With the trade deadline just a few days away, I’m consistently asked what prospects the Red Sox may be willing to give up in a trade. The short answer is that no prospect in the Sox system appears untouchable, but there are undoubtedly several prospects that Theo Epstein will not part with without getting a proven impact major league player in return. While Epstein could surprise us with such a major move, it appears more likely that Boston is in the market for a couple role players to bolster its current roster at the deadline -- perhaps a right-handed hitting outfielder and/or a lefty reliever. Here’s a list of prospects Boston has to offer in trades, broken down into six categories.
Last week, my column outlined every prospect that the Red Sox have traded dating back to 2005. In that six-year period, one pattern is abundantly clear: the club does not trade blue chip prospects unless a proven All-Star like Adrian Gonzalez, Victor Martinez, or Josh Beckett is coming back in return. I don’t expect that pattern to change any time soon. This year’s blue-chippers include 3B Will Middlebrooks, OF Ryan Kalish, RHP Anthony Ranaudo, OF Josh Reddick, SS Jose Iglesias, C Ryan Lavarnway, OF Bryce Brentz, RHP Kyle Weiland, and possibly LHP Felix Doubront (let’s say he’s on the cusp).
Now I’m not saying that these players won’t be traded -- I’m saying they won’t be traded unless the Red Sox are getting a big name in return. In fact, I think there is somewhat of a chance that Reddick, Lavarnway, and/or Brentz could be traded this weekend, given that they are hot commodities that Epstein could consider “selling high” on in the right deal. Reddick’s value could be at an all-time high right now, given his stellar play with the major league club for the last few weeks, putting up a line of .362/.403/.619 for the season . Meanwhile, both Lavarnway and Brentz are having incredible seasons -- Lavarnway is hitting .318 with 27 home runs between stints in Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, while Brentz is hitting .321 with 22 home runs between stints in High-A Salem and Low-A Greenville.
For an example of a potential blue-chip trade that could go down, it’s been rumored the White Sox will make RF Carlos Quentin available for trade at the deadline. Quentin is a dead-pull hitter with solid plate discipline whose offensive game is well-suited for Fenway Park. While he’s a slightly-below average defender, he has a decent arm and has years of experience in right field. His 2011 salary, $5.05 million, is quite reasonable, and he’s also cost-controlled (under arbitration) through 2013. He’s the type of hitter that could hit .270 with 30+ doubles and 30+ home runs in the Red Sox lineup for years to come. Epstein may be able to get Quentin for a package of Reddick, Doubront, and a C-level prospect, perhaps RHP Ryan Pressly. If the club makes a major move, that’s the type of move I’d expect.
A second category of prospects that Epstein does not like to trade are young, raw, and projectable high-ceiling prospects. The club only trades these types of players on rare occasions, as these are the types of trades that can come back and bite you. In the instances when the Red Sox do deal these type of players, the trades aren’t made unless an impact player is coming back in return. Past examples include OF Reymond Fuentes (part of the Gonzalez deal), RHP Roman Mendez (part of the Jarrod Saltalamacchia deal), and OF Engel Beltre (part of the much-maligned Eric Gagne deal at the 2007 deadline).
Prospects who fall in this category this year are SS Xander Bogaerts, OF Brandon Jacobs, 2B Sean Coyle, 3B Garin Cecchini, LHP Drake Britton, OF Henry Ramos, RHP Madison Younginer, and RHP Raul Alcantara. Each of these players is several years away from the majors, but each also has the potential to become a perennial All-Star down the line. While there’s also a significant chance that many of these players bust on their climb up the organizational ladder and never even make it to the major leagues, typically the risk is too great to include this type of player in a deal unless a proven impact player is coming back in return.
That being said, any one of these players could be of major interest to other organizations, and therefore would be a nice second or third piece to throw in a major move. If the Sox are looking to pick up high-caliber players like SS Jose Reyes or RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, the team may be forced to give up at least one of these high-ceiling prospects, in addition to one or more of the blue-chippers listed above.
