The Boston Red Sox are in a strange place this season. They find themselves in last place in a competitive American League East division. The Orioles, Rays and Yankees all look strong and are on top of them. But despite their erratic play, the Red Sox remain only four games behind the wild card leading Orioles and there are two wild cards spots available this season. The Red Sox have to quickly assess if they are contenders or if this is a transition season and look to long-term goals.
That assessment could decide if the Red Sox go after players at the trade deadline or divest themselves of some of their own high profile players. In a season where rampant speculation on the trade of Kevin Youkilis exists side by side with speculation about possibly going after Matt Garza or Ryan Dempster. Even if the Red Sox decide they are contenders, both moves could happen. The Cubs, of course, will not want Youkilis. It seems his best days are behind him, though he could benefit a lot of contenders around baseball who are weak at third base.
If the Red Sox do decide they can still compete this season, they have little pitching help in the minors to draw on. The Pawtucket Red Sox, the team's Triple-A affiliate, are chock full of outcasts signed as fillers and fliers. Among all of the starters at Pawtucket, only one is a semi-prospect and that is Alex Wilson. The rest are of the likes of Billy Buckner, Brandon Duckworth, Justin Germano, Doug Mathis and Tony Pena. Hardly an inspiring bunch.
The Red Sox have three spots in the rotation that can be considered solid, Felix Doubront, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester. Daisuke Matsuzaka has made two outings coming back from elbow reconstruction surgery and has shown that he could possibly work out. Josh Beckett has shoulder problems that have landed him on the disabled list. It is unknown at this point how effective Beckett will be the rest of the season or how often he can be counted on to pitch. Daniel Bard seems like a failed experiment and is currently residing in Pawtucket.
And thus, another starter would possibly be helpful to this team. But what if Beckett does come back strong in a couple of weeks and Dice-K pitches well, what would you then do with Garza or Dempster? The more this team is studied, the more it seems that it is much better than it has performed thus far. Adrian Gonzalez is not having a good season. Put him back at first base and leave him there. Trade Youkilis. Get some help back with Jacoby Ellsbury and this team seems very competitive.
The bullpen has actually worked out quite well for the Red Sox. They are perhaps overused and overexposed at times. But Alfredo Aceves is solid. Vincente Padilla is better than expected. Scott Atchison and Matt Albers have been effective. So what does this team need then? It appears to need little.
The overwhelming thought here is that besides trading Youkilis, the Red Sox should stand pat and if they do need another pitcher, Justin Germano seems like the safest bet from Pawtucket. He has good control and is pitching well in Triple-A. Theo Epstein knows the Red Sox system better than anyone and there isn't a whole lot there to get back for Garza or Dempster. And of what there is, the Red Sox will not want to part easily with it.
The Red Sox have to be considered as outside the odds on competing this season. But they are better than they have played and as the Yankees have shown, a hot couple of weeks can change things in a hurry. Either the Red Sox will continue to spin along with mediocrity or they will put it all together and compete. Either way, it doesn't seem that they would need anything to accomplish both possible outcomes.