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When trading Xander Bogaerts makes sense

Posted by Adam Kaufman  July 31, 2013 01:58 AM

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You’ve heard it a thousand times by now.

Xander Bogaerts, the undisputed top prospect in the Red Sox system who’s ranked sixth in all of baseball by MLB.com, is as close to untouchable as a player can be. A few others, such as Jackie Bradley, Jr., Henry Owens, and Allen Webster, to name a few, have recently approached that category as well.

When today’s trade deadline rolls around at 4 p.m., it’s likely that all of the aforementioned players will still be Boston property. However, on days like today, it’s important to remember one thing:

Everyone has a price.

Cliff Lee.jpg

For Phillies All-Star pitcher and 2008 Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee, who has widely been attached to the Red Sox in trade rumors, Bogaerts is simply too high a fee, never mind the other pieces that would be involved to make such a deal possible. If I’m Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, I’d prefer to hold onto my children.

There’s no disputing Lee’s talent. The 12-year-vet is a career 135-82 with a 3.55 earned-run-average, and he’s given his various clubs at least 211 innings in each of the last five seasons. This year, the Philadelphia ace is 10-4 with a 3.05 ERA in 20 starts spanning 144.2 innings, along with a 1.10 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched).

That said, Lee is old – baseball old, that is – and he’s owed a boatload of money for seasons to come. The 34-year-old will enjoy another birthday next month, and he’s due roughly $70 million in guaranteed money for the next three years, which includes a $12.5 million buyout in 2016 when he is 37 and would otherwise earn $27.5 million. No team will employ him for that kind of dough at that point in his career. That means that if Lee stays healthy for the duration of his contract – something that may happen based on his track-record, but cannot be assumed when considering his advanced age – he’ll be paid roughly one million dollars per start. Even in today’s game, that’s excessive. For what it’s worth, by the way, Lee is 4-2 with a 3.94 ERA over his last nine starts. Granted, that’s a small sample size, but it could also be an early indicator of a man on the decline, which he most certainly will be sooner than later.

Make the case, if you’d like, that he’s a proven ace. He is. Boast about how the 4-time All-Star has been successful in the postseason. He has, though it’s worth noting that his lifetime 7-3, 2.52 ERA in the playoffs is hindered a bit by a 4.55 ERA in four career World Series outings. But, hey, he’s gotten there twice (without a ring), so there’s no discounting that on his resume.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tried to make the case that by dealing Bogaerts, along with perhaps Webster, for Lee and third baseman Michael Young, it would be akin to their 2005 trade with the Marlins that shipped Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez south for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. His central argument of shooting for present-day success over long-term benefit makes sense but, overall, Rosenthal’s comparison is lunacy.

Focusing just on the key components, Beckett was 25 with a far more manageable contract than Lee (owed only about $11 million for two years, and he was a World Series hero), and Ramirez was very highly-regarded, but not nearly to the degree scouts and the Red Sox organization drool over Bogaerts.

Xander Bogaerts.jpg

The 20-year-old Bogaerts is well-respected, level-headed, and considered by most to be a “can’t miss” prospect. Everyone raves about his baseball IQ, his elite bat speed, his raw power, and his ever-growing discipline at the plate. SoxProspects.com projects the talented shortstop to be a middle-of-the-line-up star with regular MVP potential and 30-home run muscle.

He’s been flying through the Sox’ system since his time in rookie ball in 2010, to the point where he’s split this season between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket. Bogaerts has appeared in a combined 97 games across the two levels, hitting .298 with 14 homers, 59 RBI, and an .891 OPS. Again, he’s just 20.

The future suspects to be awfully bright for this kid and, if it pans out, it would be a shame not seeing that promise realized in a Boston uniform. But, there’s a reason people use the phrase, “close to untouchable.” Again, everyone has a price.

There is only one player rumored to be available who I would encourage the Red Sox to acquire while using Bogaerts as a chip:

Giancarlo “Mike” Stanton of the Miami Marlins.

Reports picked up steam on Tuesday that the Sox would be willing to do “whatever it takes” in order to pry Stanton from the Fish, and that would quite possibly include Bogaerts as only a starting point in the conversation.

Giancarlo Stanton.jpg

It’s a reach to think the Marlins would move their centerpiece but, if they’d entertain the conversation, he’s worth the haul he’d require.

Stanton is a 23-year-old outfielder – he turns 24 in November – who is already in his fourth big league season. Though he’s faced some knee, hamstring, and shoulder ailments along the way, he’s clubbed 106 home runs in just 435 games, while adding a .269 average, .545 slugging percentage and .900 OPS. In 2012, the All-Star batted .290 with a career-best 37 long-balls (second in the National League), 30 doubles, 86 RBI, and he paced the Senior Circuit with a .608 slugging percentage.

His numbers are a little down this season as a result of his shoulder woes – a .262 average, 13 home runs, 33 RBI, and an .881 OPS in 62 games – but he’s hitting .324 with 3 homers and a 1.209 OPS over his last two weeks.

Stanton has shown without reservation that he’s one of the game’s young, superstar players. The 6’6”, 240-pound slugger expects to be a perennial All-Star and, not to be ignored, he’s under his team’s control for another three full seasons. With Jacoby Ellsbury likely to leave as a free agent this winter and Bradley, Jr., poised to take over in centerfield, Stanton could provide the Red Sox with a mid-order hitting corner outfielder for several years. That goes beyond 2016 since Boston could most certainly afford to prevent him from reaching free agency.

Now, let’s be clear, this is all a discussion of fantasy. It’s highly unlikely that Bogaerts, Lee, or Stanton will be playing elsewhere come August. Frankly, the Red Sox trade of Jose Iglesias – who, for at least a few minutes, was viewed by some as their shortstop of the future – makes it arguably less likely that Bogaerts will be dealt anywhere now that he can slide back into his natural position and open third base up to other organizational suitors. Along those same lines, there’s a remote chance the Sox target another starter with Jake Peavy in the fold.

But, if there is one player for whom it would be worth the risk of seeing what Xander Bogaerts becomes elsewhere, it’s Giancarlo Stanton. He’s young, cheap, and already a sure thing.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About this blog

Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.

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