In 2004, I distinctly remember where I was when I found out the Boston Red Sox traded Nomar Garciaparra. I was at work at a CVS on Cape Cod, thinking more about the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, en route to their then-first championship since 1990. I remember talking about the local college guys who made that Y-D team special as the season on the peninsula wound down. I also remember the sheer shock value of how that conversation was completely hijacked when someone walked into the store and loudly announced that the franchise was heading to Chicago.
It was one of those things nobody believed. The image of Nomar walking out of the Red Sox clubhouse in Minnesota as an attendant handled his bags, saying “See ya, guys,” with this weird look on his face left an indelible mark. It was one part shock, one part sadness, one part anger. It was equally unnerving when he took the field wearing an unfamiliar number (8) at Wrigley Field a couple of days later. And it was stranger still when the Red Sox smeared him as being a clubhouse malcontent on the way out the door (although that’s somewhat become common practice for the organization since).
It also gave me the opinion that nobody is untradeable. There are elements that make a player more valuable or less tradeable, such as his value of performance to the ballclub. Nobody in their right mind trades a guy perceived inside the clubhouse as the heart and soul of a franchise, not unless it’s Danny Ainge and basketball (we’re looking at you, Kendrick Perkins). Nobody also trades a player who is statistically at the top of their game, the clear best. It’d be like Miami all of a sudden dealing Lebron James or the Patriots trading Tom Brady.
Players also don’t get traded when their franchise guys and are perceived as franchise guys. The Red Sox dealing Nomar was, sociologically, equal in value to the Yankees trading Derek Jeter. Nobody had been more of a face to the franchise, and dealing him was a move that, had it not paid off, would make all Boston parties involved unhireable in every sense of the word.
It takes certain conditions for a player to be untradeable or tradeable. Even then, nothing’s for certain, and anybody can be dealt if the price and situation is right. But just by looking at this Red Sox roster, given what’s happened in the past, there are a number of players who are one or the other for a myriad of reasons.
I’m of the belief that trading certain players can cripple a franchise. In the short term, talentwise, it makes them better or worse, but it guts the certain “it factor” that championship teams need. At his lowest point, David Ortiz was always going to be a Red Sox player simply because of who he was. It was the same for Jason Varitek, even if it meant overpaying him. They’re guys who are reputation guys, guys who earned the right to remain as members of a team because of who they are. They deserve it more than anyone else. The Red Sox probably would’ve benefitted from walking away from Varitek and Tim Wakefield two years ago, but they kept bringing the guys back when nobody else wanted them. It’s because of that “it factor” that comes with reputation and experience. They might not have been the most talented, but they’re labeled “untradeable” because of who they are. Even if the Red Sox wanted to deal them, they probably wouldn’t find any deal worth biting, but even so, those aren’t guys dealt so easily away.
With the exception of Ortiz, the only guy on the present-day, 2012 Boston Red Sox roster with that “it factor” is Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia’s production is dropping off considerably this year, down in batting average by a full 40 points. His OPS is down over 100 points, and he lacks some of the same killer instinct he had during a bounceback year a season ago. Yet the Red Sox can’t trade Pedroia. They have reasons to put feelers out there – there’s an underlying perception that he’s unhappy with the front office because of the way they handled the situation with Terry Francona, who was undeniably close with the second baseman. He’s also got extremely high trade value and could probably fetch a blockbuster deal. There’s an element where the Red Sox have players behind Pedroia for depth, and those guys are potentially major league ready, even if they’re not as good on reputation as him.
But the one major reason not to deal him is simply because of his reputation. Dumping Pedroia with two years left on his contract is only permissable in the court of public opinion if it brings in a major player to rebuild and reshift this slumping roster; even then, the majority of the fans will hate the move. It would gut the clubhouse of part of its soul, and not even a computer program is dumb enough to execute that move.
