Well, I think the primary thing here with Youks is the new CBA. I think the reason they're going slow is that they *might* climb back into contention this year. If they do, they want youks on the roster, and if not, they want his value up at the point at which they trade him.
Luxury Tax Threshold:
2012 - $178m
2013 - $178m
2014 - $189m
2015 - $189m
2016 - $189m
Top Five MLB Opening Day Payrolls for 2012
1) New York Yankees: $197,962,289
2) Philadelphia Phillies: $174,538,938
3) Boston Red Sox: $173.186,617
4) Los Angeles Angels: $154,485,166
5) Detroit Tigers: $132,300,000
For all of the following I'm going to assume the Sox won't go over the tax limit unless they think they can have a huge post-season by adding a key player or two. I don't think the Sox think they're at that point right now, and the Scutaro trade was pretty revealing about their feelings on the luxury tax.
The new CBA means we can't spend our way into success by big FA acquisitions or by picking up expensive players in trade. Nor can we overpay in the draft then subsequently trade those players. So the Sox will be more likely to hang onto legitimate prospects.
Since we're close to the Tax threshold this year, our options to replace injured players and/or upgrade slots seem to be:
- Pick up fungible/fringey players and hope they stick (this seems to be the strategy so far with Byrd, Posednik, Nava, et. al.)
- Acquire cost-controlled, prime players. To do that though, we'd have to find a well matched team where we'd both be dealing from positions of strength. Say, Sox offense for offensively-challenged-Team X's abundant starting pitching. Or we could pay a premium in talent (like prospects + enough deadweight to offset the cost of the new player). But given the fact that we're not looking for one single piece to put us over the top right now, I don't consider this a likely option.
Still, for a trade to go through, we have to assume:
- Sox want to get better as a club by acquiring better performing players.
- and/or Sox want to dump salary to get below the tax as possible (Scutaro) so they can more options in who they might get back in trade at any point in the season.
- The Sox will want to be seen as competitive enough to sell tickets. An overt rebuilding year might hurt revenues (no fire sale scenario, no creating black holes at a position for prospects).
So, most likely possible trades are:
- Late Season/Sox out of Contention Trade: Impact players to a contender (either a healthy "rental" or a good long term contract).
- Mid Season Trade: Swapping strengths with another team (contender or no).
- Mid Season Dump: Send high salary players out to clear room to trade for another high salary player.
Any of these could be made more likely by including prospects and/or fringe players who are currently performing well.
Taking a look at Cots spreadsheet for the Sox contract obligations, this is what we can move: https://spreadsheets...bjw&output=html
Big ticket players:
1) Beckett - No trade likely.
$17 in 2012, $17 in 2013. It's a good value for what he gives, and if he becomes/remains injured, who would have him?
I could see a "cash dump" for Beckett, then trading for another starter with prospects, but that's uncertain and unlikely; again, to "clearly upgrade" Beckett, we'd have to pay a premium in talent, which I don't think the Sox will do.
2) Lester - No trade likely.
$7/11. Same rationale.
3) Buchholz - No trade likely.
$3.7/5.7. He should be untouchable. Could be our flat out best starter, and he's not exactly expensive if he's average. He's the most likely (besides Doubront) of our all SP to bring back a good return, but we'd need SP to fill his absence, and we'd go over the tax threshold unless that SP was in the sub $4 range. Which'd be rare to find on the market.
4) Lackey - No trade likely.
$16/16. This is the other side of the coin for those above; he's so injured/bad that no one will take his contract, unless we pay freight. In the past when the tax hit wasn't so bad, this could have been considered something of a sunk cost, but with the new CBA, for luxury tax purposes, we're on the hook regardless.
5) Matsuzaka - Trade if Healthy?
$10/0. He's coming off the books next year anyway, and is an unlikely resign. If he catches fire and the Sox remain out of contention, I could see a trade. Especially to a West Coast club. Trouble is, we wouldn't do anything with the money cleared for 2012 (out of contention) and we get no future gain (2013 is 0 anyway), so it would only be about the prospects we'd get back. Plus, if he's hot and we're still technically in it, the PR hit would be pretty bad. You don't trade a hot SP if you still have a chance to win.
1) Gonzalez - No trade likely.
$21/21. If he recovers value he's worth it to retain, because his expected value is a relative bargain as opposed to other recent free agent signings. If he does not recover value, few would take him at his current price.
However, if we're out of contention and if Gonzalez proves completely healthy, I'm sure there's a team out there who'd love to take him at something close to his current contract. That could give the Sox $17-$22 in wiggle room for future seasons. We'd need a lower cost replacement though, or we'd just have to spend that money in the FA market all over again. I don't really see that replacement anywhere in the minors or on the market. Anderson? If he keeps up his last couple of weeks for the next, say, forever, yes, but otherwise no.
