Time and again, the Red Sox have promised they’ll remain active in advance of Monday’s trade deadline, open-minded — at least in theory — to moving virtually anyone on the roster amidst a season that stands a strong chance of ending as one of the worst in franchise history. Openness to dramatic deals, however, is not the same as a likelihood of them occurring.
It would be a surprise if the Sox, who already moved Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree, sat still through Monday, but it would be equally surprising if the team started trading away players who are easily envisioned as long-term core contributors.
The Sox are interested in building towards sustainable contention — i.e., creating a broad talent base of players with multiple years of team control — but they’re also committed to trying to contend in 2021. That being the case, the scope of a sell-off may well be limited to players who are either eligible for free agency after this year or next. While they didn’t rule out the possibility completely, multiple evaluators consider it unlikely that the Sox move players who are under team control beyond 2021.
So when the dust settles on Monday, who’s likely to be around?
Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom didn’t want to back himself into a corner — after all, he’s already dealt away Mookie Betts — but realistically, the Sox aren’t dealing players who they see as part of their long-term core. So, there’s little chance that Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, or Alex Verdugo gets traded.
Christian Vazquez isn’t quite as off-limits, but he’s still unlikely to be dealt. He’s signed to an affordable contract through 2021 with an option for 2022, represents an above-average option behind the plate, and there’s a general scarcity of catching both in the Sox organization and throughout baseball. Plus, his trade value might be capped by his offensive struggles this year.
Perhaps under normal circumstances, the Sox would have considered moving Andrew Benintendi for a pitcher. But with Benintendi nowhere near returning from a rib injury and his production cratered, that possibility is gone.
Nate Eovaldi was unlikely to be dealt under any circumstances due to the two years and $34 million he’s owed, but his placement on the injured list with a calf injury Saturday essentially ensures that he’s going nowhere.
At the start of the year, J.D. Martinez seemed like one of the most fascinating Red Sox trade candidates given the expansion of the designated hitter into both leagues. On one hand, he’s historically one of the premier hitters in baseball. On the other hand, his contract — which has two years and $38.7 million remaining, as well as opt-outs after both the 2020 and 2021 season — has always made it puzzling to figure out whether he could be dealt.
However, Martinez is amidst one of the worst stretches of his career. He carried a .205/.297/.366 line into Saturday, his routine upended by the lack of access to video and restrictions on access to the batting cage during games.
The likely targets
Supply and demand suggests that relievers will have value, part of the reason why the Phillies wanted to strike early to acquire Workman and Hembree for Nick Pivetta and Connor Seabold. Baseball is awash in injuries after its compressed July reboot, and teams need arms.
As such, Matt Barnes — a healthy reliever with a history of regular-season and postseason success, as well as multiple swing-and-miss offerings and an additional year of team control beyond the 2020 season — may be one of the likeliest Red Sox players to be dealt.
The righthander’s trade value has taken a hit both because of his inconsistent performance this year — in his first 12 innings, going into Saturday, he had a 6.00 ERA with 15 strikeouts and nine walks — and because, as manager Ron Roenicke acknowledged, his “stuff is a little bit down, but I still like what he’s doing and I still like the fastball.”
Barnes entered Saturday with an average four-seam fastball velocity of 95.1 miles per hour this year, down from 96.6 m.p.h. in 2019. He hadn’t gotten the same volume of swings and misses with his fastball/curveball combination that he has in the past few years.
That backdrop made his appearance on Saturday night a potentially significant one. Barnes featured perhaps his best stuff of the season. He commanded his fastball well while topping out at 97 m.p.h. while getting a season-high five swings-and-misses to record a save in the Red Sox’ 5-3 win over the Nationals.
“Good to see,” said Roenicke.
Though inconsistent this year, he’s had enough strong outings this year to look like a pitcher capable of making an impact for a team this year and next, and he’ll likely never again have more trade value than he does right now. Perhaps, as the Sox did with Workman, they could package him with additional players to increase the return.
Interest in complementary rental players who are eligible for free agency after this year is kicking up, suggesting that there should be a modest market for Kevin Pillar. The same could be true of Jackie Bradley Jr., but for a team that borders on unrecognizable, the Sox may not want to deal one of their long-time anchors given that he’d be unlikely to command more than a marginal prospect.
Mitch Moreland represents an intriguing candidate. He’s been a force this year, leading the big leagues entering Saturday with a 1.309 OPS against righthanders, and with an inexpensive team option on his contract for 2021, he wouldn’t be a pure rental. Even so, because he has a contract option, there’s no rush for the Sox to deal him if teams aren’t willing to offer a valuable prospect in return.