The Red Sox are currently locked in a battle for the AL East with the Yankees, with all three other divisional opponents within five and a half games of first. For a Boston organization that has invested heavily in adding quality veterans, it’s buy time at the deadline.
It doesn’t take much analysis to identify the Sox’ chief need: third base. We needn’t belabor the point; just click on this leaderboard and keep scrolling to the bottom. Simply put, Boston improve more by getting better at the hot corner than by upgrading any other area of the roster.
That analysis, in and of itself, doesn’t mandate a trade. There are always internal possibilities — in this case, quite a few — and that’s always the first place to consider. So, we’ll start there and then cycle through the outside solutions.
Right now, the Red Sox are trotting out light-hitting youngsters Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin. The former carries a sub-.500 OPS at all levels over the past two seasons. And while the latter has had an emergent year at Double-A, slashing .302/.379/.491, he had never played above that level prior to his call-up and has never finished a minor-league campaign with an OPS of over .659 (with that coming in a short sample at Rookie ball). Both of these players are gap fillers, at least for 2017.
The disabled list includes some notable names, of course. Brock Holt is a question mark as he deals with vertigo; Josh Rutledge has just gone on the DL with lingering concussion issues. It’s hard to trust either of those two moving forward, though either could provide a boost in a utility role later in the season. Marco Hernandez is shelved for the year after shoulder surgery.
That brings us to the panda in the room. The struggling Pablo Sandoval went on the DL with an inner ear infection. A quality regular would surely be right back up once the illness passed, but he’s heading out for rehab work at Triple-A. There, he’ll compete with veteran Jhonny Peralta for a possible chance at going back to the majors and earning a more extended opportunity. The outlook isn’t great for either player, as both have shown poorly in the field and at the plate for extended stretches. Sandoval owns a .237/.286/.360 batting line over his three years in Boston, while Peralta has declined steadily over the past few seasons before falling off a cliff (.204/.259/.204) early in 2017.
Even if one of those players shows enough to be trusted with a roster spot beyond the deadline, the Red Sox will surely decide to add a complementary piece. If there’s a conceivable everyday player in the organization, it’s 20-year-old top prospect Rafael Devers. He’s performing quite well at Double-A, with a robust .291/.354/.550 slash and 14 home runs. The organization has not seen fit to move him up to Pawtucket, though other impressive young players have bypassed Triple-A on their way to Boston in the past. Devers is definitely worth keeping an eye on, but even if he’s the man, you’d probably expect some kind of contingency or veteran complement.
So, let’s look elsewhere to see what the Red Sox could find via trade:
Potentially Available Veterans
The most obvious trade candidate on the hot corner market is Todd Frazier. His once-potent bat has cooled since he landed with the White Sox at the start of 2016, as he has struggled to maintain a palatable on-base percentage while also maintaining his power output. Last year, Frazier swatted forty bombs but made it aboard at a subpar .302 clip. He’s up to a .322 OBP in 2017, with his walk rate climbing all the way to 13.6%, but that’s accompanied by a .212 batting average and lessened power output (.216 ISO; 13 home runs).
Frazier has hit better in June, and can still handle third, but he’s also earning $12MM; with approximately $9MM in available space before hitting the luxury tax, adding his full salary might hamstring the team’s efforts to add other pieces. While the White Sox would no doubt be willing to hold onto some of the cash, that’d increase the prospect pain to get a rental player who comes with quite a few questions.
There are some alternatives, of course, though some potential trade candidates currently don’t look like options. With the Royals streaking, Mike Moustakas no longer seems likely to be made available. The Angels sit two games over .500, so the steady but unspectacular Yunel Escobar is probably staying put. Neil Walker of the Mets could conceivably move over to third, though he hasn’t played there at all since 2010, but he’s dealing with a significant hamstring injury and is owed $17.2MM this year.
