Boston Red Sox Trade Rumors: No Ace Up Sleeve? Does Boston Deal For This Slugger Over Pitching?

The Boston Red Sox need starting pitching — but the latest trade rumors swirling around the franchise that has won more World Series championships than any team in the 21st century seem to suggest that Boston may go in another direction entirely and look to add more big bats to the lineup.

No one is suggesting that the Red Sox won’t go after another solid arm or two this offseason after dealing away four of their five regular starters at mid-season. Rumors that Boston will deal top rookie Mookie Betts for the Phillies’ Cole Hamels have circulated since well before the postseason began. And Red Sox Nation would relish nothing more than for Boston to re-acquire ace lefty Jon Lester, who was dealt to the Oakland A’s at the July 31 trade deadline through free agency.

But Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington — who has not been afraid to make unpopular moves for the long-term benefit of the franchise since taking over the job from Theo Epstein before the 2012 season — may be thinking differently again. Cherington is no doubt acutely aware that, as Brian Macpherson of the Providence Journal pointed out Wednesday.

“Of the top 20 pitchers by ERA in the major leagues this season, only two even emerged from the ALDS or NLDS — St. Louis duo Adam Wainwright (2.38) and Lance Lynn (2.74)… Of the 46 starting pitchers who have finished among the top five Cy Young Award vote-getters in the last five seasons, just 18 have seen their teams win their divisions — less than 40 percent.”

In other words, as Macpherson puts it, “the link between having an ace starter and winning a division title, let alone winning the World Series, has been tenuous at best.”

At the same time, the Red Sox were undone in 2014 more than anything else by their failure to score runs. Boston’s 3.91 runs per game average ranked 11th of the 14 American League teams and marked the first time in the last 46 seasons that a Red Sox team did not plate at least four runs per game.

The current thinking on the trade rumor circuit is that Cherington will attempt to fill the Red Sox rotation with reliable, but not expensive or superstar hurlers — while pulling out the stops to bring in big bats.

And if Cherington takes that path, there’s one trade target who makes more sense than anyone else, at least for the Red Sox. But trading 28-year-old third baseman Josh Donaldson seems to make little sense for the Oakland A’s, his current team.

Donaldson appears to be the exact type of “moneyball” player A’s GM Billy Beane prizes. He’s already a star and projects only to improve as he enters the prime of his career. But after just four seasons at the big league level, Donaldson is inexpensive and under team control for at least another three seasons.

The Red Sox place high value on that type of player as well. But, as a big plus for Donaldson, he also plays third base, where the Red Sox currently have a gaping hole — unless Will Middlebrooks remembers how to hit the way he did when he burst on the scene in 2012.

Could Cherington put together a package of prospects that would draw Beane’s interest? Betts would most likely be the lead name on that list, with A’s center fielder Coco Crisp sliding into “role player” status at age 35. Catching prospect Blake Swihart or lefty hurler Henry Owens — considered the top Boston pitching prospect — would also probably need to be included.

Boston Red Sox Blake Swihart
Red Sox top catching prospect Blake Swihart is likely to be a part of any Boston deal for Josh Donaldson.

But Cherington, like Epstein before him, tends to shy away from deals that strip the Boston minor league system of talent. Whether Josh Donaldson is swinging a Red Sox bat in 2015 depends, therefore, on how far Cherington is willing to go to field a contender in 2015 after two last-place finishes wrapped around a World Series championship in his first three years at the Boston helm.

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