2) Crawford - No trade likely/Trade of Healthy.
$20/20 Same as Gonzalez with no worries about the internal/market replacement - if the Sox could move this guy by paying $3 mil and taking a bag of balls in return, they should do it in a heartbeat, whenever they can, no matter where they are in the standings. This would be my first priority if I were Ben.
3) Ortiz - Deadline Trade?
$14.5/0 If out of contention the Sox will have to weigh the PR hit v. whatever he might bring back from a contender. That might be a lot though. Ortiz has the name power and real ability that might bring a big haul. IF Ortiz agrees to a contract extension for less than he's getting now, I don't see it happening.
4) Youkilis - Mid Season Trade.
$13/0 This is the most likely.
A) Youks mediocre. If he can be traded with cash for a bag of balls you do it for the luxury tax room and the possibility of acquiring another player later on in the season.
B) Youks excellent, plus we're in contention. Probably no trade. Like the above Matusuzaka scenario, if Youks is hot and we're still technically in contention, it would be seen as a white flag move. If we could get a SP with the trade or with the salary space the trade opens up, then it would probably not be viewed as a white flag.
C) Youks excellent, out of contention. We trade UNLESS there's a future contract on the table. However, I don't see the sox ponying up similar cash for Youks in 2013 as long as the wheels don't come off Middlebrooks. Or to say it another way, I don't think the Sox would pay $12 for a DH in 2013 if they can spend that money on a SP and go with a cheaper DH option. (If healthy, Youks would not accept much less than that to play for the Sox I think.) So, if he's going anyway, you might as well get something for him.
Barring injury to Middlebrooks, the Sox basically need to decide if they want to do 2013 with Ortiz, Youks, or someone else as the DH. This is complicated by Gonzalez's current suck, as a healthy Youks might be a 1B option. I strongly suspect if either Ortiz or Youks offered to resign for a great deal, the other would be out the door by the trade deadline. (Unless we were in the thick of it.) If both Ortiz and Youks were healthy, the Sox would clearly want to keep Youks for 2013.
5) Pedroia - No trade.
$8/10. This would be a huge PR hit and it would be difficult to replace him.
6) Ellsbury - No trade.
$8/arb. I think his injuries give the Sox some leverage. His arb numbers won't be as good, so if he comes back fully healed, you're in a good position with some chance for signing him (youks money?). If he's injured you let him go. There's no selling high on him at this point though, given his slow start and potentially career ending injury.
Everyone else I think of as "small" ticket. Meaning that for what it costs to pay them, you can trade 'em or not without running afoul of the luxury tax. As much as I like Ryan Sweeney, he could go at some point, a similar player could be signed at some point, and it all comes out in the wash.
I think the Sox biggest assets are Potential Cash and cheap talent.
Of the above players, they could (if healthy) send someone packing and get some cash back to go after future free agents or sign someone like Ellbury (if healthy) to a deal. Youks (redundant) and Ortiz seem like the most likely players to send out this season. This kind of sucks as Ortiz is my favorite player on the Sox right now.
In terms of cheap talent: Middlebrooks, Doubront, Kalish, Soppach, Bard, Miller, etc. there's actually a lot of value there. But it's hard to see a small package of these guys bringing back more concentrated value in terms of elite starting pitching, or even beckett/lester/buchholz/doubront level pitching.
The ideal "fantasy" trade would be:
1) everyone gets healthy and Crawford/Youks become expendable and can be traded for SP and/or just to clear salary space.
2) We use the salary space and/or Crawford/Youks/Bullpen surplusage to trade for an elite SP which bumps everyone down a slot in the rotation.
For 2014, they can let the following walk:
Which gives them $40 some odd million, offset by arb and so forth. That can go a long way to bolstering a Beckett/Lester/Buchholz/Doubront/? rotation. You could replace the DH with someone (Lavarnway, Anderson, FA, or a resign) not too expensive and be in a very good position to sign a very good SP. I know the arb numbers can add up, but that's only if the players are good and/or actually play. The only significant raises are $7 for Pedroia, Lester and Buchholz.
I'd argue that because of this 2013 outlook, the Sox probably won't make a trade unless overwhelmed by the offer or they're clearly out of it. Right now they're not technically out of it by a long shot. Plus they know relief is around the corner for 2013.
So right now, they will sit pat, hope Buchholz becomes the #1 they'd want to trade for anyway, maybe trade some BP arms for something, and/or maybe trade Youks *if* Gonzo is healthy and Middlebrooks plays well and they get a great offer early, OR if there is no future for Youks on the club and they get a good offer once they feel they're likely out of it.