in April. Kevin Youkilis, All-Star appearance or not, has been the rock of the team. Adrian Beltre has exceeded expectations in his first, and likely only, season with the Sox. Any other additions should come on the pitching staff.
Here, too, we see a team that requires patience. Both Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz are recovering from injuries and will help strengthen the rotation upon their returns. Jon Lester is pitching characteristically well, but beyond those guys there’s not much the Sox can really do. John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka haven’t performed to expectations at all, and it’s not like they’re candidates for a move to the bullpen. Not that Matsuzaka would be a good option there. It often takes him more than 100 pitches to get through five, and the last thing the Sox need is a reliever who puts too many men on base. But they could certainly use help in the pen.
The problem with adding to the pen is that so many contenders also need help that relievers often become expensive. The Sox have an advantage in that they can absorb salary, so someone like Kerry Wood might be available to them and not many others. They’ll find more competition when going for slightly cheaper guys, like the trio of impending free agent relievers from the Blue Jays (Kevin Gregg, Jason Frasor, Scott Downs). Any way they do it, the Sox sure could use some help with their bullpen.
On the Farm
With both of their bigger issues, outfield and bullpen, the Sox might have an in-house solution. For the outfield they could call on 22-year-old Ryan Kalish. Marc Hulet ranked Kalish ninth among Sox prospects, saying that he, “will certainly jump on the Kalish train in 2010 if he can maintain a solid batting average while also at least equaling his ’09 power numbers.” Starting the season in AA, Kalish hit .293/.404/.527 and since his move to AAA he’s hitting .333/.407/.457. The power numbers might not be as impressive in AAA, but this comes in just 91 PA. He could help in the outfield if the Sox fail to land an established player.
On the mound the Sox have been preparing Michael Bowden for a call-up to the bullpen. Hulet ranked him 10th among Sox prospects, despite a poor showing in the majors last season. His last three appearances, four innings, have come in relief, and chances are the Sox will call him up shortly. But beyond Bowden the Sox will likely have to look elsewhere for pitching help.
The rest of the farm is strong, if not major league ready, and the Sox could use some of those chips to make a move. They won’t trade a blue-chipper like Casey Kelly, but they could use one of their lower level players to acquire a player like DeJesus or Wood.
The Sox 2010 payroll, $168 million, is the highest in club history, but that doesn’t mean they’ll skimp on the market if they can find a deal. They have some money coming off the books next year, but also owe many players raises. In total they have $100 million guaranteed to the 2011 payroll, though I’m not sure how that affects what they’ll do this year. Again, while payroll is high I doubt it would prevent them from making a move that could help the team.
Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.