Using The Red Sox To Break Up The Outfield Problem

You know, the Dodgers and Red Sox once went more than four decades barely dealing with one another at all. Between 1960’s Nelson Chittum for Rip Repulski swap — and tell me you don’t remember that one — and Dave Roberts going to Boston in 2004, the only trade between the two was the Dodgers acquiring Glenn Hoffman for Billy Bartels in 1987. It was hardly a fruitful bicoastal pipeline.

But then Ned Colletti arrived in 2006, and things changed. After a minor swap early in 2008, the Dodgers and Red Sox teamed up with the Pirates in the huge Manny Ramirez / Jason Bay three-teamer that summer. Three years later, it was the Erik Bedard / Stephen Fife / Tim Federowicz / Trayvon Robinson connection. The next year, obviously, the huge Nick Punto deal. Even last year, Alex Castellanos and Jeremy Hazelbaker switched colors. Though Theo Epstein isn’t with the Red Sox any longer, current GM Ben Cherington has been with the team since 1999. Clearly, there’s no hesitation for Colletti to deal with the Red Sox.

We know there’s a relationship there, and it’s not just with the GMs. When the 2012 trade got moving, it was because Stan Kasten called Red Sox president & CEO Larry Lucchino, a longtime friend of his. We know Mark Walter and John Henry were involved. And, from what I’ve quietly heard, Kasten has been speaking to his friends in Boston again lately, including chairman Tom Werner.

It’s why, partially, I’m wondering if the Red Sox are the path out of this outfield mess. The situation is growing untenable, obviously. With Yasiel Puig entrenched in right, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, and Scott Van Slyke are four players fighting for time at two spots, except that none of them can really play one of those spots, center field. The one player who probably can handle it with some amount of competence, Joc Pederson, is tearing up Triple-A and is ready for his shot. I think we all know that something has to change soon, and I think we all know that it’s all but impossible to recall Pederson without sending one packing. But of course, that’s easier said than done.

Enter the Red Sox.

Why Boston?

They’re just one option, of course. The Mariners could use a bat, though they’re very left-handed already. Perhaps the Tigers or Reds or some other team might have mild interest. We can get to them another time. Today, the Red Sox, who are both obvious non-contenders — at nine games under, they’re tied for last in the AL East and have barely five percent playoff odds right now — and have an outfield in flux.

With Shane Victorino injured, Grady Sizemore a failed experiment, Jackie Bradley Jr. well into his second season of proving he’s not ready for the big leagues (although he’s been much better since a change in stance a few weeks ago), and most of the magic out of the Daniel Nava story, Boston has had one of the worst outfields in baseball this year, and that’s with the fun-but-completely-unsustainable contributions of Brock Holt. Jonny Gomes is probably going to be traded this month. Young Mookie Betts is getting his chance, but he obviously has much to prove, and may yet end up back in the infield. It’s possible, I suppose, that the 2015 Red Sox go into the season with a starting outfield of Betts, Bradley and a 34-year-old Victorino, but lord does that seem like it requires a lot of hope, and there’s not exactly a ton available on the market — Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, Colby Rasmus, and Michael Cuddyer may be the best outfielders this winter.

So you can maybe see the Red Sox having interest in adding another outfielder, knowing that Victorino is unreliable and Bradley/Betts are unproven, though each talented. It won’t be Crawford, obviously. We know that the Red Sox did some scouting on Kemp last winter; we know that “But Ethier is best friends with Dustin Pedroia!” has been a never-ending and largely-useless narrative since approximately 1972. My belief is that the Dodgers would probably rather hold on to Kemp — higher upside, harder to move because of larger contract — and trade Ethier, so we’ll use his name for now, but realize it doesn’t have to be him.

Of course, Ether is in the midst of the worst season of his career (96 wRC+) and has only four homers, though most projections expect he’ll rebound. He’s owed something like $61m through 2017, depending on how much of his 2014 salary is still due. The Sox didn’t exactly win the World Series last year by taking on overpaid outfielders. Why would they do this?

Try to be realistic

Remember the framework of the previous deal. In order to get rid of a huge problem (Crawford) and a smaller problem (Beckett) as well as to get some minor league talent, the Red Sox agreed to give up something considered very valuable (Adrian Gonzalez) and mildly valuable (Nick Punto). That’s kind of the same thing here. This isn’t “what will Boston give you for Ethier,” it’s “what do you have to give Boston to take Ethier, and what else do you have to add to get something decent?”

And make no mistake, despite how bad the Red Sox have been this year, they have plenty of interesting pieces. I think we’d all love Koji Uehara or Andrew Miller, both free agents to be, joining Kenley Jansen and J.P. Howell at the back of the bullpen. David Ross would be an interesting addition to the catching depth, though after cutting loose A.J. Pierzynski, they may prefer to have at least one veteran backstop around. We’ll probably never stop hearing the Dodgers connected to Will Middlebrooks until 20 years after he retires. Maybe Stephen Drew is the infield depth piece we all want. If you really want to blow it all up — and this seems unlikely — Jon Lester is having a great season and is about to be a free agent. Everyone knows the Sox want to deal Jake Peavy. If you just want a good solid starter to keep Dan Haren out of your life, but not necessarily a Lester-level ace, John Lackey fits the bill.

Clearly, there’s no shortage of interesting pieces, but again, the Dodger need not only pay the Sox to take Ethier — and not just in talent, but in money, enough to make Ethier a ~$5m/year player — but then to pay more to get what they want.

I was going to list some prospective trade ideas here, but those are always folly, and are almost never realistic. The Dodgers wouldn’t go so far as to include Pederson, Corey Seager, or Julio Urias just to rid themselves of an outfielder, but you aren’t getting away with giving No. 22 on the Top 25, either. But you could see something along the lines of the Dodgers trying to get Uehara, Lackey, and not-Ethier for a ton of money, Zach Lee, Chris Reed, Scott Schebler, and Darnell Sweeney. Or, perhaps, the Red Sox insist on Peavy instead of Lackey, and instead of Sweeney it’s, I don’t know, Cody Bellinger. Maybe, for some reason, the Red Sox badly want Alex Guerrero, and with Dee Gordon taking hold of second base, that opens things up for a larger deal.

Like I said, trying to nail down a specific deal here is difficult, if not impossible. But just based on the history and the need, it doesn’t seem impossible for the Red Sox to be a landing spot for an extra Dodger outfielder. We just need to keep in mind that it would be the Dodgers pushing for this to happen, and that means it wouldn’t be cheap.

About Mike Petriello

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