July 30, 2013

Tom Caron: Cultivate, keep prospects

Here's what Red Sox GM Ben Cherington will be looking for as the trade deadline approaches.

BOSTON — What should the Red Sox do?

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The Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline is 4 p.m. Wednesday. The Red Sox are battling for the AL East lead and are in perfect position to add talent to the roster. It's a far cry from a year ago when they were getting ready to unload top players and hundreds of millions in salary to reload for next season.

There are plenty of contending teams looking to improve their chances at a playoff spot. What makes the Sox unique is that their farm system is exceptionally deep. Boston has prospects that other teams are drooling over. The type of prospects that can be traded for veterans who can help a team win now.

They are also the type of prospects that can help a team win for a long time to come.

Which is why General Manager Ben Cherington will be very careful in the coming hours. He knows the 2013 team has a chance to make it to the playoffs, but he won't mortgage a strong future for a chance at immediate success.

If he pulls the trigger on a deal to improve the current club, here are the areas he'll be looking at:

 

Relief pitching: There's no question the Sox have been looking to add bullpen depth. They already traded for lefty Matt Thornton and are still trying to replace the likes of Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard. There are plenty of teams with relievers to move, so expect the Sox to address this area before it's all said and done.

Starting pitching: This is a tougher decision. The Red Sox have gotten strong seasons from John Lackey and Felix Doubront. Ryan Dempster has won two in a row. More importantly, Jon Lester is 2-2 with a 3.13 ERA in July and is coming off one of his best outings of the season Sunday, when he threw seven shutout innings against the Orioles in Baltimore.

Whether Cherington addresses the rotation could depend on whether he thinks Clay Buchholz will be able to pitch effectively before the end of September. Buchholz was one of the best pitchers in baseball when he was injured in early June. His progress has been frustrating for Sox fans, but his return would give Boston the top-of-the-rotation arm it needs for a playoff runs. If he doesn't make it back soon they would seem to need another arm to reach their goals.

 

Offense: The Sox still lead Major League Baseball in runs scored, but have struggled against top-flight pitching since the All-Star break. It's hard to imagine breaking up this lineup, or doing anything that could have an effect on the chemistry of the clubhouse, so Cherington will have to tread carefully here.

 

There will be deals to be made in these final hours of July, and deals (through waivers) in August can play an important part in a team's run to the playoffs.

With highly sought-after prospects like Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks, Matt Barnes and Rubby De La Rosa, the Sox have chips to use in a trade.

But Cherington will not move his core prospects. The future of this team looks strong, and he won't do anything to change that. If he can move a non-essential prospect or two he will.

It's a seller's market, which always makes trading tough. More than anything, it's refreshing to have the Sox back in the position of being a buyer at the deadline.

 

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.

 

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