Before last weekend's series against the San Francisco Giants, the Red Sox were a great team with a fixable problem. The bullpen was weak, to be sure, but a deal at the trade deadline and all could be well for a great postseason run after a remarkably poor start.
Suddenly, though, the Red Sox are in trouble -- surprisingly enough as the result of a series they won 2-1, helping to put them in sole possession of second place in the East, as well as the American League Wild Card. With a foul ball to Dustin Pedroia's foot putting him on the shelf for an estimated six weeks, to say nothing of possible missed time for Clay Buchholz (knee) and Victor Martinez (thumb), the already injury-riddled Red Sox are facing a very dangerous month. If the Sox are willing to dip into their fairly significant farm system depth, though, they might be able to kill two birds with one stone, surviving both the month, and late innings for the rest of the year.
So who do they target to stand in for the MVP? The answer does not lie in Bill Hall -- or Bill Hall version 2.0 as they might find in Eric Patterson -- but in a real Major League quality replacement. There are a couple of possible targets here, most of them fitting the big bat, bad glove group. Rickie Weeks and Dan Uggla are both possibilities, but perhaps the best option is Kelly Johnson.
While Johnson, like Weeks, has a third year of arbitration coming up, neither team is particularly likely to immediately be in the mix next year, and so would likely be open to trade offers. They've made it quite clear what they're looking for too:
"We'll explore a lot of possibilities and see where we end up. I do think a lot of our players are guys we value and want to keep and I think if we're going to make trades, we'll have to get the type of things - particularly young pitching depth - that would make sense to us."
As much as we might hate to think about certain contracts, the Red Sox' rotation is well established for the next few years, and the Red Sox do have some high-level pitchers with trade value who could otherwise simply end up blocked. I'm not talking Casey Kelly here -- that would definitely be too much under the circumstances -- but what about Felix Doubront, whose recent spot start has earned positive reviews? Michael Bowden's value should be rising again now that his new delivery is producing results in Triple-A, and even without Kelly, Portland's rotation is still stacked with some potentially valuable pieces. Kelly Johnson is certainly not out of reach.
So where does "bird number two" come in? At the trade deadline. Conveniently enough, two of the contenders with the greatest amount of pitching depth to deal from are also in need of a strong offensive middle infielder like Johnson: the White Sox, and the Padres. Should either of these teams remain in contention come late July, the Sox could afford to go without Johnson for the week or two left before Pedroia will likely be ready to come back. Johnson becomes a one month rental for us, and an answer to a hole for one of the contenders, who ship us the pen depth we need in return. Given his being under control for 2011, he would be especially attractive to a team like the Padres.
It's a bit complicated, and if other teams make unexpected moves, the Red Sox could end up with three middle infielders too good to use as replacements. But if Theo plays his cards right, the Sox could find a capable fill-in for Dustin Pedroia now, and bullpen depth later without spending anything more than they would have to fix the bullpen in the first place. Not exactly no risk, but a potentially high reward.