There has been a lot of that kind of talk going around.
You know the kind. The kind of talk that involves the Red Sox going after any superstar perceived to be anywhere close to the trading block as the trade deadline approaches. The star of this year’s show? Carlos Beltran.
Beltran is very much on the market for the Mets and there have been several reports linking the Red Sox to him. Some of them are probably true. No doubt, Theo Epstein wouldn’t be doing his job as the team’s General Manager if he didn’t at least kick the tires.
It’s also true that the Red Sox have been looking for more production from the outfield – Crawford has disappointed and been hurt and J.D. Drew appears to already be enjoying retirement – and have been concerned about getting another right-handed bat in the lineup. Beltran is a switch-hitting outfielder, serving both of those needs for the Sox.
But the fact of the matter is as good a hitter Beltran is, a bat is not the team’s primary concern at this point.
Red Sox fans received some good news this week when reports out of the front office said that the team expects Clay Buchholz back and that the back issues that have kept him out will not require him to miss much more significant time. But if anyone thinks that pitching is not a concern for this team, they are sorely mistaken.
The Red Sox entered the season with a pitching staff that, in an ideal world, would have been better than almost anybody’s in baseball, and certainly in the American League. Confidence in Buchholz and Jon Lester was high. Questions surrounded John Lackey and Josh Beckett, but few anticipated the horrendous seasons they endured in 2010 to repeat themselves. Daisuke Matsuzaka, while frustrating, would still be better than the fifth starter on almost any other team.
Indeed, Lester has lived up to expectations and Beckett has drastically surpassed them. However, as a team, the Red Sox’ ERA is 3.91, good for eighth in the American League. Outside of Lester and Beckett, the rotation has been held together with bubble gum and scotch tape. Lackey sports an ERA of 6.70. Matsuzaka is out for the year. Buchholz, while very good when healthy, hasn’t pitched since June 16. Suddenly the likes of Tim Wakefield, Andrew Miller and Kyle Weiland have become necessities in the rotation.
With that said, if Buchholz returns and can stay healthy, in a short series, he, Beckett and Lester are a formidable trio that can be counted on in a short series.
In the bullpen, the Red Sox face questions. Jonathan Papelbon has been solid. His setup man Daniel Bard has been superb. However, there have been struggles beyond that. Bobby Jenks, who was expected to be a key cog for this team, has been injured and ineffective. Alfredo Aceves and Matt Albers have filled their roles well, but Aceves especially has shown signs of inconsistency. The Red Sox had appeared to have found something in former starter Rich Hill, but Tommy John surgery ended his year. Franklin Morales has been used sparingly since being acquired from the Colorado Rockies.
Clearly, pitching is a much more pressing need for the Red Sox than another bat, especially in the bullpen. Should anything happen to Papelbon or Bard, the question won’t be whether the team can close out games in the ninth, but how they will be able to get to the ninth.
In terms of bullpen help, the biggest names are most likely out of reach. Francisco Rodriguez was already traded by the Mets to the Brewers. Heath Bell is probably untouchable to the Red Sox because of the number and quality of prospects the San Diego Padres would want in return. Mike Adams has reportedly been told by San Diego that he won’t be relocating at all. It is more likely the team could take a chance on Matt Capps, should the Twins decide they are out of contention, Grant Balfour, who has had a great season for Oakland in a middle relief role, but has not fared so well when given save opportunities, or Craig Breslow, the former Red Sox farm hand who had bounced around the past couple of years before finding a niche as a left-handed specialist for the A’s.
Staring pitching talent on the trade market appears to be thin, and while the Red Sox have been linked to the Cubs’ Matt Garza in rumors, its doubtful the Red Sox will want to pay what the Cubs would be looking for in prospects. The Red Sox most likely will give Wandy Rodriguez a look, but the same principle may apply. With such a shallow market, expect a cheaper option. Derek Lowe could be intriguing and cheaper, given the depth of Atlanta’s pitching staff and while they might not want to trade within the division, Jeremy Guthrie is a solid pitcher whose pitiful record is more the result of the team that backs him up in Baltimore than his performance on the mound.
Giving Jacoby his due
Early on in his career, I was a Jacoby Ellsbury hater. I admit it.
Ellsbury, with his soft bat and blazing speed scared me because more than anything, he reminded me of Vince Coleman, who lit the world on fire, stealing more than 100 bases in his first three seasons. But by 29, Coleman wasn’t the same. Sure, some of that was due to his personal indiscretions, but I think more of it had to do with the fact he rarely drove the ball and hardly ever walked. Once his speed wasn’t quite what it once was, he started posting sub-.700 OPS numbers.
I saw a similar approach to hitting in Jacoby Ellsbury early on and it concerned me.
Consider me concerned no more. After coming into this season with 20 career homers, Ellsbury now has 15 on the season. Include his 26 doubles and two triples and you’ve got a player in the top 10 in the league in extra base hits. Ellsbury is keeping his weight back and driving the ball rather than thinking about getting out of the batters’ box quickly and it’s paying dividends.
With this added power, his stolen base totals may be lower, but he now is a much more versatile threat and that makes him very dangerous.