INDIANAPOLIS – Big-name free-agent signings are well and good, but there is nothing so mesmerizing at the Winter Meetings as the possibility of a blockbuster deal. The implications of such deals are incredibly far-reaching, changing the face of an organization through both addition and subtraction.
The Winter Meetings act as a cauldron for rumors, both real and imagined. The presence of a vast number of executives, managers, agents and reporters under one room creates a unique chemistry, and the expectation that momentous deals will get done.
The mere mention of the availability of names such as Roy Halladay, Adrian Gonzalez, Miguel Cabrera and Felix Hernandez is enough to force almost every team to take stock of its inventory. The Red Sox are no different.
There is no doubt that the Sox will explore what it would take to make a deal for any major player on the market this offseason. That’s simply the way the club operates. That doesn’t mean that the club will make any deals – witness the extensive talks about Johan Santana following the 2007 season that ended in the left-hander going to the Mets. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that any team that makes a superstar available in a trade would take a hard look at the prospect package that the Sox could assemble.
That being the case, here is a look at the stockpile of trade chips that the Sox possess in Indianapolis. Of course, it goes without saying that team officials can choose not to ante some of them:
CLAY BUCHHOLZ: As has been pointed out many times this offseason, the Red Sox have a gap in their system right now. The team has graduated several players to the majors in the last few years, but the strength of the system currently lies in Double A and especially Single A.
Any blockbuster, however, will almost surely require at least one centerpiece player who can impact a major-league club in 2010. For that reason, it is essentially taken as an article of faith by major-league officials that Clay Buchholz would have to be included as part of any such deal.
Buchholz is everything that a team that is giving up an All-Star-caliber player would seek in return: proven at the major-league level following his excellent (7-4, 4.21) performance in the second half, with a top-of-the-rotation ceiling, young (25), healthy and affordable (he won’t be eligible for arbitration until after the 2011 season, and won’t reach free agency until after 2014).
For all of those reasons, the Sox would be reluctant to part with him. However, if they want to pull off a blockbuster, Buchholz is almost surely the cost of admission.
RYAN WESTMORELAND AND CASEY KELLY: Outfielder Ryan Westmoreland – who enjoyed a spectacular year in Single-A Lowell before suffering a broken collarbone that ended his year – and pitcher/shortstop Casey Kelly emerged as, arguably, the top Sox prospects in their minor-league system.
It is unsurprising, then, that the Sox have shown little willingness to consider moving either in a trade, and that there has been no suggestion that a change of heart is coming on either player anytime soon.
Westmoreland showed five-tool ability, even though he played outfield only towards the end of his season in Lowell while recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum. For Westmoreland, there is the need to stay healthy. All signs since his collar bone surgery have been positive. He was able to take part in the Sox’ minor-league strength camp earlier this month, and he will be throwing and hitting in January, with the expectation that he will be able to play a full season as an outfielder this year.
Kelly, meanwhile, was dominant as a pitcher in two levels of Single A, recording a combined 2.08 ERA for Greenville and Salem, before performing with less distinction as a shortstop in Greenville. Though Kelly has professed his delight in being a position player, based on the evidence to date, it would be tough to conclude that his ceiling is higher as a shortstop than pitcher based on his early pro career. The organization will meet with him in roughly the next week to discuss plans for 2010.
As good as he was on the mound, with the potential for three plus pitches (fastball, curve, change), there are some evaluators who believe his present stuff is not that of a top starter. But, if his fastball velocity ticks up as he matures, then he could become such a pitcher. The Sox, it would appear, believe there is a great likelihood that Kelly will achieve that status.
DANIEL BARD: Bard would also have significant trade value. The 24-year-old had an impressive big-league unveiling, recording a 3.65 ERA and striking out 11.5 batters per nine innings in 2009. Even so, he is unlikely to represent a centerpiece along the lines of Buchholz, since relievers have less value than starters.
RYAN KALISH AND JOSH REDDICK: The Red Sox have some interesting pairings of players at different positions throughout the organization. In the outfield, the team has both 22-year-old Josh Reddick and 21-year-old Ryan Kalish. Both made significant developmental strides in 2009.
