July 13, 2013

KEVIN THOMAS ON BASEBALL: Red Sox deciding who goes, stays

With the July 31 trade deadline coming up, what will the Boston Red Sox do?

They head into the All-Star break in first place in the American League East. The Red Sox can try to improve their team, and they have prospects galore to trade, if they want.

But why would they want to?

The Sox prospects that have proven their worth at Hadlock Field in Portland and McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, are the future at Fenway -- and that's not just a marketing slogan for the minor league teams.

Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts, Brandon Workman, Anthony Ranaudo, Garin Cecchini ...

These are players that will bolster Boston in future years (and both Bradley and Workman are helping out right now).

Surely not every prospect that the Red Sox are grooming will make it. General manager Ben Cherington is making his list of untouchables and "trade-ables."

When making that list, Cherington will look at what the Red Sox look like now -- and what will they look like in the future. Among the factors on contracts and when players become free agents (eligibility begins after six seasons).

Here is what we see, position by position.

Starting pitcher

Regulars: Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront.

Contracts: Dempster is signed through 2014. Boston has contract options on Jon Lester (through 2014), Lackey (2015) and Buchholz (2017). Doubront is in his second season.

Future options: Allen Webster; Rubby De La Rosa; Steven Wright; Brandon Workman; Drake Britton; Anthony Ranaudo; Matt Barnes; Henry Owens.

This vital position is a strength for Boston. Webster, De la Rosa, Wright and Workman have already appeared in the majors. Britton just reached Pawtucket. Ranaudo and Barnes are in Portland, and Owens could be there at the end of the year.

So many arms give Boston depth to cover injuries (Buchholz), as well as opportunities to fill bullpen roles.

Boston would not hastily trade away a quality arm, given the cost of pitchers on the free-agent market (Dempster, a No. 4 starter, signed a two-year, $26.5-million deal with Boston).

Relief pitcher

Regulars: Koji Uehara, Andrew Bailey, Andrew Miller, Alfredo Aceves, Franklin Morales, Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa.

Contracts: Uehara is a free agent after this season. Bailey, Miller, Aceves and Morales are free agents after 2014. Boston has a club option on Breslow in 2015. This is Tazawa's third season.

Future options: Alex Wilson, Daniel Bard, Jose De La Torre, Chris Martin, Brock Huntzinger, Chris Hernandez and Will Latimer.

No place features more turnover than the bullpen. Piecing together an effective group of relievers may be any GM's biggest challenge. Boston has already lost closer Joel Hanrahan and Miller to injury (and Hanrahan is a free agent after this season).

This is one area where Boston may make a trade to improve although, as already mentioned, there are bullpen possibilities among Boston's starting prospects.

Wilson has proven he can contribute. De La Torre has been called up to help sometimes. Bard remains a mystery as he tries to rebound from his command troubles. Martin and Huntzinger are coming on in Pawtucket. Hernandez and Latimer are both lefties in Triple-A, but not yet ready.

Catcher

Regulars: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, David Ross and Ryan Lavarnway.

Contracts: Saltalamacchia is a free agent after this season. Ross is signed through 2014. Lavarnway is in his second season.

Future options: Christian Vazquez, Blake Swihart and Dan Butler.

Saltalamacchia strikes out a lot (95 times through Thursday), but he also is batting a respectable .272 with eight home runs. There has not been much chatter about Saltalamacchia's thoughts on his future. If he and Boston part ways, the Red Sox still look solid. Ross, who is recovering from a concussion this year, can mentor Lavarnway next season. Both are better defensively than Saltalamacchia, and Vazquez appears to be the best of the bunch behind the plate. Meanwhile, bonus baby Swihart, 21, is developing in Salem.

(Continued on page 2)

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