Red Sox Need To Resolve Right Field Issue Sooner Rather Than Later
July is just around the corner. After starting the year 2-10, the Red Sox have been among the best teams in baseball â€“ the recent four-game losing streak to San Diego and Pittsburgh notwithstanding. At 45-32, the ballclub has third best record in all of baseball, but that doesnâ€™t mean the team doesnâ€™t have problems.
To the contrary, the team has a laundry list of problems. After watching the bullpen struggle for most of last year, the front office made a significant investment in the relief corps last off-season â€“ intent on avoiding a repeat â€“ but the â€˜pen has been hit and miss most of this year, with injuries and poor performance in abundance. Former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks was signed as insurance (in case Jonathan Papelbon struggled); but while Pappy has been as good as ever, Jenks has been horrible and has been unable to function as an effective set-up man. Dan Wheeler, the RI-native who was supposed to be another quality arm tho would lengthen the bullpen, has an ERA of almost 6.00 as we close out June. Hideki Okajima could not throw strikes and was sent packing to Triple-A, but his 4.32 ERA is glowing when compared to Jenks (6.57) and Wheeler (5.96).
John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka have been an adventure, to put it kindly. Lackey pitches like he is in Wonderland almost every time he takes the moundâ€¦ youâ€™ll have to forgive opposing pitchers if they smile like a Cheshire Cat when he takes the ball. Daisuke is injured and likely will never pitch in a Red Sox uniform again. Into the breach stepped Tim Wakefield, who has posted a tidy 4.54 ERA thus far, but I remain skeptical that he can stand up to the consistent workload of a starting pitcher. Ultimately, the answer to the question of the fifth start may rest with Andrew Miller (who has given the club a pair of good starts) or prospect Felix Doubront.
And then there is the question of injuries. Jed Lowrie has again proven that he canâ€™t make it through an entire season without losing significant time to the disabled list. In the outfield, Ryan Kalish was lost for the year playing defense in Triple-A, and Carl Crawfordâ€™s injury has exposed the clubâ€™s lack of depth in the outfield (in both the major league and minor leagues) as we have had to suffer the likes of an aging Mike Cameron, journeyman Darnell McDonald and youngster Josh Reddick while waiting for the speedster to return to the lineupâ€¦ though, in fairness, Reddick has been fine in limited duty.
But all of these issues take a back seat to the performance â€“ or lack thereof â€“ of RF JD Drew, who has been a non-entity in the final season of his 5-year, $70 million contract. Itâ€™s gotten to the point where you want to check to see if the guy still has a pulseâ€¦ and the fact of the matter is that the ballclub cannot afford to have Terry Francona continue to write his name on the lineup card every day.
Something needs to be done â€“ NOW! Unlike Lackey, who pitches every fifth day, Drew is hurting the ballclub each and every day. He is an automatic out when he steps into the batterâ€™s box. His lack of productivity forced Terry Francona to bat McDonald in the five-hole last week (okay, I take that back, because NOTHING IN THIS WORLD should have compelled Tito to bat Darnell in the five-hole last weekâ€¦ in my opinion, THAT was one of the great brain cramps of all time!)
Still, it underscores the extent to which Drew is hurting his teammates and coaching staffâ€¦ so what is a GM to do?
The easiest solution is to stick with Reddick, who has impressed his manager and coaches since being called up after Crawford was injured. Now, I may be biased because Reddick and I became friendly a couple of years ago when he was playing for Portland, but it seems to me he provides the Red Sox with as much or more than Drewâ€¦ and he wonâ€™t cost the team a darned thing.
There are those who lost faith in Reddick when he struggled after his promotion to Pawtucket. I spoke with him at the time and he openly questioned the organizational emphasis on â€˜patience at the plateâ€™. He told me he had made it to the major leagues following the lessons taught to him by his father â€“ see the ball, hit the ball â€“ and said that the patient approach hadnâ€™t worked for him. After struggling out of the box, he reverted back to his old way of swinging at anything he could get the bat on (a la Kirby Puckett).
