Kevin Youkilis, maybe you heard, has been traded. If you had asked a week ago to predict the next Red Sox player to be dealt, Youkilis would have been pretty close to a unanimous pick.
Well, how about now?
Full disclosure: I don't think the Sox are trading anyone of significance this season. This is a team that will be buying, not selling, at the deadline. I still have no idea if this is a playoff team, but basically nothing has gone right for the first 75 games of the season and the 2012 Red Sox stand a game and a half out of the second wild card spot. It could be a commentary on the rest of the American League -- it is a commentary on the rest of the American League -- but the truth is this: The Red Sox are going to be in the playoff hunt the rest of the season. So everyone stays.
But there's always the offseason, and next season. Right now there is an astonishing amount of money being spent with virtually zero contribution from a number of players on this team. Will the Sox concede defeat and try and move on by just dumping one of those guys? Or maybe it will be a malcontent who finally crosses that line, or a player they simply know they cannot sign.
So here we go -- who's next? This is only the A-listers (players with at least $30 million contracts, tough to predict Matt Albers and Nick Punto types) with multi-year deals (again, I don't think they are selling this year, and it sure won't be David Ortiz.) Oh, and Jacoby Ellsbury.
Let's take a look ...
Carl Crawford (200-1):
Carl Crawford was paid $14.8 million last season and was, statistically, one of the worst starting outfielders in Red Sox history. Carl Crawford is being paid $19.5 million this season and hasn't played a single game. I think it's safe to go ahead and assume he isn't going to be worth the money again this season. So that's two years (and $34.3 million) of nothing approaching value. And we arrive at the problem: These are supposed to be the best years of Crawford in Boston. Anyone think Carl Crawford is going to be earning his keep when he's making $20.7 million at age 34 in 2016 or $21 million in 2017? Nope, this contract was a clear overpay with an unspoken understanding that the sixth and seventh seasons were just there to make sure Crawford signed. Listen, it all could turn around and Crawford could be the guy from 2010 -- hard to believe that two years ago he finished seventh in MVP voting in what was probably his best season -- but right now this contract is an albatross, a looming disaster with significant ramifications. The only way the Sox could move Crawford right now is to swallow a huge portion of the salary, and that would be paying $60, $70 million to admit failure. There might be a time in the life of this contract where it makes sense to trade Crawford, but that's years away.
Adrian Gonzalez (200-1):
Assuming that this is just one of those seasons -- which, given the track record, I suppose is probably accurate -- he's still part of the long-term solution, right? There's a reason the Sox paid him $154 million, and he earned the money last season. I still believe it's far more likely he'll be one of the five or six best hitters in baseball next season than repeat what we've witnessed over the last three months. This is different than Crawford -- if Ben Cherington and John Henry were being truthful they'd tell you, if they could do it all over again, they would not sign Crawford (Henry's already basically said just that). That's not the case with Gonzalez.
John Lackey (200-1):
Crawford's deal looks like a steal next to Lackey's -- three years down, $47 million bucks with zero return. We all think Crawford will at least be OK eventually, right? Even if he never matches his peak in Tampa the ultimate pessimist still believes he'll be an average major-league outfielder when he comes back. Agreed? That expectation does not exist with Lackey. His first season in Boston was (correctly) viewed as a flop in 2010 -- 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 33 starts. A disastrous return for the money but the reality is the Red Sox would sign for those numbers from Lackey in 2013 and 2014. Right now he's immovable, of course. If he's decent over the next couple of years and the Sox stink in 2014 -- don't forget, Lackey is going make the major-league minimum in 2015 -- they could probably spin him off in a Youkilis-type move. But that's the only scenario.
Dustin Pedroia (100-1):
Signed through 2015 ($8 million this year, $31 for the following three seasons), I think he finishes his career in Boston provided a) he doesn't expect his next contract to equal whatever Robinson Cano signs for (the Yankees will absolutely overpay t, o keep Cano) and b) there isn't some point of no return between Pedroia and the organization over Bobby Valentine. I'm not suggesting that the Sox would, if it ever came to it, choose Valentine over Pedroia, or even that Pedroia would try and force Valentine out. But look, you don't have to be Woodward and Bernstein (or Bob Hohler) to figure out that Pedroia and Valentine aren't exactly Pedroia and Francona. Could be it's Pedroia's fault, could be it's Valentine's fault, but that's almost immaterial at this point. Again, I don't think it'll ever be a deal breaker -- Pedroia is almost certainly going to outlive Valentine in this organization, and probably the two managers after -- but I suppose the possibility exists that something happens that leads to Pedroia demanding a trade.
Jon Lester (50-1):
The last two years I have written the "Would you trade Jon Lester for any pitcher in baseball?" column. That was taking everything into account -- age, durability, established performance level, postseason history, AL vs. NL, current contract status, all that stuff. Two years ago -- and this will look like a different language to you, it does to me -- there wasn't another pitcher in baseball I would have swapped Jon Lester for. At the time -- this was in the middle of a 19-9, 3.25 ERA season coming after two very good seasons in 2008 and 2009 (combined 31-14, with ERA's of 3.21 and 3.41). Last year (I wrote the column pre-September) there were three. Now there have to be at least a dozen, closer to two dozen. Watching Lester fail to make that leap to Cy Youngdom, fail to become what seemed a certainty two, three years ago is plenty frustrating. But from a trade perspective, it still doesn't make a lot of sense to investigate moving Lester. He was expected to be an ace, sure, but he isn't paid like one (making $5.7 million this year and $32 million over the next three years) and his value is presently as low as it's ever going to be. The difference from two years ago is this: The Sox likely feel the same ways as you and I do about Lester -- greatness isn't going to happen. So if the deal comes along that works they'd be more apt to move him. But even at $10 million a year the Jon Lester we've seen over the last few months isn't a wipeout. And there's no chance they are moving him just to move him, they aren't in a 60 cents on the dollar position with Lester.
Clay Buchholz (50-1):
Very similar to Lester -- extremely manageable contract (plus an established track record plus potential upside) at a position where decent, average production is a valued commodity. Not going anywhere unless Sox truly covet a particular player, will not be traded just to be traded.
Josh Beckett (25-1):
Strange situation in that the Sox probably don't have a lot of interest in trading Beckett (his trade value is low but he can still pitch when healthy for a team that is in a wild card race and isn't exactly lousy with terrific starting pitching) and no team is particularly interested in Beckett. Could that change in a year, if Beckett stays healthy and pitches well? Sure, I could see a trade with Texas (don't forget Beckett is a 10-5 guy), for example. But the Sox would have to pay a portion of Beckett's salary, and wouldn't get much back. And you'd think that if Cherington/Lucchino/Henry were going to move Beckett just to move him that would have happened already.
Jacoby Ellsbury (5-1):
This was sealed the second Crawford signed his contract. The Sox clearly didn't believe in Ellsbury (they spent $142 million on Crawford and $15 on Mike Cameron, and that's perfectly understandable. No one -- not a single person -- thought Ellsbury was capable of what he produced in 2011. But it happened, and Scott Boras isn't interested in hometown discounts. He'll tell you the injuries were a result of a pair of fluke plays -- and that's true -- and I'm sure he thinks that if Ellsbury can come back and play anywhere close to his 2011 level over the next year and a half he's a $160 million player. If you're Boras, doesn't negotiations with the Sox start at $142 million? Ellsbury is younger than Crawford and a higher established peak level -- Crawford has never been as good as Ellsbury was in 2011. If you believe the Sox operate within a budget, and if you believe they won't eat half the contract to move a Crawford, then they simply cannot afford Ellsbury. And that's why he'll be traded next season.