Things are bad for the Red Sox right now. Getting swept at home by the Cubs should be the final sign that there won’t be any magic from this year’s team. Now nine games below .500, the reigning champions have been brutal offensively all year. It’s hard to think of a single player other than Brock Holt who is having an above-average season offensively. The promising Xander Bogaerts has only 6 hits in his last 77 at-bats, yet compared to everyone else, he hardly stands out as an underperformer. To quote old favorite Shea Hillenbrand: “the ship is sinking.”
So what now? Surely the Red Sox won’t be buyers at this point, as it would be a shame to waste any minor league assets for any trades in a doomed season. So I think it’s time to sell. This will be an unpopular suggestion, but I am coming to believe that the Red Sox should trade star closer Koji Uehara, among others. Shipping the popular postseason hero out of town would be a shocking move by Ben Cherington a year after Uehara’s unprecedented success, but the Red Sox must capitalize on his value while they still can.
At age 39, Uehara has become one of the very best closers in the game. For the most part, he’s picked up where he left off, posting a 1.40 ERA and a strikeout to walk ratio of 9.8 this year. He’s had a few outings like the one Tuesday night that might suggest he’s going to come down to earth soon – especially given the fact that he’s said he feels slightly fatigued this year – but for the most part, he has been excellent on the mound. At only $4.25 million dollars a year, the Red Sox are getting great value for their dollar.
But that will all change when Uehara hits free agency this winter, as the Japanese star will likely demand a multi-year contract for at least two or three times the amount he is making this year. And as one of the game’s best closers, you can’t say he doesn’t deserve it. However, the Red Sox should be hesitant to sign Uehara to that kind of contract as he turns 40. There is no telling when he might break down at that age. Whether or not he’ll be as effective in two years is unknown, but it’d be a huge gamble for any team that signs him for multiple years.
So if the Red Sox don’t plan on re-signing him, they should capitalize on his value and see if they can start a bidding war this month. Every team would want a closer as reliable as Uehara, so there would certainly be a market out there. Essentially, the team would be renting him for two months plus any games in October, but his postseason success would make him worth sacrificing a prospect or two.
Trading Uehara would be the ultimate sign to the players and fans that they are giving up on the season, something Cherington might not be willing to do. But if he doesn’t believe the club will contend this year – and all results point there – he should start preparing for the future. The Red Sox have a deep minor league, but they do not have much in the way of right-handed power, especially in the outfield. If they can steal a top hitting prospect from someone, they have to make the trade.
There are a lot of pieces that the Red Sox can sell if they deem themselves out of the race in the next couple weeks – namely, Jonny Gomes, Felix Doubront and Stephen Drew among others – but Uehara will be the only one who can command prospects that can significantly enhance the club’s future. It would be a huge letdown to see our high-fiving superstar go, but at some point, frugal decisions must be made. A similar conclusion could be reached about Jon Lester, but I think the Red Sox would be less inclined to trade him given their desire to bring him back on a long-term deal.
I’m not saying I’d give up and trade Uehara this week. But I do think Cherington needs to stir up conversation among general managers around the league. If he hears a good offer, he must listen, because Uehara’s success might do a whole lot more for the Red Sox’s future than it can do for the present.