Just because the Red Sox are out of contention doesn’t mean that they’re out of the trade market.
The team is exploring a wealth of options, according to multiple league sources, including the possibility of adding young pitchers who would help upgrade one of the worst staffs in the game. Still, the cost of asking a pitcher in the team’s target demographic — young and controllable with elite stuff — would be considerable. As one major league source familiar with today’s trade dynamics noted, “A bad deal is easy to make.”
Still, the need to upgrade compels the Red Sox to explore different possibilities, with three pitchers having been connected to the Sox most prominently today. A look at the trio:
RHP Tyson Ross, 28, San Diego Padres
Contract status: $5.25 million salary in 2015 as second-time arbitration-eligible; two remaining years of team control before free agent eligibility after the 2017 season
2015 performance: 22 starts, 127 ⅔ innings, 7-8, 3.38 ERA, 105 ERA+, 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings, 4.3 walks per nine innings
2013-15 performance: 23-30, 3.07 ERA, 112 ERA+, 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings, 3.6 walks per nine innings
Why the Red Sox would want him: A controllable starter who is in his prime and features some of the best stuff of any starter in the game. Ross has struck out 25.3 percent of the batters he’s faced this year, the 14th best strikeout rate in the game, ahead of pitchers like Jon Lester, Gerrit Cole, Carlos Martinez, and Felix Hernandez. He works in the low- to mid-90s with a four- and two-seam fastball, though he leans heavily on a wipeout slider. Moreover, his 62.9 percent groundball rate is the third-best in the majors, also helping to explain why he’s given up the fewest homers per nine innings (0.3) of any major league starter.
Why the Red Sox wouldn’t want him: Despite his stuff, his results have been mostly those of a mid-rotation starter rather than a front-of-the-rotation player, yet the Padres would almost surely want top-of-the-rotation return for a pitcher who remains in their control for two-plus years. While his ERA looks solid on the surface, it’s less impressive in the context of the pitcher’s paradise of PETCO Park. Meanwhile, his 11.3 percent walk rate is the worst of any qualifying starter in the majors. That’s easier to tolerate against NL lineups, with a pitcher permitting the management of a lineup, than it is in the AL.
Outlook: Padres GM A.J. Preller showed no hesitancy to be one of the most aggressive dealmakers in the game in the offseason, so there’s an industry belief that he’s comfortable making more dramatic moves now. One major league source noted, however, that Preller doesn’t have to feel pressured to make a deal given that Ross does remain under team control for two more years and would retain considerable value into the offseason.
Another major league source questioned whether the Padres would be willing to strike a deal built around centerpieces in the lower levels (the strength of the Red Sox system) given the possibility that a deal structured in that fashion might be perceived as a rebuild or fire sale and create perception problems in San Diego. The Padres were one of the teams that most aggressively pursued Yoan Moncada, though it’s hard to imagine the Sox considering the possibility of dealing Moncada for anything other than a superstar after spending $63 million on him. However, it is worth asking whether elite defenders like Jackie Bradley Jr. or Manuel Margot could be intriguing for San Diego, given that the team’s outfield defense has been atrocious.
The Padres are also reportedly looking for a shortstop. With Xander Bogaerts unquestionably off limits, it’s unclear whether they’d view Deven Marrero as a fit given his lack of offensive impact in Triple A. But players like Bradley or Marrero would only represent secondary components of a deal for Ross, who would require the Sox to part with a blue-chipper.
RHP (closer) Craig Kimbrel, 27, San Diego Padres
Contract status: 2+ years of four-year, $42 million contract with 2018 team option
2015 performance: 2.68 ERA, 134 ERA+, 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings, 3.3 walks per nine innings, 30-for-31 save opportunities
Career performance: 1.59 ERA, 240 ERA+, 14.5 strikeouts per nine innings, 3.4 walks per nine innings
Why the Red Sox would want him: The Red Sox bullpen is arguably in worse shape than its rotation. Kimbrel, one of the most unhittable pitchers in the game, would transform its look. Though his numbers this year are the worst of his career — a commentary on how absolutely dominant he’s been — he’s bounced back from an early season stumble after the trade to post a 0.73 ERA in his last 25 appearances. In that span, he’s punched out 35 percent of the batters he’s faced. Meanwhile, his 98.5 mph average fastball velocity is the best of his career.
Why the Red Sox wouldn’t want him: He’s a reliever signed to a multi-year deal, though given that the team was willing to sign 40-year-old Koji Uehara for two years and was comfortable with a three-year term for Andrew Miller, it’s hard to imagine the financial term would be the chief constraint for the Red Sox on one of the game’s most dominant relief pitchers.
Outlook: See above.
RHP Carlos Carrasco, 28, Cleveland Indians
Contract status: 3+ years of four-year, $22 million contract with team options for 2019 and 2020
2015 performance: 11-8, 4.03 ERA, 99 ERA+, 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings, 1.9 walks per nine innings
Why the Red Sox would want him: Despite his unimpressive ERA, Carrasco’s strikeout and walk numbers suggest outstanding stuff that can get swings and misses even as he attacks the strike zone with abandon — an approach that resulted in a 2.55 ERA in a breakthrough 2014 campaign. Moreover, his long-term contract would make him a tremendous addition who would permit the team to have financial flexibility to address other needs. Evaluators believe that Carrasco is coming into his own.
Why the Red Sox wouldn’t want him: Carrasco does have a track record of some inconsistency, but has shown enough in the last two years to represent a clear opportunity for a rotation upgrade. Really, any team would want Carrasco, but there’s a considerable issue of cost of acquisition.
Outlook: Teams that have checked in on Carrasco have encountered huge asking prices, mostly with near big league-ready talent. In all likelihood, the starting point for a package that might entice Cleveland to trade Carrasco would require a deal involving a member of the Sox’ future core four — Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Eduardo Rodriguez, or Blake Swihart. Deals involving any of the first three are virtually unfathomable; while one might imagine the Sox having a bit more flexibility regarding Swihart, the Sox would be in a tough spot with their 2016 catching if they dealt Swihart, given that Christian Vazquez represents an X factor in his return from Tommy John surgery.
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter @alexspeier.