Pedroia’s a guy deemed “untradeable” by trade guidelines. That essentially means he won’t be dealt unless someone comes in with a deal that yields enough to make any baseball scout drool. On the other hand, Kevin Youkilis might be untradeable because he can’t fetch anything more than pennies on the dollar. His decline has been swift over the past three years, and last year, when he started to slump with age and injury conspiring against statistics, there could’ve been some team willing to part ways with prospects for him. Instead, the Red Sox likely can’t find anything worth bringing in, unless they manage to fleece some unassuming team living under a baseball-sized rock. I’m sure the Sox would love to dump Youkilis, as would most fans, media members, and baseball insiders. But there’s simply no market for him like there would’ve been. And since the advantage of having outweighs the advantage of that type of trade, he becomes untradeable in an albatross sense.
Those are the obvious examples. The biggest “tradeable or untradeable” players to discuss have always been pitching because of how much teams value its commodity. There are some pitchers that are completely untradeable for completely different reasons – Cy Young Award candidates on championship-caliber teams probably aren’t being dealt, for example. Neither are the John Lackey pitchers of the world, the over-priced, under-performing garbage heaps of crap stacked so high, teams will most likely pay them a hefty chunk of money to pitch against them when they’re released in the next two years.
For the Boston Red Sox, the trade question settles on three men – Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, and Jon Lester. The three form the triumvirate at the top of the rotation, and they also form the backbone of a currently-struggling rotation. The expectation was that the three would form a massive attack capable of winning 20 games apiece (or at least close). They’d be the backbone of the team’s resurrection after last September’s collapse. They had the talent to win, and despite Buchholz’s injury, the drive to prove themselves individually and as a unit would only help to build off a disappointing finish to the promising 2011 campaign.
Instead, we’ve learned several things. For starters, when driven, Beckett is a solid ace of the staff. Unfortunately, he’s not very driven all the time, and he’s guaranteed at least one stint on the disabled list with some type of shoulder or hamstring injury. Buchholz has the natural talent, but he’s very raw and is prone to slumps when the team around him is also slumping. And Lester, although the one with the most rock solid reputation, went 5-5 after the All Star break a year ago, then 4-4 to open up this year. He’s been extremely hittable.
If the Red Sox are indeed done for the season with no hope of making the playoffs, the next month will determine that. Never before has anyone on the Boston roster been more tradeable than today as the payroll stands over $150 million with nary a sniff of first place to show for it. They’ve been good in flashes, bad in longer flashes, and with the front office committing itself in the offseason to slashing the payroll, it’s hard to fathom them becoming anything other than sellers. There’s massive contracts from which to extricate themselves from, and they can still do it while some trade values are high. All three of their rotation’s top pitchers are flawed, perhaps flawed enough for the front office to decide they can part ways. While fans would be upset with the move of Lester, they’d feel like the Sox gave up on Buchholz and relieved themselves of the clubhouse malcontent of Beckett. Natural talent aside, all three are moveable pieces for the right items.
In 2005, the Red Sox rebuilt their roster around guys who weren’t nearly as good when it came to a winning formula. The Nomar trade showed they were capable of drastic moves, and the next two seasons showed they weren’t afraid to mortgage a couple of seasons in order to bring along the right players. Moreso than their first title, the second title came via homegrown players, young stars the Sox managed to go out and find. They brought in the rightly-scouted relievers, benefitted from the success of starting pitching with something to prove. Every component of the team fired on all cylinders, energizing the guys that needed it. The team rolled through the season, won the division, and made history. Five years later, the Red Sox lost sight of that, built their roster on players who felt privileged, players who didn’t have that same drive. They bought established big leaguers, failed to produce from within their farm system save for a couple of guys here and there.
As the 2012 season, their sixth since the offseason of 2007 brought those players forward, perhaps it’s now time to hand the reigns to a new generation of Red Sox players. Will Middlebrooks is the most obvious farmhand to come along, but perhaps now’s the time to build around him and hot prospects like Jose Iglesias. For all the years we heard about the farm system having strength, perhaps now it’s time to replenish those ranks. It might be time to part ways with guys who’s talent is limitless and undoubted but are starting to run their course with the Sox. Those guys might go on and succeed (Buchholz and Lester chief among them), but come July, someone might be moving. We don’t know who, and we don’t know when. We certainly don’t know what for. But one thing’s for certain. The Red Sox need to find the courage to make a drastic move like they did in 2004, rebuild with the knowledge of what they did back then, and find the right pieces to once again become a contender.