Reddick has always had a unique ability to drive a baseball, but his free-swinging made him vulnerable. This year, he showed improved plate discipline while batting leadoff for Double A Portland, and he shows good outfield instincts as a corner as well.
Kalish, meanwhile, showed notable power after returning to health more than a year removed from surgery to repair a broken hamate in late 2007. (The procedure essentially prevented him from being able to strength train entering 2008, and so his power numbers tumbed.)
He got off to a torrid start in High A Salem, then after slumping through his first month at Double A Portland, pounded 13 homers down the stretch. He is also highly regarded as both a defensive player and base runner. Kalish has also shown a consistently strong command of the strike zone.
The emergence of both Kalish and Reddick means that one of the outfielders is likely expendable. Indeed, in trade talks this summer, the fact that Reddick’s name did float into rumors is likely a testament to the emergence of Kalish.
ANTHONY RIZZO AND LARS ANDERSON: First base presents another intriguing area in the Sox farm system. Rizzo had a brilliant season in his return from cancer, serving as a middle-of-the-order hitter at two levels of Single A and showing an ability to hit for average (.297), get on base (.368 OBP) and hit for power (12 homers). The 19-year-old also showed above-average defense at first.
The more advanced Anderson suffered his first professional struggle, hitting .233/.328/.345/.673 with just nine homers for Double A Portland. In the process, he lost some of his luster as the much-hyped top prospect in the Sox system entering 2009.
Still, evaluators for both the Red Sox and other clubs insist that Anderson’s plate approach remains excellent. The 2009 season, while acknowledged by all as a disappointment, may come to be viewed as an aberration. That said, it certainly dropped Anderson’s value in the trade market, and so the Sox would be selling low if they did deal him.
Even so, if the Sox made a move to acquire a power hitter, there is a decent chance that they would have to deal one of these two power-hitting prospects in return.
STOLMY PIMENTEL: Pimentel, 19, is viewed as having as high a ceiling as any Sox minor league pitcher except perhaps for Kelly. As such, he has been been kept largely off limits by the Sox in trade talks.
Pimentel, who spent 2009 with Single A Greenville, has struck out 8.3 batters per nine innings in his minor-league career, with better than a 3:1 strikeout:walk ratio. He has three potential plus pitches (fastball, change, curve), with a rangy 6-foot-3 frame that offers all kinds of projection for his fastball (currently a low-90s offering) and a swing-and-miss changeup that’s extremely advanced for his age.
FELIX DOUBRONT: Doubront turned in a very impressive 2009 season in Double A Portland, going 8-6 with a 3.35 ERA as a 21-year-old. The left-hander’s velocity bumped up this year, sitting in the low-90s and occasionally bumping up to 93 or even 94.
There are concerns about his pitch efficiency, but he produces strikeouts thanks to a solid fastball/changeup combination. Still, he has been treated as expendable
JUNICHI TAZAWA: Tazawa, 23, was unfazed by a major-league call-up in his first year of pro ball. He recorded a 2.55 ERA in the minors (splitting his time between Double A and Triple A). Some teams view him as more likely to end up being a reliever in the long term, but he surely showed enough in his first pro season to be a useful chip.
MICHAEL BOWDEN: Bowden, still just 23, is coming off a year in which he had the sixth-best ERA in the Triple A International League. Even so, his unusual delivery and lack of a dominating swing-and-miss pitch engender skepticism from scouts.
Multiple organizations consider his ceiling that of a back-of-the-rotation starter or reliever. He has produced excellent numbers at every minor-league level, but until he proves he can do the same in the majors, his value will remain modest for a player with his performance pedigree.
JED LOWRIE AND YAMAICO NAVARRO: Lowrie is the only major-league-ready position player whom the Sox could offer in a deal. But given that the team had to sign Marco Scutaro given the questions surrounding Lowrie’s ability to stay healthy, the Sox would have to sell low on the middle infielder. Still, if the Sox now view Scutaro as likely to be a bridge to Jose Iglesias, then Lowrie could be traded.
The same could be said of Yamaico Navarro, who entered the 2009 season with substantial promise, but saw his season derailed by a broken hamate. Though he put up good numbers in Salem (.319/.373/.543/.915), he could not sustain those numbers in Double A (.185/.270/.304/.573).