But alas, the trade deadline exists. And that means that now that it's about two weeks away — Tuesday, July 31, is when players turn into a pumpkin — speculation gets its most glorified moments of the year.
The Red Sox are no exception when it comes to trade rumors. Whether it be retooling for starting pitching help (which Boston has obviously needed all year) or the perilous speculation that can derail a team just by suggesting someone like Carl Crawford is bound to go, all kinds of moves appear to be up for grabs.
But realistically, the Sox are only in the market for two things. First, they must find a way to get a return on the excellent stock of outfielders they have acquired over the injured-riddled season. While Jacoby Ellsbury and Crawford will stay, the Sox have only one spot left for the contributions of Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney, Daniel Nava and Scott Podsednik.
Second, Boston must find answers for its rotation. After a season where the starting pitchers have been far below expectations and career norms, continuing to wait for them to rehabilitate themselves is a less conducive option than raiding the trade market. Ryan Dempster and Zack Greinke are the biggest names being floated in connection with the Red Sox right now.
But the Red Sox need to be careful, because midseason trades are just as dangerous as they are enticing. While it may make sense to deal an outfielder or two, the Sox already know that they're not interested in changing their roster too much, and they definitely don't want to damage the farm system to get second-half help. That means, when it comes to the starting rotation, Boston's best option is to stand pat.
The main reason why the Sox shouldn't make a big trade to help the rotation rests on who the team already has. Boston's starters can be divided into two categories: the albatrosses and the unproven.
The albatrosses would be the guys who are supposed to be the big pieces of the rotation, who have had great seasons in the past and are an integral part of the team and culture. Jon Lester (5-7, 4.80 ERA) and Josh Beckett (5-7, 4.44) are the two key figures in this category. Both are performing far below expectations, but both have been solid before. Dealing them would not just be complicated — it would be unheard of. The Sox would get much less in return than what they could expect if the two pulled it together for Boston. Furthermore, with Lester and Beckett being such a big part of who the Red Sox have been in recent years, moving either of them would be far more than a player swap — it would be a statement of some kind. This is a season where Boston needs less statements and more stability.
Also fitting in the albatross category is Daisuke Matsuzaka (0-3, 6.65). He's been downright bad this year, but he was coming off of Tommy John surgery, and his recovery included an additional injury to his neck and back. While many are tired of Matsuzaka failing to perform up to expectations, he's shown he still has ability. The catch has been finding a way to get that ability to work in the Red Sox' favor. The biggest problem with Matsuzaka, of course, is his history with the team. He was brought in as a high-priced prize, and he's been retained on trust. Moving him would once again be some kind of statement in a place where the Red Sox just need another starter.
The problem with the albatrosses is that all three pitchers provide more value for the Red Sox than they do another team, and thus any trade would be a detriment to Boston.
Those three pitchers — Lester, Beckett and Matsuzaka — are really the key to what has happened to Boston's season due to its starting pitching. It's not that the team doesn't have good pitching. The bullpen, which started off horribly, has fallen into a rhythm that's been envied by the rest of Major League Baseball. Clay Buchholz began the season by allowing five runs every start, then righted himself to the point where he was among the best in the league before a side trip to the disabled list.
But of all the good pitching Boston has enjoyed this season, the best by far has come from unexpected sources — the unproven pitchers. Felix Doubront, Aaron Cook and Franklin Morales all entered this season with different stories. Each had a past that suggested he could be good if given an opportunity. Then, once injuries and ineffectiveness shook up the rotation, each showed that he could be more than capable for the team.
The problem is that the Red Sox don't have enough room for Doubront, Cook and Morales. Doubront has had his rotation spot all year, but Cook and Morales have been the odd men out at different times — most recently Morales, who was sent back to the bullpen Tuesday night after lifting the team several times in his spot starts. Cook has been so good for the Red Sox lately (four starts, 27 innings pitched, five earned runs, one complete game) that it would be lunacy to skip him. But Boston has seven starting pitchers (now six with Morales gone). An uncomfortable decision has to be made, and someone has to see his role reduced.
But the last thing the Red Sox should be doing is trading for another arm.
Unless the team has a long-term plan for jettisoning the pitchers who haven't been up to par this season, pitching trades shouldn't be on the Red Sox' minds going into the deadline. They have more than enough to work with in a rotation that is finding help from all corners. What the Sox need is for each starter to continue to improve, and to find a way to balance their workloads down the stretch so the team can make the most of what it already has.
The Red Sox are lucky to have a wealth of talent at several positions. Finding a way to use it all is far superior than resorting to trades.