Featured image courtesy of Zibmio.com (May 23, 2018 – Source: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America)
The Boston Red Sox are a good team, but they’re by no means perfect. With the trade deadline fast approaching, the Red Sox need to look into adding players who can help make the 2018 Red Sox as competitive as possible. But who are some possible Boston Red Sox trade targets?
The Red Sox need to find a right-hitting bat that can, at the very least, start against left-handed pitching. There’s no such thing as too many good bullpen arms, but that is a topic for another article. This article will only look at pieces that could help the offense.
Looking for Possible Boston Red Sox Trade Targets
Identifying the Problems
Throughout the season, the Boston Red Sox have been atrocious against left-handed pitching. The most recent example came when the left-handed Wade LeBlanc held the Red Sox to two hits and no runs in 7.2 innings. The Red Sox struggles against LeBlanc were no fluke, as the team has consistently struggled against left-handed pitching.
Throughout the season, Boston as a whole is posting a .235/.297/.373 slash line against left-handed pitchers, good for an 86 sOPS+ per Baseball Reference. For those unfamiliar with that stat, sOPS+ ranks a units production relative to the league average. A 100 score means the team/player is performing at the league average, while anything below 100 is below average. In a sense, it works similarly to Fangraphs wRC+ category.
This is all one long way of saying the Red Sox work against lefty pitching has been subpar. Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez dominate against both lefties and righties, but almost every other guy on the team struggles to some extent. Finding a right-handed bat capable of starting against lefties and perhaps even becoming a regular part of the lineup should be the top priority for Dave Dombrowski and the Boston Red Sox. So who should they look for?
The Best Fits
The best fit, in this writer’s eye, is bringing an old friend back to Boston. Jed Lowrie is in the midst of a strong season for an Oakland Athletics team that stands no chance of making it to the playoffs. Thus far in 2018, Lowrie has a .282/.344/.458 slash line with a 123 wRC+. He’s essentially just as good against lefties as he is righties, as he’s posting a .304/.340/.424 slash line with a 113 wRC+ against left-handed pitching.
Lowrie would be more than just a platoon option. Nobody knows when Dustin Pedroia will return to the lineup, and the Red Sox need an everyday second baseman until he does. Brock Holt struggles against lefties and wears down over a season, while Eduardo Nunez has underwhelmed all season long. Lowrie would easily be the best second baseman on the roster and should become the everyday second baseman.
Even when Pedroia does return, Lowrie would still have a role on the team. Pedroia’s suffered injuries for the past few seasons, and Alex Cora needs to keep him fresh for the playoff run. Splitting playing time between Lowrie and Pedroia increases the odds of Pedroia being healthy for the playoffs. Lowrie is more than competent as a starter, so the lineup won’t suffer a notable drop off with Pedroia resting on the bench.
Additionally, the A’s have every reason to sell. While their 35-36 record isn’t terrible, it’s not nearly good enough for their division. Houston and Seattle reign supreme with near-identical 47-25 and 46-25 records. Oakland can’t pass both teams and stands no shot at the playoffs. With Lowrie in the last year of his contract, it makes perfect sense for Billy Beane to sell the second baseman for whatever he could get.
Of all the Red Sox with lefty troubles, everyday first baseman Mitch Moreland’s issues might be the most pronounced. Since May 30th, Moreland has posted an ugly .154/.214/.231 slash line with a 17 wRC+ against left-handed pitching. This isn’t a new development, as he’s posted a .240/.300/.337 slash with a 79 wRC+ against lefties throughout his career. The Red Sox need to find a righty first baseman, and Hanley Ramirez isn’t coming to save the day.
The Red Sox should look within the division to Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak. The 31-year old has dominated against lefties this season, posting a .293/.392/.427 slash line with a 130 wRC+. Even if Moreland starts against righties, having Smoak start against lefties would drastically improve the lineup, turning first base from a position of weakness to a position of strength whenever a lefty takes the mound.
It’s not like the Blue Jays have much to play for, either. As of this posting, they are 13.5 games out of a wild-card spot and 16 games out of first place. Their core has grown old, and their championship window has closed. The 31-year old Smoak is likely on the market for any team interested in buying.
