Are The Red Sox Buyers or Sellers?

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

Since June 26th, when Dustin Pedroia landed on the disabled list with a broken left foot, the Boston Red Sox have played as if they are simply treading water. Pedroia wasn’t the only major injury that led a surging team to suddenly find themselves 7.5 games out of first place, but there is no doubt that the second baseman is the heart and soul of the current squad. More than just ‘heart and soul’, Pedroia changes the dynamic of a lineup in a way that Bill Hall and Eric Patterson show that a glaring hole exists. The Red Sox are 14-13 since June 26th, and 11-12 in the month of July. Not since April’s 11-12 start have the Red Sox struggled as much as they have since Pedroia was added to the walking wounded.

Josh Beckett, Mike Cameron, Clay Buchholz, Jeremy Hermida and Jed Lowrie have returned from the disabled list since Pedroia went down with injury, and the recent sweep of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim was the first series they’ve swept since their interleague series against the Los Angeles Dodgers in mid June. Since the Red Sox have stumbled into the summer months, both the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays have picked up the pace in the race for the AL East title. With two games remaining on the July calendar, both teams have a chance to win 20 games in the month. The Red Sox, on the other hand, will need to win both of their remaining July games to have a record above .500 for the month.

Meanwhile, several teams in the playoff hunt have bolstered their rosters. The NL West leading San Diego Padres picked up Miguel Tejada. The third place Los Angeles Dodgers, 3.5 games out of the NL Wild Card hunt, picked up Scott Podsednik for the cost of a pair of minor leaguers. Even the .500 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim got into the act, acquiring Dan Haren from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Perhaps the biggest trade of the month came when the Seattle Mariners shipped Cliff Lee to the AL West leading Texas Rangers.

What have the Red Sox done to improve their 2010 team? Other than reacquiring Kevin Cash when both Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek hit the disabled list, not a whole lot. The old adage goes that their biggest deadline acquisitions might be the ones that simply return from the disabled list. With such a poor July showing, fans have to wonder if the Red Sox front office has already started looking at the 2011 season. It’s hard to blame them. In order to get closer to the Rays in the standings than the Blue Jays(it’s true, at least in the loss column), they will need a sudden reversal of fortune not seen since the team followed up a 11-14 June in 2004 to go 35-19 in July and August of that year.

The returns of Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz, coupled with the resurgence of Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey suggest that the Red Sox could string together a solid winning streak behind Jon Lester and get back into the AL East race.

In order to right the ship, the question is will the Red Sox need more than just the walking wounded to return? In a season that has seen Jonathan Papelbon struggle a bit and the relief corp of Ramon Ramirez, Hideki Okajima and Manny Delcarmen struggle mightily, acquiring at least bullpen help would make a great deal of a difference if the team has any real hopes of challenging New York or Tampa Bay.

On the other hand, if the Red Sox are 7.5 games out of first and 5.5 games out of the chase for the Wild Card, maybe they would be better off selling off their 2010 season for parts that might improve their 2011 season and beyond. The team certainly has a few chips that might be worth dangling.

Coincidentally, it seems the Red Sox are in a situation where they might benefit from trying to trade both their current third baseman and the third baseman he replaced at the beginning of the season.

During the off-season, the team signed Adrian Beltre to a one year, $10 million deal that has subsequently turned into one of the best deals this season. Beltre’s 2010 season may go down as his best year since his 2004 break out season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Meanwhile, Mike Lowell has recently been smacking the ball around for the Pawtucket Red Sox as he returns from a sore hip. It’s true that Lowell may never again be able to play third base every day. It’s also true that the remaining money on his $12.5 million salary may be too much for a team to swallow. With 4 home runs and 4 doubles in 5 games with the PawSox already, there might be a market for the player who might best be suited for DH duties the rest of the way this season.

With the return of Jed Lowrie, the Red Sox could warrant the trading of Beltre if it means better things for the future. However, trading Beltre and Lowell would undoubtedly raise the white flag on the 2010 season. Truth be told, with all of the other moves made by contenders, it seems as though they may have already waved the flag.

So the question remains, are the Red Sox buyers or sellers?

With all of the injuries and poorly performing players on the disabled list and sitting in the bullpen, selling makes the most sense. However, selling on the rest of the season is something the Red Sox haven’t done since trading Mike Stanley to the New York Yankees in August of 1997. Nobody wants to watch poor baseball, and no disrespect to Jed Lowrie, but trading Beltre would greatly impact the quality of the Boston offense. It’s worth noting that that trade brought in a minor league ballplayer that was traded less than 6 months later to the Montreal Expos in the deal that brought Pedro Martinez to town.

The Red Sox face the possibility of a repeat of the 2006 season, when they finished 11 games behind the Yankees while slipping to third place. They finished that season 22-35, thanks in part to number of injuries to key players. Though it might be an unpopular opinion, they would be better off capitalizing on the few trading chips they do have, rather than holding all of their chips on the ship that appears to be sinking anyway.

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