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Are the Red Sox’ issues worth fixing?

One can only imagine what goes on in Dave Dombrowski’s mind as he stoically watches the Red Sox lose their 19th game in their last 32. Or as Clay Buchholz walks off the mound in the sixth inning after being haphazardly moved from the rotation to the bullpen and back to the rotation because they have no other options. Or, perhaps even more disconcerting, as the ace who he paid $217 million gets slapped around like a punching bag as his velocity continues to dip. Or as his 41-year-old setup man continues to serve-up homers on 86 mile-per-hour fastballs. Or as his promising young pitcher gets sent down to triple-A after getting rocked by the worst lineup in baseball.

Dave Dombrowski’s legacy in Boston will likely be defined by what he does or doesn’t do in the next six weeks and six months.

The Red Sox (42-36), like most teams, have issues; recently those flaws have been exposed. And it starts and ends with pitching, pitching, and more pitching (with some left field ineptitude sprinkled in). The Red Sox have a team ERA of 4.39 and starters’ ERA of 4.82. They’ve lost 19 of their last 32 games, and are in a pure free-fall, yet currently still hold a lead in one of the American League wild card spots. Let’s just say: you know something has gone horrifically wrong when, on June 29th, the fanbase is clamoring for Aaron Wilkerson to be added to the rotation. The Red Sox’ issues are fixable, but to what extent should the front office be willing to fix them?

Headlined by Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, and Anderson Espinoza, the Red Sox have plenty of prospect ammunition to do what they please (thanks, Ben Cherington). Moncada and Benintendi are in AA tearing the cover off the ball, while Devers and Espinoza remain years away from Boston. If the Red Sox have any intention of acquiring a high-impact starting pitcher at the deadline, these are the guys they will be asked for and will likely have to part with. It would seem, in a market like Boston, that parting with “lottery tickets” for immediate impact players would be a no-brainer for Dombrowski. Ship off Devers and Benintendi to Atlanta for Julio Teheran, right?

Maybe before the team makes a rash decision like that they should look themselves in the mirror. In the standard starting lineup, the Red Sox start 6+ homegrown, impact players each and every day, including the three most valuable players on the team: Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. They’ve also gotten meaningful production out of Travis Shaw, Brock Holt, Steven Wright, and Christian Vazquez. Yes, I understand that everyone overvalues their own prospects, perhaps moreso in a market like Boston. But shipping off a Benintendi or Moncada midseason for a metaphorical band-aid seems shortsighted and panicky, especially given their proximity to helping the big-league squad.

Just picture this opening-day lineup next year:

Mookie Betts RF

Dustin Pedroia 2B

Xander Bogaerts SS

(FA DH here)

Jackie Bradley Jr. CF

Travis Shaw 1B

Yoan Moncada 3B

Andrew Benintendi LF

Blake Swihart C

 

That doesn’t fix the pitching but… *salivates at the thought* JUST LOOK AT IT

For me, the hesitation to deal prospects lies in the lack of organizational depth. The Kimbrel deal really gutted the depth of the system – and that’s fine! That’s the advantage of building a stacked system! Kimbrel has been great! But that trade, along with the injuries to Sam Travis and Blake Swihart, does handicap their situation right now. It would be easier to stomach the loss of a Moncada or Devers if Manuel Margot or Javy Guerra were still in the system, but they don’t have that luxury.

But this is Boston; the media is incomparably harsh, the fanbase is impatient and loud, and the demand to win and win now is unparalleled. Not to mention it would be wrong to deny the greatest clutch hitter in baseball history one last playoff run. And their is a logical argument in favor of dealing from a position of relative prospect wealth to make a run toward the playoffs in 2016.

The trade-deadline approach is going to be – and should be – more nuanced than that. It’s not as simple as “don’t trade any prospects and punt the season!” or “gut the farm for your ace ASAP.” It’s easy to deal in hypotheticals, but whatever happens will largely depend on other teams and the deals that are available. Here are some potential options:

 

Julio Teheran:

Possible package: Swihart, Devers + Kopech

Interest: The Braves are demanding a major-league-ready hitter in return for Teheran, and the Red Sox have those to offer. Though they have one of the strongest farm systems in baseball, they lack offensive-minded prospects, and Swihart and Devers immediately change it. Kopech has electrifying stuff and adds to the deepest pitching prospect base in baseball today. This deal makes sense, yet I still think neither side accepts. Teheran has been dominant this season (2.46 ERA, 0.88 WHIP) on a criminally cheap contract, and he’s only 25. It’s conceivable that Teheran could still be in his prime by the time the Braves are ready to contend (2019?), and will almost certainly make the first start at a brand-new stadium next season. The Red Sox have reason to believe that Teheran – a fly-ball pitcher – would struggle in Fenway and the AL East.

 Sonny Gray:

Possible package: Moncada, Espinoza + Ball

Interest: Not for this package. The Red Sox reportedly inquired about Gray in the offseason only to scoff at the Athletics’ demands. Despite a slow start to the season, a Sonny Gray package would almost certainly need to be headlined by Moncada or Benintendi, and it wouldn’t stop there. Not this, not now.

 

 Jeremy Hellickson:

Possible package: a bag of balls and some popcorn

Interest: This isn’t going to cost much, mostly because it shouldn’t. The Jeremy Hellickson experiment in Philadelphia has not worked out. But he has proven to be an average starter in the AL East, and, frankly, average would be a significant upgrade over the corpse of Clay Buchholz. This is the type of trade that needs to happen, and needs to happen now. As in, before Buchholz gets the chance to punt another game in his next start.

 

Jose Fernandez:

Possible package: Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, Anderson Espinoza, Michael Kopech, your first born child, the green monster

Interest: There is no chance, not right now. Check back in on Fernandez in the offseason. (And, oh, by the way, they’re contending for a wild card spot right now)

It’s going to be painful to watch another year go by without a major league rotation, but there is no obvious fix right now. David Price needs to pitch better, Eduardo Rodriguez needs to figure it out, and the team needs a few more bullpen arms. But Dombrowski’s roster overhaul of what Ben Cherington left was always going to take more than one year; this reality was clouded by unsustainable success in the first few months. This roster was never built to win a world series, and they shouldn’t mortgage the future to force that issue.

Need some catharsis?

 

Mookie Betts RF

Dustin Pedroia 2B

Xander Bogaerts SS

(FA DH here)

Jackie Bradley Jr. CF

Travis Shaw 1B

Yoan Moncada 3B

Andrew Benintendi LF

Blake Swihart C

*sighs* 276 days until opening day

 

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