B-Prospects, Rule 5 Eligible/40-Man Roster
Epstein has recently admitted that there is a potential 40-man roster crunch coming this winter, as there is so much depth in the Sox minor league system. For this reason, several well-regarded prospects will be eligible for this winter’s Rule 5 Draft -- too many to protect on the 40-man roster. Boston could risk losing those players for essentially nothing in the Rule 5 Draft if they are left unprotected later this year, so the club will likely consider dangling some of these players in trades now. A few of these players are already on the 40-man roster, but their space could also be in jeopardy due to the pending roster crunch. Players in this category include IF Yamaico Navarro, 2B Oscar Tejeda, OF Chih-Hsien Chiang, RHP Stolmy Pimentel, C Tim Federowicz, OF Che-Hsuan Lin, 1B Lars Anderson, 1B Reynaldo Rodriguez, RHP Junichi Tazawa, LHP Cesar Cabral, RHP Stephen Fife, RHP Michael Bowden, C Luis Exposito, and RHP Jason Rice.
This is the pool of prospects that the Sox will likely be offering up in deals for role-player types, and each player has varying value to other clubs. Navarro is probably the most highly-regarded on the list. The Sox really like his offensive potential, defensive abilities, and versatility, and he’s probably slated as the utility infielder for the major league club in 2012. But he could also start for a lower-tier team, and thus might be more valuable to another team and could be available in the right deal. Similarly, Tejeda is a high-potential prospect, playing adequately given his aggressive placement in Portland at the age of 21. Likely slated for a move to 3B or the OF, Tejeda could have a lot of value for another club, and could bring back solid value in return, despite that he probably won’t have a spot with Boston until 2013.
Chiang, a 23-year-old left fielder, is putting up MVP-like numbers for Portland so far this year, with a line of .338/.398/.653 with 35 doubles and 18 home runs. Given that he’s considered a sub-par defender and doesn’t have much of a track record prior to this year, he could either be in the “sell high” category or the “let’s not take the risk that he keeps this up all the way to the major league level” category. If traded, it will be very interesting to see what type of value he brings back in return, as his rise up the prospect charts this year has been close to unprecedented.
Pimentel and Tazawa are both having poor statistical seasons, and as such have weakened trade value and probably aren’t going anywhere. Britton, considered one of the top pitching prospects in the system heading into 2011, has similarly struggled with Salem this year, thus the Sox likely value him more than what he would bring back in a trade. As such, he’s probably staying put as well.
Given Lavarnway’s emergence as a top offensive prospect, Federowicz and Exposito are probably the fourth and fifth players on the organizational catching depth chart. While it’s entirely possible that Lavarnway makes the big club out of the gate in 2012, if not there simply will not be room for all three catchers at Pawtucket next season. As such, one of Federowicz or Exposito could be on the block. Both project as major league backups at this point.
The rest of the list is comprised of players that likely have more value to other teams than to the Red Sox. Lin has the potential to be a terrific fourth outfielder in the National League, and perhaps even a starting center fielder for a small market club, but may not be in Boston’s long-term plans. Anderson could still develop into an Adam LaRoche type player, but he is obviously blocked in Boston by Gonzalez and hasn’t performed well enough to be given a shot at the designated hitter role in Boston. Rodriguez has put up monster numbers at every level since joining the organization in 2009, but he’s 25 playing in Double-A, and is similarly blocked at first base. Cabral, Fife, Bowden, and Rice all have the potential to be middle-to-late inning relievers for a second division team, but none are likely to receive ample opportunity with Boston in the short-term future.
Ultimately, if Epstein is looking to pick up a role player or secondary player like RF Jeff Francoeur, OF Josh Willingham, OF Ryan Ludwick, RHP Edwin Jackson, RHP Rich Harden, LHP Erik Bedard, LHP Craig Breslow, RHP Tyler Clippard, or RHP Mike Adams, the deal could be centered around prospects in this category.
Other B-level prospects who could be available in the right deal, but who are not Rule 5 eligible this winter, include RHP Alex Wilson, 1B Miles Head, LF Alex Hassan, 3B Kolbrin Vitek, RHP Brandon Workman, OF Jeremy Hazelbaker, and RHP Chris Balcom-Miller.
Wilson has excelled in a starting role with Portland this season to the tune of a 2.87 ERA, and could start pushing for a spot in Boston’s bullpen in 2012. But another team may value him as a long-term starter and be willing to give up decent value in return. Head (1.022 OPS with Greenville through June 28) and Hassan (.906 first-half OPS) got off to outstanding starts this season, but both have cooled off significantly over the last month, with Head’s decrease in production due to an adjustment period following a promotion to Salem, and Hassan’s partially due to a foot injury.
