The non-waiver trade deadline is just two weeks away, and as is the case every year, I’ve been getting lots of questions about what prospects the Red Sox may be willing to part with in a potential deadline deal. The club is certainly in an interesting position: While the front office may have gone into this season considering it to be a rebuilding year, the team has the most wins in the league as of the All-Star break. On top of that, the farm system is as stocked as it has been in several years, in terms of both top-level talent and depth.
On the one hand, Boston may be poised for a playoff run, especially if Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester can return to early-season form. On the other hand, the team has the potential to be loaded with young, cost-effective talent for years to come if it stands pat and refuses to unload its top prospects.
Ultimately, the front office will have a lot of options heading into the deadline. Here’s a list of potential trade commodities, broken down into five categories.
Over the years, the Red Sox have been careful not to trade blue-chip prospects unless a proven All-Star like Adrian Gonzalez, Victor Martinez or Josh Beckett is coming back in return. That pattern is not likely to change this year. The only difference is that there are more blue-chippers in the system since 2007.
This year’s blue-chippers are SS Xander Bogaerts, CF Jackie Bradley Jr., 3B Garin Cecchini, RHP Allen Webster, RHP Rubby De La Rosa, RHP Anthony Ranaudo, LHP Henry Owens and RHP Matt Barnes. Each of these players profile as major league impact players -- and each has some potential to develop into an All-Star talent.
I’m not saying these players won’t be traded, but they probably won’t be traded at the deadline unless the Red Sox are getting a top-line starting pitcher or possibly a proven closer in return. Even then, a trade is much more likely to involve a group of players in the below categories than one of these prospects.
One interesting consideration, however, is the potential logjam at third base in the future. Bogaerts and Jose Iglesias can’t both play shortstop at the same time. Will Middlebrooks is expected to come back around. Meanwhile, at .349, Cecchini is leading the organization in batting average by more than 50 points over the next batter in line.
Solid B prospects
There are a handful of solid B-type prospects in the system that Boston might be willing to make available in order to fetch impact major league talent for the playoff stretch. The Red Sox front office has shown a willingness to take chances on trading these types of prospects in the past. Some examples over the last four years include OF Josh Reddick, 1B/3B Miles Head, RHP Kyle Weiland, IF Yamaico Navarro, 1B Chris McGuiness, RHP Stolmy Pimentel and OF Reymond Fuentes. These types of prospects are more likely to bust then blue-chip prospects, but often they end up developing into cost-effective major leaguers.
Prospects who fall in this category this year are C Blake Swihart, SS Deven Marrero, OF Bryce Brentz, RHP Brandon Workman, LHP Drake Britton, RHP Alex Wilson, C Christian Vazquez and 2B Mookie Betts. These players might be the most valuable assets that the Red Sox are willing to deal at the deadline.
Swihart and Marrero, both former first-round picks, have the highest ceilings of the group, but they’re also a few years away from being major-league ready.
Brentz, Workman, Britton and Wilson are all close to major league ready (Wilson has already thrown 27.2 major league innings, but he’s still a work in progress as a bullpen arm). Brentz has the potential to have a major impact in peak seasons -- think Reddick’s 2012 campaign with Oakland. But he’s also the type of player that would likely come back to earth and show inconsistency early in his career, as has been the case with Reddick in 2013.
Vazquez has the makings of a solid platoon catcher for a second-division team, but it’s believed that the Red Sox see the defensive-minded 22-year-old as a potential long-term backup catcher. Betts, 20, is in the midst of a breakout season, hitting .299/.414/.472 with 8 home runs and 22 stolen bases between Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem. He’s also an outstanding defender.
Rule 5-eligible players
There is a pending 40-man roster crunch on the horizon this offseason, with upwards of eight prospects who reasonably might need to be protected for the Rule 5 Draft -- and nowhere near the space to add eight players. The club has been in this position before, and has not shied away from unloading soon-to-be Rule 5-eligible players who are on the bubble for a roster spot the following season. A prime example was in 2011, when the Red Sox traded OF Chih-Hsien Chiang, C Tim Federowicz and RHP Stephen Fife in the three-team deal that brought LHP Erik Bedard to Boston. Another example is the recent trade of OF Brandon Jacobs to Chicago for LHP Matt Thornton.
Of the players who are Rule 5-eligible this offseason, Bogaerts, Brentz, Cecchini and Ranaudo are locks to be added to the 40-man roster either this season or prior to the Nov. 20 deadline. After that, the bubble players that could be most interesting to other teams are 3B Michael Almanzar, OF Keury De La Cruz and OF Jeremy Hazelbaker.
Almanzar possesses plus batting practice power and has demonstrated the ability to hit for average contact over the past two seasons, but he’s also had some maturity issues and his defensive skills are limited. De La Cruz and Hazelbaker both have outstanding power-and-speed combinations, but probably won’t hit enough to be first-division regulars.
Others who might stir up some interest are LHP Chris Hernandez, RHP Brock Huntzinger, RHP Chris Balcom-Miller, RHP Keith Couch, RHP Luis Diaz, IF Heiker Meneses and RHP Mathew Price. It's not likely that these players will fetch a tremendous amount in return on their own, but each could be a viable second or third chip in a larger trade.
Lottery ticket pitchers
In the relatively recent past, the Red Sox front office has been more than willing to trade high-ceiling, high-bust-potential prospects from the lower levels of the minor leagues. Some past examples include RHP Raul Alcantara (part of the Andrew Bailey trade), RHP Juan Rodriguez (Erik Bedard deal), RHP Roman Mendez (part of the Jarod Saltalamacchia trade) and OF Engel Beltre (Eric Gagne deal).
Red Sox minor leaguers who fit this mold in 2013 include RHP Francellis Montas, RHP Simon Mercedes, LHP Cody Kukuk and RHP Sergio Gomez. Montas is the prototype. The 20-year-old Dominican right-hander can dial his fastball up to the high-90s, but he's very raw in terms of command, deception and secondary stuff. Mercedes and Gomez, both younger Dominican pitchers, are posting solid numbers with Short-A Lowell this season. Kukuk has very impressive stuff but has had control problems, walking 58 batters in 69 innings with Greenville so far this year.
40-man roster surplus
The Red Sox also have a handful of players currently on the 40-man roster that could be more valuable to other clubs or who could benefit from not being blocked at the major league level. Sometimes these players can be packaged as part of a larger deal, or sometimes they are dealt for a C-level prospect between July 31 and Aug. 31.
Red Sox players in this category this season include OF Alex Hassan, IF Brandon Snyder, RHP Jose De La Torre, RHP Pedro Beato, C Dan Butler and RHP Steven Wright. That said, some of these players may bring more value as stretch-run depth than they would fetch in return in a trade.