With the July 31 trade deadline coming up, what will the Boston Red Sox do?
They head into the All-Star break in first place in the American League East. The Red Sox can try to improve their team, and they have prospects galore to trade, if they want.
But why would they want to?
The Sox prospects that have proven their worth at Hadlock Field in Portland and McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, are the future at Fenway — and that’s not just a marketing slogan for the minor league teams.
Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts, Brandon Workman, Anthony Ranaudo, Garin Cecchini …
These are players that will bolster Boston in future years (and both Bradley and Workman are helping out right now).
Surely not every prospect that the Red Sox are grooming will make it. General manager Ben Cherington is making his list of untouchables and “trade-ables.”
When making that list, Cherington will look at what the Red Sox look like now — and what will they look like in the future. Among the factors on contracts and when players become free agents (eligibility begins after six seasons).
Here is what we see, position by position.
Regulars: Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront.
Contracts: Dempster is signed through 2014. Boston has contract options on Jon Lester (through 2014), Lackey (2015) and Buchholz (2017). Doubront is in his second season.
Future options: Allen Webster; Rubby De La Rosa; Steven Wright; Brandon Workman; Drake Britton; Anthony Ranaudo; Matt Barnes; Henry Owens.
This vital position is a strength for Boston. Webster, De la Rosa, Wright and Workman have already appeared in the majors. Britton just reached Pawtucket. Ranaudo and Barnes are in Portland, and Owens could be there at the end of the year.
So many arms give Boston depth to cover injuries (Buchholz), as well as opportunities to fill bullpen roles.
Boston would not hastily trade away a quality arm, given the cost of pitchers on the free-agent market (Dempster, a No. 4 starter, signed a two-year, $26.5-million deal with Boston).
Regulars: Koji Uehara, Andrew Bailey, Andrew Miller, Alfredo Aceves, Franklin Morales, Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa.
Contracts: Uehara is a free agent after this season. Bailey, Miller, Aceves and Morales are free agents after 2014. Boston has a club option on Breslow in 2015. This is Tazawa’s third season.
Future options: Alex Wilson, Daniel Bard, Jose De La Torre, Chris Martin, Brock Huntzinger, Chris Hernandez and Will Latimer.
No place features more turnover than the bullpen. Piecing together an effective group of relievers may be any GM’s biggest challenge. Boston has already lost closer Joel Hanrahan and Miller to injury (and Hanrahan is a free agent after this season).
This is one area where Boston may make a trade to improve although, as already mentioned, there are bullpen possibilities among Boston’s starting prospects.
Wilson has proven he can contribute. De La Torre has been called up to help sometimes. Bard remains a mystery as he tries to rebound from his command troubles. Martin and Huntzinger are coming on in Pawtucket. Hernandez and Latimer are both lefties in Triple-A, but not yet ready.
Regulars: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, David Ross and Ryan Lavarnway.
Contracts: Saltalamacchia is a free agent after this season. Ross is signed through 2014. Lavarnway is in his second season.
Future options: Christian Vazquez, Blake Swihart and Dan Butler.
Saltalamacchia strikes out a lot (95 times through Thursday), but he also is batting a respectable .272 with eight home runs. There has not been much chatter about Saltalamacchia’s thoughts on his future. If he and Boston part ways, the Red Sox still look solid. Ross, who is recovering from a concussion this year, can mentor Lavarnway next season. Both are better defensively than Saltalamacchia, and Vazquez appears to be the best of the bunch behind the plate. Meanwhile, bonus baby Swihart, 21, is developing in Salem.
Butler gives Boston insurance if it needs a solid back-up.
Regulars: Mike Napoli, Dustin Pedroia, Stephen Drew, Jose Iglesias
Contracts: Napoli and Drew are free agents after this season. Boston has an option on Pedroia in 2015. Iglesias is in his rookie season.
Future options: Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts, Brock Holt, Michael Almanzar, Garin Cecchini, Deven Marrero.
Hard to predict this position with so much young talent. Who figured that Iglesias would take Middlebrooks job at third base? And when Iglesias is filling in for Drew at short, Middlebrooks has remained in Pawtucket, with Holt manning the position.
Middlebrooks, however, still has a future with Boston. It might even be at first base — especially with Iglesias at shortstop and the Red Sox needing to find a way for Xander Bogaerts to break into the lineup (third base?).
But third base has another candidate for the future with Cecchini tearing up Double-A pitching so far (.385 through 18 games). And Marrero, in Salem in his first full pro season, may challenge at shortstop. Holt seems like a valuable utility players, while there may be no room for Almanzar.
Regulars: Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp.
Contracts: Ellsbury is a free agent after this season. Boston signed Gomes through 2014 and Victorino through 2015. Nava and Carp are in their third years.
Future options: Jackie Bradley Jr., Bryce Brentz, Ryan Kalish and Alex Hassan
Ellsbury is going to be looking for a big free-agent payday, which means Bradley may be the regular center fielder in 2014. There are no other sure bets among the prospects. Brentz is a streaky power hitter who is currently on the disabled list with a sore knee. Hassan has also been playing first base and may someday fill Carp’s versatile role. Kalish was once on the fast track but has spent too much time on the DL.
Regular: David Ortiz
Contract: Signed through 2014.
Future options: Plenty.
Who knew Ortiz would be so productive at age 37. But when his contract is up, would Boston gamble on a 39-year-old slugger in 2015? More likely, Boston will have a more versatile lineup after 2014, with different players filling in at DH (which may help keep Bogaerts, Cecchini and Middlebrooks in the lineup at one).
Boston appears to have a solid plan over the next couple of years, with younger players being groomed for future roles. Don’t expect Cherington to deal any of those sure-bet players.
But he will trade excess, even if it looks like a small deal. When it became apparent that first baseman Lars Anderson did not fit into Boston’s plans, he was dealt to Cleveland last year. In return, the Red Sox received Wright, the knuckleball pitcher who was Boston’s winning pitcher on Thursday night.
Fans in Portland have seen Boston trade prime prospects before (like Justin Masterson and Anthony Rizzo). And they have seen Boston groom others for a future at Fenway (Ellsbury, Pedroia, Lester, Buchholz, etc.).
As Boston gears for a drive to the playoffs now, we will see who they hold onto for later.
Kevin Thomas — 791-6411