One year ago, the Red Sox were stuck in trade deadline purgatory. Too injured to really justify buying, but not particularly interested in selling given the expectations of the fanbase and the seemingly lukewarm market.
This year things are a bit different. With the best record in the American League, a two-game lead in the AL East, and a seven-game cushion for their playoff spot, the Sox seem destined for the postseason. And while this of course means they've got a pretty good team, there's always room for improvements.
The area of greatest need is the rotation. With only Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz inspiring any confidence so far this season, the Sox are in need of a starter who they can trust to pitch fourth in the postseason. What's worse, Beckett has been prone to injuries in years past, and both Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have been dealing with bad backs this season.
There are some luxury names that have been floating around, chief among them Ubaldo Jimenez. The Colorado Rockies ace hasn't been so different from last year as his ERA suggests, but at the moment it seems as though Jimenez--however fantastic an addition he would be--would cost more than the Sox are willing to pay. With the Rockies having asked the Yankees for their three top-tier prospects (Jesus Montero, Delin Betances, and Manny Banuelos) amongst others, the Sox would likely have to empty the upper levels of their system to acquire Jimenez. It's generally agreed that the Rockies are just out looking to see if someone will dramatically overpay, and the Sox shouldn't be the ones to bite for a man who would only fill a fourth starter role.
Unfortunately, Hiroki Kuroda will not be the answer either, as the Dodgers' starter will veto any trade that sends him to the East Coast.
There have been a number of other names connected to the Red Sox, but none terribly exciting or likely. Former Sox postseason hero Derek Lowe has been mediocre since leaving the Dodgers, and is owed a great deal of money in 2012. The Orioles are not terribly likely to deal Jeremy Guthrie within the division. And Matt Garza has struggled in the National League (despite some impressive peripherals) and would likely cost a fair deal given the price the Cubs paid for him in the first place.
In a perfect world, John Lackey would overcome his difficulties and start at least performing like a No. 4 starter, but his recent bout of effectiveness (his earned runs against the Rays being largely the fault of Marco Scutaro's defensive deficiencies in the first inning) has come too late for the Sox to really have a chance to establish whether this is the start of a rebound, or just a blip on the terrible, terrible radar.
Given that reality, then, it seems like the Sox have to come away with something for the rotation at the deadline. Some more reasonably-priced and passable possibilities could include Edwin Jackson and Erik Bedard. Bedard would be a major risk given his injuries, but could pay significant dividends if he can stay on the mound. Jackson is a bit more reliable health-wise, but is less impressive on the mound, generally, and might not be available given the weakness of the A.L. Central division. The Mariners' rotation could provide another possible option in Doug Fister, though he might be just a less-extreme version of the Jimenez situation, both overqualified and too expensive.
The less pressing is in the outfield, where the conventional wisdom say the Red Sox are in need of a right-handed bat. But it's not clear just how real that need is. Before the season started, there were concerns that the Sox would struggle against left-handed pitching. But Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and surprisingly enough David Ortiz have been three of the most productive bats against left-handers this season; Ortiz' .998 OPS against southpaws is the lowest of the three. All-together, the Sox are actually the fourth-best team at hitting lefties in the league.
Still, there's something to be said for having not just a right-handed bench bat, but also some insurance should Josh Reddick cool off. Carlos Beltran would be the most impressive option, but if the Sox picked him up, they'd likely have to bench Reddick in response, which would be frustrating for everyone involved. It also seems as though the Mets' asking price is higher than the Sox are willing to spend on a guy who's effectively a salary dump for New York.
Perhaps a more appropriate answer would be Jeff Francouer, who has generally hit lefties well and could be stored on the bench for cheap. Unfortunately, one of the ideal options in Jeff Baker seems to be off the market, as the Cubs are planning to use him next year. But the Cubs also have Reed Johnson, who has hit lefties quite well throughout his career, and has plenty of experience as a pinch-hitter.
If there's anything else the Sox could be worried about, it's finding a left-handed reliever. But so far the combination of Matt Albers, Daniel Bard, and Jonathan Papelbon has proven entirely effective without any lefties. They might pick someone up regardless, but as with the other areas, don't be expecting a blockbuster deal.
This seems to be a good year for the Sox to replenish their farm system rather than drain it dry, if for no other reason than that the team is good enough to not need to add premium talent. They have decent enough production at catcher, and there aren't any shortstops available who would really improve the lineup with Jose Reyes having come off the market. The Sox won't be quiet, but they won't likely be terribly loud, either.