It’s worth noting Smoak has some interesting incentives in his contract. Smoak is set to earn $6 million in 2019, but that number jumps to $7 million if he reaches 950 plate appearances across 2017-2018 and $8 million if that number reaches 1,100.
Smoak currently sits at 913 plate appearances, so the $7 million option is all but guaranteed. However, if he plays in a platoon role, he could theoretically stay under 1,100 plate appearances. That said, even if he does reach that plateau, he’ll be worth the money. The Red Sox need a first baseman that can hit lefties, and they were willing to pay Hanley $22 million to be that guy. Smoak should be better than Hanley and come at a fraction of the cost. Just like with Lowrie, this trade looks to be a perfect match.
While there appear to be clear answers for obtaining right-handed infielders, the same cannot be said for the outfield. There aren’t many righty outfielders on teams that would be selling at the deadline, so the upside here isn’t as high. That said, one of the better options might include going back to the Oakland Athletics. As mentioned earlier, the Athletics are destined to be sellers at the deadline, and the Red Sox should look into acquiring Mark Canha.
Thus far through 2018, Canha has destroyed lefty pitching. Canha is currently posting a .277/.319/.569 slash line against lefties to go along with a 140 wRC+. On the surface, Canha looks to be a perfect fit for the Red Sox. However, there are a few obstacles and warning signs that could get in the way of a potential trade.
For one, Canha has never had this type of success against lefties before. In his three previous major league seasons, Canha has posted wRC+ values of 63, 59, and 52 against lefty pitching. Now, maybe he figured something out and he’s become a great hitter against lefties. However, it’s just as likely that Canha is riding a hot streak, and he could revert back to his career norms.
Additionally, the Athletics may not want to trade Canha. Canha is still arbitration eligible through 2021, so he’d be more than just a rental. He’s a promising young player, and the Athletics won’t let him go unless the Red Sox make a high offer. Boston should kick the tires here, but they shouldn’t overspend to secure his services. The farm system is depleted enough.
The above players should be the top targets for the Red Sox, especially Lowrie and Snoak. However, should they miss out on these players, not all hope is lost. There’s a handful of other players around the league who could help the Red Sox, albeit without the same upside as the aforementioned three.
Should worst come to worst, the Red Sox could still improve the roster with Cincinnati Reds outfielder Adam Duvall. Duvall is in the midst of his worst season since 2014, hitting .190/.274/.393 with a 77 wRC+. However, despite these bad numbers, he’s still managed to create some solid production against left-handed pitching.
Through 69 plate appearances, Duvall is posting a .211/.348/.491 slash with a 119 wRC+. The batting average leaves a lot to be desired, but he’s drawing walks against lefties at an impressive 17.4% clip. When he does make contact, he hits it well, as he’s knocked five of his 11 regular season homers against lefties in considerably fewer plate appearances. Basically, he’s above average against lefties, which is exactly what his wRC+ says.
The Reds have been in an eternal state of rebuilding and they know they’re not competing this year. While Duvall is just 29 and is still arbitration eligible, he’s not the type of player you build a franchise around. He struggles against righties and defensively is just a league-average left fielder. The Reds would definitely sell him for the right price, and he could serve as a complimentary platoon player in the outfield.
Another outfielder they could target is New York Mets outfielder Juan Lagares. Lagares has been a bright spot on an otherwise poor Mets squad, posting a .339/.375/.390 slash line with a 112 wRC+ on the season. Against lefties, he’s hitting .300/.364/.300 with an 85 wRC+. However, there are several reasons that the Red Sox should not go this route.
For one, he has an unsustainably high .392 BABIP (.402 against lefties). The 2018 league average is .292, so Lagares is due for some serious regression. As it is, his stats are only good, and he’s had an incredible amount of luck on his side. When that goes away, he’ll probably be a below-average hitter.
Additionally, there’s the contract issue. Lagares is due to make $9 million in 2019 and possibly $9.5 million in 2020. The Red Sox currently have the highest payroll in baseball and are set to have several players test free agency within the next few years. It’s going to be difficult as is to not exceed the luxury tax, and adding $9 million to that number will only make things harder. Quite frankly, Lagares isn’t worth the cost, especially when considering the Red Sox would need to give up a prospect to obtain him.