The Boston Red Sox entered 2014 as the defending World Series champions, and with a boatload of accumulated goodwill after bouncing back from a dismal 2012 season.
Three months later the Red Sox are battling Tampa Bay; not for the division lead, but to stay out of the cellar.
The Grady Sizemore experiment in centerfield ended not with a bang but a whimper. After not playing a full season since 2008, it came as no surprise that Sizemore failed to impress, and was designated for assignment after batting just .216 with an abysmal .612 OPS. The quagmire at centerfield continued with youngster Jackie Bradley Jr., hitting an equally poor .208 with an even worse .592 OPS.
As Bradley hit .189 last season, and Sizemore did not play a game for years, the drop-off from All-Star Jacoby Ellsbury is staggering. The fact that Boston let Ellsbury go to their division rivals in New York without a fight seemed like a bad move at the time, and is now magnified with Ellsbury outperforming everyone in the Boston outfield.
The rest of the outfield in Boston has seemingly been one failure after another.
Shane Victorino has played only 21 games this season; Jonny Gomes is hitting .238; Daniel Nava has needed a hot streak to get over .200, after a trip to triple-A Pawtucket; and Mike Carp, when healthy, did nothing to take advantage of potential playing time by batting just .214 with no home runs.
The Red Sox have been reduced to playing utility infielder Brock Holt – a throw-in from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Joel Hanrahan for Mark Melancon deal – in the outfield, simply due to the fact that no one else is hitting and they are desperate for any production from the outfield. The Red Sox are so desperate for production that they have moved their top hitting minor league prospect abruptly from second base to centerfield upon his promotion to triple-A. With the need for an outfield bat the Red Sox are on the verge of bring up Mookie Betts to man centerfield, despite a total of 25 games in the outfield in his professional career.
Contrary to reports of “Nothing going on” in trade talks with the Dodgers for outfielder Matt Kemp, the Red Sox are at the point of the season where a move has to be made for an outfielder, or the team starts selling off every asset who is not a long-term solution for the future.
Kemp has an unfriendly contract (almost $118 million remaining through 2019), however, Kemp is healthy in 2014, and his .780 OPS with eight home runs as of June 27th would make him the undisputed star of the Red Sox outfield and lineup. Kemp also fills the need of right-handed power and protection in the lineup for designated hitter David Ortiz. Although his contract is high, the idea of Kemp spending the next five years peppering the Green Monster at Fenway Park is one that should excite the Fenway faithful.
With the success of young starting pitchers Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa, starters Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz have suddenly found themselves on the outside of the starting rotation after an ineffective start to the 2014 season. With the high cost of veteran Jake Peavy and his mediocre work this season, Peavy is another candidate to leave as part of a deal for offense.
The issue with Kemp is if the Dodgers decide it is in their interest to move him?
With former Red Sox outfield Carl Crawford injured, Kemp has been playing full time. Although, at the same time, exciting young outfielder Scott Van Slyke could step in if Kemp were dealt. The Dodgers have little quality depth in the rotation, and three over-30-year-old starters in Dan Haren, Josh Beckett, and Zack Greinke. Another arm is a must for the Dodgers to stay in the race.
The Red Sox have the young and veteran arms that the Dodgers need for their rotation and bullpen in their attempt to overtake the San Francisco Giants in the N.L. West. The Red Sox need the power from the right side that Kemp could provide in Fenway Park. With the season slipping away each week, Boston needs a bold move to trade enough pitching depth to the Dodgers to pry Kemp away from them.
Without an impact bat – and there are few others available not named Kemp – the Red Sox season could be a long, slow descent to the bottom of the A.L. East.