All-Star Breakdown: Who stays and who goes on Sox?

All-Star Breakdown: Who stays and who goes on Sox?
July 16, 2014, 2:00 pm
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It's been a while since the Red Sox have approached the trade deadline with seemingly little hope of reaching the post-season.
     
Even in 2012, when the Sox finished with their worst record since 1966, the team was above .500 in late July. It wasn't until August that the team began its real free-fall in the standings.
     
Ordinarily at this time of year, the Red Sox have been one of the teams searching to make deals for players whose contracts are set to expire. This year, the roles are reversed.
     
Being out of the race could offer the Red Sox a rare opportunity: a chance to turn some of their free-agents-to-be into valuable resources will help speed up the team's return to contention.
     
Not everyone, however, should be dealt away. Here's a list of which players nearing free agency should be dealt -- and which should be retained.

     
DEALT: Burke Badenhop, Craig Breslow, Koji Uehara, Jonny Gomes, Jake Peavy.
     
Peavy, of course, is as good as gone. General manager Ben Cherington as much as told him so last week when the rumors of being shipped out became pervasive.
     
Peavy has handled the external speculation and talk like a pro, tuning it out as he prepares for his starts while acknowledging the near-inevitability of a trade.
     
While some reports had Peavy being dealt before the All-Star break, it could be a while before he's traded. He's no longer the elite starter whom teams fight over, though given the closeness of the N.L. Central race and the sheer number of National League teams within shouting distance of a wild-card spot, there could be some bidding that develops.
     
(It was interesting to note that the Sox have Peavy pitching fifth -- and last -- coming out of the break -- indicating the likelihood that he'll be dealt.)
     
Bullpen help is almost always one of the areas contenders are seeking at the deadline. An extra veteran reliever can improve an entire bullpen, and in the case of a top closer, transform a pennant pretender in a favorite.
     
Breslow has pitched poorly this season for the Red Sox, but because he's lefthanded and experienced, there's likely a team willing to take a chance that he's got something left to contribute for the final two months.
     
Badenhop had three brutal appearances in a row in which he allowed seven runs while recording two outs. That stretch served to inflate his ERA -- still a very respectable 2.93 -- but he finished the first half with a better outing that suggested he had figured a few things out.
     
Badenhop isn't closer material; he may not even be considered for high-leverage set-up work, since he doesn't strike hitters out.
     
But for teams looking for a dependable seventh-inning guy, one capable of getting groundouts -- and thus, double plays -- he'd be a nice addition for some team.
     
There have already been reports of Kansas City's interest in Gomes, who's on the final year of a two-year deal. He'd be a smart pickup for a team that hasn't won before, since he can bring some valuable intangibles to an inexperienced team fighting for a playoff spot. And while he has't had the kind of year he had a year ago, he still has an .842 OPS against left-handed pitching.
     
Trading him would also open some playing time in an increasingly crowded outfield picture in Boston. Shane Victorino should be back within a week, and when he takes over in right, with Jackie Bradley playing well enough to retain the majority of playing time in center, the Sox will be looking to find at-bats for Mookie Betts, Brock Holt, Daniel Nava and Mike Carp.
     
A decision on Uehara is the most difficult one to make from among this bunch because he's been arguably the most reliable closer in the game since last July 1. Without his ninth-inning brilliance last season, the Red Sox don't win the World Series -- it's that simple.
     
But Uehara will be 40 next April, making it virtually impossible for the Red Sox to try to extend him for one more year. Sure, they could keep him and extend him a qualifying offer in November, but that would be a significant overpay at some $15 million.
     
The best path would be to shop him and see how high the bidding gets. Think of what Uehara would mean to the Los Angeles Angels, who lead baseball in blown saves but are just a game and a half out of first in the A.L. West.
     
For that matter, think of what he could do for the Detroit Tigers. Or the San Francisco Giants. Or a couple of other teams.
     
Uehara is still an elite closer. If the Sox are truly convinced that they are out of the playoff chase, they'd be wise to maximize his value by trading him. There'd be nothing stopping them from trying to re-sign him this winter.

  
RETAINED: Andrew Miller, Jon Lester, David Ross.
     
Miller had a rough stretch back in May when he found himself as the losing pitchers in four walkoff defeats in the span of 11 days. But over the last two years, having finally conquered his longstanding command issues, Miller has become a dominant late-inning weapon, able to get both lefties and righties out with consistency.
     
There's some debate about whether he could ever handle the closer's role, but failing that, he certainly has proven to be an invaluable late-inning pitcher. His 14.4 strikeouts per nine innings is eye-popping.
     
Ross may or may not be brought back for 2015. Like the recently dispatched A.J. Pierzynski, Ross is 37 and there are part of his game that have slipped. His current .600 OPS is the lowest of his career and even his throwing isn't what it used to be. Ross threw out 26 percent of would-be basestealers in the first half, which is a tick below the league average.
     
But the Sox need his veteran presence on the roster, and he can play a critical role in helping Christian Vazquez acclimate to the big leagues. No position requires more learning than that of catcher and no veteran can fill that role as well as Ross.
     
Lester, naturally, is the biggest decision of all, since he has, by far, the most value of anyone on this list. Yes, the Sox could get a boatload for him, though, perhaps not as much as some believe since he's only under control for another 2 1/2 months.
     
But given that Lester has repeatedly stated that it's his strong preference to remain with the Red Sox and given that the team certainly has the resources to retain him, every effort should be made to do that.
     
The Red Sox need a front-line starter to go with the aging John Lackey, the inconsistent Clay Buchholz and the host of promising -- but largely unproven - young starters stockpiled in their system. Giving up on Lester would be tantamount to giving up on 2015, which the Sox should avoid at all costs.
     
(For a more complete look at the case for keeping Lester, see last week's column.)