The team stuck with him at the time, despite his reverting back to his cut-and-slash approach. They ballclub wanted him to feel comfortable at the plate and didnâ€™t want to â€˜lose himâ€™. Last spring (2010) the organization re-emphasized the need to be patient â€“ and he recommitted to their approachâ€¦ and again he struggled. He watched Kalish and McDonald and Daniel Nava ascend to the major leagues as he toiled in relative obscurity in Pawtucket, but he stuck with the program. He grew as a ballplayer.
The fruits of those labors finally seem to be paying off though, admittedly, we are dealing with a small sample size. He is hitting .414 through 12 games. He has already accummulated five extra-base hits in just 29 AB (Drew has nine in 190 AB). And most importantly, he has shown increased patience at the plate, drawing four walks against four strikeouts (in his previous major league auditions â€” in 2009 and 2010 â€” he walked just three times while striking out 32 times).
Carlos Beltran, NYM
The Mets outfielder is enjoying a nice comeback season after three injury-shortened seasons. He is hitting .278, with 10 HR, and is one of several Mets who could be shipped off to re-stock a depleted farm system. The problem is the Red Sox will not have enough prospects to acquire him â€“ both in terms of the number and quality of prospects who are major-league-ready (or close to it).
First and foremost, it is unclear the Mets want to trade him, especially since they may have a shot at the playoffs. But of they do decide to trade him, itâ€™s certain he will fetch a nice bounty for the Metropolitans new front office tandem of GM Sandy Alderson and Asst GM JP Ricciardi. The Red Sox have already traded Casey Kelly and Anthony Rizzo (in the Adrian Gonzalez deal) and arenâ€™t going trade Doubront (who they made need in the big league rotation) or Jose Iglesias (who will be their starting shortstop sometime next season). It also seems unlikely they will trade Ranaudo â€“ their new Top Pitching Prospect and the guy who made it possible to part with Kelly. So whoâ€™s left? They wonâ€™t get much in return for prospects like Lars Anderson or Reddick (at least not until he proves he can be productive over an extended period of time)â€¦ and Kalish wonâ€™t bring much in return until he returns to action and proves he is healthy. Yamaico Navarro is a nice ballplayer, but he is a complementary piece who can come in and play several positionsâ€¦ heâ€™s not the kind of guy around whom you build a package for Beltran.
Many of the Red Sox better prospects are in the low-to-mid minor leagues, and it will be a year or two before they are viewed as a viable commodity by clubs looking for prospects who can help in the near future. A couple of them (ie, Bryce Brentz, Drake Britton) have taken a step backwards after recent promotions and have marginal trade value at the moment, though I believe they will both be very good players in the long run.
So for now it seems that a player like Beltran will be out of reachâ€¦
Earlier today a reader asked whether the Sox might acquire David DeJesus from the Oakland Athleticsâ€¦ but, personally, I believe the Sox would have much more interest in a guy like Willingham. First, Willingham would be a right-handed bat (DeJesus hits from the left side)â€¦ second, he has a lot more power than several of the other guys who may be on the trading blackâ€¦ and, third, we know that Theo Epstein REALLY likes him (he was the centerpiece of a proposal from the Florida Marlins back in 2008 in exchange for OF Manny Ramirez).
He has struggled offensively in Oakland (.231/.307/.410), but leads the team in homers (10). The main question surrounds whether he can play right field on a daily basis, as he has been a left fielder for the majority of his big league career (617 in LF, 35 in RF).
The question, as always, is price. He would come much cheaper than Beltran. The Athletics donâ€™t have much of a reason to hold on to him, as they are eleven games under-.500 and in last place in the AL West, but Billy Beane wonâ€™t just give him away. It will take a couple of prospects to get a deal done, but if the Aâ€™s would be satisfied with California-native Lars Anderson and a pitching prospect
(Kyle Weiland) this could be the answer to the Sox dilemma. (NOTE: With one-time prospect Daric Barton struggling over the last 2 years, Anderson could be VERY attractive to Beane & Company)