More likely targets include old friend Jed Lowrie (Athletics), the sturdy Howie Kendrick (Phillies), Eduardo Nunez (Giants) and seemingly disgruntled ex-shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (Mets). With Oakland engineering a youth movement, Lowrie is eminently available; he has hit well and stayed mostly healthy this year. Kendrick has excelled at the plate and brings wide defensive versatility, though he has lined up at third for just 132 innings in his lengthy career. Nunezm who will soon return from a minor leg injury, has emerged as a solid hitter bat and brings some defensive versatility to the table. With the Giants buried in the NL West, Nunez, who is a free agent at season’s end, seems like a good bet to be traded. As for Cabrera, his beef with the Mets involves a desire to remain at shortstop, but perhaps he’d still be amenable to lining up elsewhere. A solid hitter, Cabrera has barely seen any action at third in the majors, though he has spent plenty of time on the left side of the infield.
Beyond this group, it requires a bit more creative thinking. Zack Cozart is a wizard at short who the Reds will no doubt be shopping. He has hit quite well this year and is a pure rental piece. With questions about market demand at the more demanding position, perhaps he could slot in at the hot corner. But Cozart is currently on the DL, as is Padres infielder Yangervis Solarte. In his case, he’d be a solid addition, but his cheap future control likely increases the asking price. Boston may or may not have much interest in paying for those future rights; the contract could always be flipped in the winter, though again that’s a complicating factor. Pirates veteran David Freese could be a steady addition, though he has cooled after a strong start to the year. Then again, the Bucs aren’t yet buried and likely see added value in his affordable contract given the vast uncertainty surrounding Jung Ho Kang. If the club elects to pursue more of a utility option, Freddy Galvis of the Phillies could conceivably be considered, though he owns a lifetime .282 on-base percentage. While the Marlins would surely like to move the sizable contract of Martin Prado, he has been hurt and/or ineffective for much of the season and is owed a hefty $28.5MM over the two ensuing campaigns.
If noted deal-maker Dave Dombrowski decides to set his sights higher, he’ll likely have his work cut out for him. The two teams bringing up the rear in the AL East — the Blue Jays and Orioles — just happen to control two of the very best third basemen (and overall players) on the planet. But there’s no indication at this time that either Josh Donaldson or Manny Machado are available, let alone that these organizations would be pleased to send them to a division rival for the next one-and-a-half years. The prospect haul would be astronomical in either case, and there’d be competition from other organizations, though surely Dombrowski would be involved if there’s any possibility of adding such a premium player.
Perhaps the best fit, from the Sox’ perspective, would be the legendary Adrian Beltre. He’s not cheap, with an $18MM salary this year and next, but he’s back to playing at a top level after missing the first part of the year due to injury. Unless the Rangers completely fall apart over the next several weeks, though, he’s staying put. (Even if they do fall out of the Wild Card hunt, he could be retained.) Similarly, while the Cardinals are in a tenuous postseason position, they don’t seem to be primed for a major tear-down. That makes Jedd Gyorko a questionable target in terms of availability.
We touched upon the Bucs above, but their more attractive hot-corner possibility would also be harder to get. Josh Harrison is in the midst of a resurgent 2017 season, with an excellent .291/.369/.458 batting line. Plus, his outstanding versatility and athleticism, along with an affordable contract, makes him an asset that would give any team roster flexibility in the seasons to come. The Pirates know that, too, which is why he’d likely command a rather significant return.
The other more significant possibilities seem like real stretches. Maikel Franco could be made available by the Phillies, but that’s only because he has struggled so badly; that doesn’t make him a terribly sensible player to pursue. Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler would be a nice addition to the lineup, and comes with a palatable option for 2018, but he hasn’t seen significant action on the left side of the infield since he was in A ball. (Kinsler also has a ten-team no-trade clause, though it’s not known if it includes the Red Sox.)
If the above effort tells us anything, it’s that there are loads of options out there. Just what direction the Sox take will be dictated by some of the internal developments as well as the way the market moves. Working in Dombrowski’s favor here, it seems, is the fact that few other contenders will be looking specifically at third base. At the end of the day, even if Sandoval or one of the other current Red Sox players play a part in the rotation at third, it seems quite likely that there’ll be some kind of addition on or before July 31st.