The Jose Reyes daydream is a pleasant one for us lineup junkies . . . Ellsbury, Reyes, Gonzalez, Youkilis, Ortiz, Pedroia, Crawford . . . — but the clear-eyed thinking here is that there’s a better chance of the Red Sox bringing back Julio Lugo on another four-year deal than parting with the bushel of prospects it would take to pry the superb but injury prone shortstop away from the Mets in his contract year.
Yes, for once in this neighborhood, the focus is on realistic matters. And so the attention turns to right field, where perhaps the Red Sox’ greatest need offensively — presuming you buy that a team that is leading the league in just about every hitting category has a greatest need — is a bat, preferably righthanded, to complement/replace Josh Reddick or J.D. Drew.
The rumor mill has included some big names (Hunter Pence, Carlos Beltran), some relatively appealing role players (Jeff Baker, Ryan Ludwick), and various degrees of liklihood that any one of these players could end up with the Red Sox. There is also the status quo, which for now includes Reddick’s spot-on Andre Ethier imitation and Drew’s quest for his 23d RBI.
What will the Red Sox do? Well, that’s why July 31 is such dramatic fun, isn’t it? But as the trade deadline approaches, here’s how I’d rate the potential right fielders — present company included — in terms of appeal, while disregarding for the most part what it might take to acquire them. As always, let’s yap about it further in the comments:
1. Hunter Pence, Astros: The Astros didn’t arrive at their current hapless and perhaps hopeless situation by making savvy personnel decisions, so maybe there’s a small chance that they would consider trading Pence, their All-Star right fielder who is in the middle of the best season (.321, .852 OPS) of his outstanding five-year career. But unless they are presented an overwhelming offer even they know better than to refuse, it makes no sense to deal Pence. He’s 28, makes $6.9 million, has two more years of arbitration eligibility ahead, and is their only appealing asset, other than arguably Bud Norris and Wandy Rodriguez. If the Astros can make a deal that instantly revives their barren farm system, only then does trading him make sense. But that offer won’t come from the Red Sox. He’s listed first here because he’s the best potentially available right fielder rather than because of any expecation he’ll be cramming to learn the nooks and crannies of Fenway come August 1.
2. Carlos Beltran, Mets: It sounds like the Red Sox appeal to him — he’s said he’d waive his no-trade clause to come to Boston, and wouldn’t a Crawford-Ellsbury-Beltran outfield be fun? But I do wonder how much he appeals to the Sox. His contract stipulates that he cannot be offered arbitration, thus preventing the Red Sox from getting compensatory picks to help replenish the farm system and replace the prospects they gave up for him. That could prevent the Sox from paying the relatively steep price the Mets would demand for the 34-year-old, who has his highest adjusted OPS, 147, since 2006, when he hit 41 homers. But for those of us who look at the trade deadline as summer’s version of Christmas, the idea of acquiring Beltran is extremely appealing, cost excluded. (It’s interesting to note that there are Red Sox all over his career and single-age comps: Ellis Burks, Reggie Smith, Fred Lynn, Andre Dawson . . . good company.)
3. Michael Cuddyer, Twins: Twins management said this week that it has no plans to trade the 32-year-old rightfielder/first baseman, who has been with the organization since he was chosen with the ninth pick in the 1997 draft. To say as much is makes sense given that Minnesota is just five games back in the AL Central and trading a popular player would be a sign that its pennant aspirations have given way to a white flag. But Cuddyer is a free agent at season’s end, and should Minnesota slump the next two weeks, wouldn’t they have to consider a deal? Even if they are serious about re-signing him, trade him for a package of prospects, then bring him back over the winter. Cuddyer would have tremendous appeal to the Red Sox — he’s hitting .364 with an 1.186 OPS and eight homers in 88 at-bats against lefties — and I still say he’s the most realistic high-quality option for the Red Sox.
4. Josh Reddick, Red Sox: No, I’m not sold. But man, I want to be. The tools — a quick bat, a vertical leap apparently higher than Jacoby Ellsbury‘s judging by that Fred Lynn-caliber catch Sunday night — are all there, and he made significant strides in plate discipline at Pawtucket this season. Still, Reddick was hitting .230 with the PawSox, with tells you something, and he was prone to prolonged slumps in the minors. While he has been dazzling (1.056 OPS in 87 plate appearances) this season, the real test will come after he strings together a couple of 0-for-4s. At the very least, he’s earned the chance to try to play through a slump.
5. Ryan Ludwick, Padres: Marc Normandin at Over The Monster makes a compelling case why the Red Sox would be wise to target the 33-year-old Padres outfielder, who has .238/.306/.376 line this season playing half his games in the hitters’ hell formally known as Petco Park. As Normandin points out, coming to Fenway and playing in a park that suits his skills for the first time in his career might bring the best out of him, and his best has been pretty darn good in the past (he hit 37 homers for the Cardinals in 2009). With Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod’s deep knowledge of the Red Sox farm system, chances are there is a player they like that Theo Epstein would be willing to part with. (For what it’s worth, Ludwick’s No. 1 comp for his career and through age 31 is Josh Willingham, another potential candidate. I like Ludwick better for durability reasons alone.)
6. J.D. Drew, Red Sox: There’s no chance I’m firing up the argument on the overall merits of his signing again; he’s as polarizing as any recent Red Sox player I can recall, and no minds are going to be changed about his value and usefulness at this point. What we can all agree on is that he’s had a horrendous season — Reddick has five fewer RBIs in 184 fewer plate appearances — and that the likelihood of Drew going on one of his hot streaks shrivels by the day. He’s about to fill the dubious role vacated by Mike Cameron as baseball’s best-compensated fourth outfielder.
7. Jeff Baker, Cubs: With a career .326 on-base percentage, it’s tempting to suggest he’s a depth piece more than a solution to any problem. But he’s hammered lefties in his career, posting a .318/.367/.543 line with 21 homers in 521 plate appearances, and he’s hit nearly 50 points higher in the second half over his seven seasons. The Cubs have said they aren’t inclined to trade him, which is a perfectly Cubs thing to do.
8. Jeff Francoeur, Royals: If Reddick ends up as the lefthanded-hitting version of Francoeur — excellent defense, double-digit home run power, and incurably brutal plate discipline — would that be a disappointment? Because a month ago, that’s who I would have told you Reddick would become. Francoeur gets bonus points for growing up a Red Sox fan, but his OBP this season, .310, is exactly the same as his career number. Watching him whiff on 1-2 sliders in the dirt would get old in a hurry.
9. Dwight Evans, Red Sox: Baseball-reference.com tells me he’s 59 years old now, which of course cannot be true. But even if it is, you’re not going to convince me that he couldn’t go up there and work a walk once in a while (his on-base percentage in his final season, unfortunately spent with the Orioles, was .393), or still gun down some foolish baserunner trying for an extra base. (He also deserved an Oscar nom for his turn as Jenna Fischer’s character’s dad in “Hall Pass.” But you knew that.) And even if he really is 59 and those skills are gone, can’t, well hell, it’s always worthwhile to acknowledge his greatness at any opportunity. Retire that No. 24 already.