Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Monday, July 25, 2011

Red Sox Facing Weak Trade Market at Deadline


For Red Sox, Justin Masteron Remains the 'One That Got Away"

Going into their 100th game of the season today, the Red Sox find themselves leading the AL East, three games ahead of the Yankees.

The Sox lead the majors in runs, hits, doubles, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. If there's a problem with the offense, I can't find it.

The Red Sox clearly aren't hurting with the combination of Josh Reddick, JD Drew and Darnell McDonald in right field.

Yes, a right-handed outfielder would be a nice complement. But all of the early concerns about the Red Sox' lineup being being too lefty-dominant were overblown, as the above offensive statistics prove. What's more, the Sox have the fourth-best OPS against lefties in the majors.

Clearly, offense is not the Red Sox' issue.

Of greater concern is the health of Clay Buchholz, who hasn't pitched since June 16.

The 26-year-old's back woes proved to be much more problematic than first diagnosed and no one seems sure exactly when he'll return to the mound, much less how effective he'll be once he gets there.

If Buchholz doesn't return in full health, the Red Sox current pitching depth could prove problematic.

John Lackey has been erratic, at best, and sports an eye-popping 6.28 ERA. The same could be said for Time Wakefield (5.15 ERA), Andrew Miller (4.65 ERA) and Kyle Weiland (8.10 ERA in two starts).

None in that group inspires confidence, nor would any be an effective No. 3 pitcher for the Red Sox down the stretch, much less in October.

The Red Sox high-powered offense has been out-slugging opponents, obscuring the club's starting pitching deficiencies. But the same trend can't be anticipated in the playoffs. Pitching wins championships.

Expect the Red Sox to work the phones this week in search of some pitching help.

However, while the team will make all reasonable inquiries, there isn't any available starting pitcher that would be a real difference-maker. The Sox will not ransom their top prospects for a No. 5 starter, or a two-month rental with no future in the rotation.

There are currently 14 teams within five games of a division lead, meaning most will be players at the trade deadline. While the competition may be fierce, the pickings will be slim, making this a seller's market. Prices will be high, while the talent pool will be shallow.

Additionally, the Sox have traded away some of their top prospects in recent years, including Nick Hagadone and Justin Masterson (for Victor Martinez), as well as Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly and Reymond Fuentes (for Adrian Gonzalez).

Four of those five players were selected in the first-round or sandwich round, while Masterson was taken in the second-round.

The trade that enabled the Red Sox to acquire Martinez from Cleveland has become a cautionary tale. Masterson has a 2.57 ERA and 1.17 WHIP for the Indians, while reliever Nick Hagadone has 31 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings and a 1.18 WHIP for Triple A Columbus.

The 26-year-old Masterson throws a sinking fastball at 95-96 miles per hour and has emerged as one of the top young pitchers in baseball. It appears the Red Sox gave up at least one gem in that deal, which could haunt them for years.

Regrettably, the Sox had to throw $82.5 million at Lackey to fill a spot in the rotation and Martinez turned into a year-and-a-half rental.

Meanwhile, Masterson’s 2.57 ERA is top-10 (ahead of pitchers named Sabathia, Hamels, Lee and Lincecum) and his 8-7 record is due, in part, to his team being shut out in four of those losses.

It's safe to say that Theo Epstein would like a do-over with that deal. With this memory fresh in mind, the Red Sox' GM will wade into this year's underwhelming trade market.

The good news for the Sox is that the Yankees and other playoff hopefuls will be faced with the same shallow and over-priced talent pool. Boston's advantage is that they are in first place, have a dynamic offense, and will finally see the return of Jon Lester tonight after an 18-day stint on the DL.

That's welcome news, given that the Sox' pitching staff has been decimated by the losses of four of its five Opening Day starters to the DL at various points this season.

The Sox will hold out hope that Buchholz makes a healthy return, particularly for the September stretch and hopefully a triumphant October run. In the meantime they will rely on the unpredictable combo of Wakefield, Miller and Weiland.

While some are still holding out hope that we'll see Felix Doubront at some point. the 23 year old lefty has been sidelined by elbow, groin and hamstring injuries much of the season.

Doubront made three relief appearances for the Sox in April and has made just 14 minor league appearances this season. He is both unhealthy and unproven and will not be riding to the Red Sox' rescue this year.

So, while Theo Epstein may make a move for a pitcher this week, it won't likely be big, bold or costly.

If anything, Epstein would love to find a way to pry Masterson back from the Indians.

Good luck with that, Theo.

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