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Red Sox could look to address future needs at deadline

07.25.11 at 11:40 am ET

The trade deadline is most commonly used to reinforce a club for the stretch run, but if one merely tries to read the trade tea leaves by looking at the shape of the 2011 Red Sox, it would fail to provide a complete picture of how the team approaches the buildup to July 31. After all, the Sox have made a habit of using the deadline not just to position themselves for the season at hand but also for the following campaign.

A year ago, the team addressed a potential offseason vacancy at the catching position (with Victor Martinez seen as likely to leave as a free agent) by trading for Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the middle of the year. It was a deal that reflected some foresight on the part of the club as well as serendipity to make a long-coveted player available at a low price. (For more on that, click here.) But the deal also underscored an important point: For the Sox, the trade deadline represents one of the few times during the year when you can make deals to address future needs, for a couple of reasons.

First, the deadline stimulates dialogue. Virtually every team is in contact with every other team as July 31 approaches. The result is a fairly complete inventory of available players. Secondly, late-July is a time when teams are engaged in a thorough process of critical self-evaluation, and so important assessments are made by teams about what they will need not just for the duration of an individual season but also beyond it.

Saltalamacchia is perhaps the best example of the Sox making a deadline deal motivated by the future (in no small part because the decision to acquire him was motivated almost solely by concerns for 2011 and beyond, and not by the 2010 campaign in which the trade occurred), but the deal to bring him to Boston from the Rangers is not the only one that the team has made with the future in mind. For instance, the deal to acquire Martinez from the Indians at the 2009 trade deadline reflected the Sox’ need to improve its catching in 2009 and the fact that there was no in-house solution at the position beyond that season; with Martinez, the team was able to acquire an everyday catcher who was under contract through 2010.

Similarly, the Sox were able to acquire Jason Bay at the 2008 trade deadline not only to replace the production of Manny Ramirez in 2008 but also to serve that function for the 2009 season, at a time when the Sox did not have a viable major league ready starting outfielder to assume such a role (especially given that the team had reached the point where exercising Ramirez’ option for the 2009 campaign was no longer a realistic scenario).

That being the case, in looking at what the Sox might try to do in the remaining days before the trade deadline this year, it is worth looking at the team’s needs not just for 2011 but also for 2012. Here is a sketch of the team’s needs for both this year and next:

SP — Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz (DL), John Lackey, Tim Wakefield, Andrew Miller

Beckett, Lester and Lackey are signed to long-term deals that have them under team control through 2014; Buchholz is under team control through 2017. Assuming that Buchholz is healthy, the Sox can likely hold the course with Wakefield and Miller at the back of the rotation, with reinforcements such as Alfredo Aceves, Kyle Weiland, Felix Doubront and Kevin Millwood all looming as alternatives.

That said, while the Sox theoretically could turn to any of those pitchers either this year or next (Miller, Weiland, Aceves and Doubront will all be under team control; if Wakefield decides he wants to keep pitching, he would almost surely be available to the Sox at a reasonable cost), none is so talented that the team would dismiss the possibility of an upgrade if one became available at a reasonable cost. So, if a pitcher with mid-rotation stuff (or better) who was signed to a reasonable deal through 2012 (or beyond) became available at a tolerable prospect cost, this is an area where it would make sense for the Sox to explore trades.

Of course, solid starters with appealing long-term contracts are almost never available in the middle of a season for reasonable acquisition costs, making such a deal unlikely.

RP — Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Matt Albers, Alfredo Aceves, Dan Wheeler, Franklin Morales, Randy Williams, Bobby Jenks (DL), Rich Hill (DL)

The Sox have reason to be fairly confident in their right-handed relievers based on their performance this year, especially over the last two months. Left-handers are a bit more uncertain, though if Morales and/or Williams falters, the team could turn to Doubront. Longer term, Papelbon and Wheeler will be free agents, but the Sox have control over much of their bullpen going forward. Moreover, the year-to-year inconsistency of relievers likely means that the Sox are less desperate to address “long-term needs” in this category than in others.

C — Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jason Varitek

The team is getting above-average production from its catchers after a poor start to the year. Saltalamacchia is under team control beyond 2011; Varitek will be a free agent at the end of this year, but the Sox are likely comfortable that either they can re-sign their captain or replace him with Ryan Lavarnway (currently rampaging through Triple-A) to serve an apprenticeship under Saltalamacchia in 2012. The team is in solid shape for the short-term and long-term.

IF — Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, Marco Scutaro, Kevin Youkilis, Jed Lowrie (DL), Yamaico Navarro

Gonzalez, Pedroia and Youkilis all offer elite production at their positions, and all are signed to long-term deals with multiple years remaining. Shortstop is somewhat more unsettled, for this season and beyond.

Scutaro has been serviceable at the position, with a performance in line with his steady career marks. Lowrie won’t be back until sometime in August at this point. Moving forward, Scutaro’s two-year deal runs out after this year; there is both a team and player option on his deal for next year. For now, the team would likely struggle to commit to Lowrie as a full-timer entering 2012 for the same reason that it could not do so for this season: He has yet to make it through a full big league season with his health intact. And the team’s long-term solution at shortstop, Jose Iglesias, has struggled offensively in Pawtucket this year to the point where it would be almost impossible to imagine him as the team’s everyday shortstop at the start of 2012.

So, shortstop is an area that would be valuable for the Sox to explore for solutions for both this year and next. Still, it is not an area of pressing need. The average AL shortstop this year has hit .267/.323/.390/.712. Scutaro (.260/.329/.369/.697) and Lowrie (.270/.319/.403/.723) have both performed roughly to that level.

OF — Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Josh Reddick, Darnell McDonald, J.D. Drew (DL)

While Drew is a free agent after this year, he’s already been supplanted by Reddick as the Sox’ everyday right fielder. Ellsbury (2013) and Crawford (2017) are under team control for years, as are Reddick (2016) and Ryan Kalish (2017), one of whom is expected to emerge as the everyday right fielder for the Sox next year. While the Sox could certainly find an upgrade for their outfield — particularly if they landed a right-handed hitter who could spell all three positions — they do not face an acute need to add an outfielder either for 2011 or 2012.

That said, the team’s depth of outfielders on the 40-man roster is limited right now. With Drew going to the DL, the team’s only minor league outfielder on the 40-man roster is Kalish, who remains sidelined while working his way back from a neck injury he contracted while recovering from a shoulder injury. And while the team has several promising outfield prospects throughout its system, almost all of them (in the upper levels) are left-handed, aside from Juan Carlos Linares, a right-handed hitter from Cuba who will miss the remainder of this year due to an early-season ankle injury.

Finding a right-handed fourth outfielder — or even a starting outfielder — is certainly something that can be accomplished in the offseason. This winter, there will be a few notable players (among others: Jeff Francouer — assuming that his mutual $3 million option with the Royals isn’t exercised; Ryan Ludwick; Cody Ross) who could fit that bill on the market.

Still, as impressive as Reddick has been this year and as Kalish was last year, both are relatively unproven commodities. The Sox are likely to give one of them the everyday job in 2012, and the need is once again defined as moderate. Still, the Sox are in a position where they could likely use greater right-handed outfield depth in 2011, and in which they will likely need more of the same for 2012.

Read More: 2011 Trade Deadline, jarrod saltalamacchia, jason bay, victor martinez
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