With just over a week until the Trade Deadline, the decision to sell or stand pat looms for Red Sox and Rays
Less than two weeks ago, I wrote about the Red Sox youth movement, and how at that point in the season, with the playoffs an ever-fading dream, grooming a team for 2015 was far more important that fielding a competitive one in 2014. Because of this, I encouraged them to trade everyone. Jake Peavy, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, Koji Uehara – anyone who wasn’t expected to make a serious contribution in 2014 was on my chopping block. The Red Sox were 42-51, headed nowhere, and appeared to be throwing in the towel on 2014. I applauded this.
Two months before that, I wrote about why the Tampa Bay Rays needed to trade David Price. At the time, the Rays were in last place at 16-22, and Price was struggling with a 3-3 record and an ERA over 4.50. I lobbied for the trading of Price to replenish their farm system, as Price’s value wasn’t getting much higher and the Rays weren’t getting much better. Why keep Price and risk losing him to free agency down the road if you can get something for him now, especially during a lost season in which they really didn’t need him?
Why bring these things up again now? Because we are nine days away from the trade deadline, and I have no idea what these teams should do now. The Red Sox and Rays have each won five in a row. For Boston, that’s wins in 8-of-9. For Tampa, it’s 6-of-8 and 9-of-12. The Red Sox now stand at 47-52, 7.5 games behind Baltimore in the AL East. Tampa is half a game behind the Sox at 47-53. Are these teams all the sudden playoff bound? Hardly. But this string of good play has put each team in a difficult position heading into the trading deadline.
The Red Sox essentially threw in the towel on 2014 two weeks ago when they DFA’d AJ Pierzynski and started trotting out lineups with four or five rookies at a time. The only problem is, it worked. The Sox have started winning again, and are as close to .500 as they’ve been in a long time. So what now? How does this affect the team’s mindset moving toward the deadline. Should it change it at all?
In a word; maybe. If the Red Sox keep winning leading up to the break, it will no doubt affect their deadline plans. Boston has six games against Toronto and three against the Rays before the deadline. Let’s say in those nine games, the Sox finish 7-2, putting them at an even 54-54 on the season, and something like 5-7 games out of first. Do they still act as sellers? Do they hold pat? Do they become buyers?
It’s hard to say, but my guess is closest to the “staying pat” thing. I think some trades happen regardless. Jake Peavy, win, lose, or draw, should likely be out of here. Reports indicate the Braves may be interested in reliever Andrew Miller – he can be traded too. Those aren’t going to drastically affect the rest of this season, and if the Sox can get something back for them, they should. But guys like Drew and Koji? There’s no way in hell Uehara gets traded if the Sox think they have a chance. Drew was brought in to make the team better; if they start winning, he stays too.
Now, this is fine, if they keep winning after the deadline. The worst thing that could happen would be Boston keeping guys like Uehara and Drew and Gomes, then falling apart in August and realizing they got nothing out of those players. For now though, the idea of trading off those character guys, or the older guys who they simply don’t need, has to be put on hold. If the Sox keep up with this sign of life they’ve been showing, there’s no way they still sell big at the deadline.
The case for Tampa Bay is a little more complicated. They really only have to make a choice on one guy, and that’s Price. Price has come a long way in two months; he’s gone from 3-3 with a 4.53 ERA to 10-7 with a 3.06 ERA. He leads the league in innings pitched and strikeouts. He’s David Price again.
This means two things for Tampa: one, he’s helping them climb out of the AL East basement and two, his value is even higher than it was back in May. There’s got to be at least 15 or 20 teams across baseball that would love Price’s service, and would be willing to pay top dollar for it. Just look what the Cubs got back for Jeff Samardzija; I’ve got to think Price is worth pretty close to that much. So what does Tampa do?
Like Boston, Tampa needs to be realistic. They’re still probably not going anywhere this season, and they still run the risk of losing Price in a year or two. He would fetch a ton of top talent, whether it be current Major League talent or, more likely, a top-tier prospect. Trading him would also 100% mark an end to the Rays season; without Price, they don’t compete. Decisions, decisions.
There’s no doubt this is a bigger risk, bigger reward situation for Tampa than for Boston. Boston has to decide whether to sell off their older, less important pieces now for whatever they can get for them. For guys like Peavy or Gomes, we’re talking chump change. Someone like Drew is probably not going to net much either, while someone like Uehara might fetch a B-prospect. Except for Uehara, we’re not even talking major impact guys for Boston; trading one of them isn’t going to change their outlook. Instead, the question is whether Boston wants to start selling all of them or none of them.
Tampa has a much better singular piece in Price, and one who would net the best haul. Tampa could grab a top prospect for Price, who may end up leaving Tampa for nothing once he hits free agency anyway. Unlike Boston though, Tampa can’t go halfway. They trade him or they don’t. They play for 2014, or they play for 2015 and beyond. They can’t toe the line.
Both Boston and Tampa have played their best baseball of the season of late. With eight or nine games left before the deadline – including three against each other – the next two weeks will be put up or shut up time for both of these teams. If either or both can reach .500 heading into the deadline, we may see what would have been a big-time seller pull an about-face. If either or both falters, they’ll open right back up. When I wrote about the Red Sox youth movement two weeks ago, and David Price being traded two months ago, I never imagined that, come deadline time, it would be this complicated. I suppose that’s baseball for you.