Vitek, Boston’s first-round pick in 2010, is doing just the opposite -- heating up after a subpar start to the 2011 season. He’s hitting .281 for the season with just 1 home run, but he’s batting .333 for the month of July. Likely to move to a corner outfield spot, he probably doesn’t have a ton of trade value right now given that’s he’s yet to show any power. Workman, Boston’s second-round pick in 2010, is in a similar situation. He has not impressed with Greenville, and thus his value lies in untapped potential which he’s yet to show in the professional ranks. He also can’t be traded until August 15, as he didn’t sign with Boston until August 15 last season.
Hazelbaker has an impressive combination of power and speed, posting 23 home runs and 92 stolen bases in 208 games during 2010 and 2011. However, his ability to make regular contact at the major league level is questionable, as he’s posted a career .246 batting average and has struck out in roughly 32% of his at-bats during his minor league career. Balcom-Miller, acquired from Colorado in a trade for Manny Delcarmen in August 2010, dominated A-Ball in 2010 and early 2011, but his 88-90 mph fastball has not played up since his Memorial Day promotion to Double-A.
C-level prospects can bring back role players other teams are looking to dump, or can also be used as peripheral pieces in multi-prospect trades. For example, the Red Sox traded OF Luis Sumoza for 1B/OF Mark Kotsay in 2008. Sumoza is now out of baseball. As another example, Boston gave up LHP Fabian Williamson to get utility man Eric Patterson last June. Patterson was later included in the Gonzalez deal, while Williamson is posting a 7.28 ERA between High-A and Double-A this season. Red Sox prospects who fall in this category this year include RHP Miguel Celestino, RHP Juan Rodriguez, RHP Ryan Pressly, RHP Kendal Volz, RHP Chris Martin, and RHP Caleb Clay.
Celestino and Rodriguez have both flashed high-velocity fastballs at Greenville this season, but have put up mediocre statistical performances. They are both prime candidates as third-player trade chips if a major deal were to go down at the deadline. Pressly, a 22-year old who has posted a 4.50 ERA with Salem, has drawn strong interest from other clubs and is also a solid candidate to be the second or third piece in a multi-prospect trade.
Volz and Martin have both excelled in relief roles with Salem, and would probably already be in Double-A in most other organizations. Clay, a former first round pick, has had a roller-coaster season in his first run through Double-A. While he currently has a 6.93 ERA for the Sea Dogs, he has shown the potential to be a very effective reliever in many of his outings, but he has also has had a few atrocious outings with Portland that have ballooned his ERA. Other teams may look at him as a reformation project.
Major League Surplus
The Red Sox also have a handful of players with major league experience that could be more valuable to other clubs or who could use a change of scenery, but these types of players are often dealt after the July 31 deadline and during the waiver trade period before August 31. Given their situations, these types of players typically have minimal trade value, but sometimes marginal value can be obtained in return. In the past, the Sox have occasionally traded these types of players for lower-level prospects or other team’s surplus. For example, the club traded RHP Ramon Ramirez to San Francisco for reliever Daniel Turpen last deadline. As another example, Boston sent Casey Kotchman to Seattle in January 2010, in a deal that netted Celestino and Bill Hall.
Okajima reportedly demanded a trade in June after being outrighted off of the 40-man roster, and has lingered in Pawtucket despite posting an 0.86 WHIP in 23 appearances. McDonald could be the victim of a roster crunch if and when J.D. Drew and Jed Lowrie return to the active roster, or if the Red Sox acquire an outfielder without giving up Reddick. Nava, who hit .407 in June, could help a small market team as a fourth outfielder, but he cleared waivers in May after a poor start to the 2011 season, meaning teams weren’t even interested in acquiring him just for waiver position at that point. Luna has extended major league experience and is posting a .759 OPS with 11 home runs for Pawtucket, and could serve as an injury fill-in for a team in need of a corner infielder.
Jenks is an intriguing trade possibility. He hasn’t worked out well in Boston, posting a 6.32 ERA, and the fact that he’s been on the DL three times this year won’t help his trade value. But he’s had obvious success in the past as an elite closer, and even posted 27 saves with the White Sox in 2010. Boston is on the hook for $6 million in salary for Jenks in 2012, and if some team is willing to take a flyer on him and eat all or most of that salary, Epstein is likely to listen.
Mike Andrews is the Executive Editor of SoxProspects.com and a special contributor to ESPNBoston.com.