The July 31 MLB trade deadline is less than two weeks away.
For the 43-52 Boston Red Sox, who are currently sitting in fourth place in the American League East—and 9.5 games back from the first-place Baltimore Orioles—the time has come for them to determine whether they'll be on the buying or selling side of the trade fence come deadline day.
We could have a lengthy debate about which direction the Red Sox should go.
A 9.5-game deficit within the division is daunting, even with over two months remaining in the season. But we have seen crazier things happen before, and bottom-dwelling teams can light up at the right moment.
Perhaps this is exactly what Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington is hoping for.
In a way, Boston hasn't even decided about its future this season.
Manager John Farrell described this position further via Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe:
Time will tell. I'm not privy to every conversation Ben has. This is a busy time of year for the entire industry. So I'm sure there will be additional rumors continuing to grow, but until we know something concrete, our job is to maintain our focus on the field each and every day with the intent to win each and every night. ... No one has given up anything. No one has conceded anything. But we also have been in the game long enough to know that over the next two weeks names are going to start getting bantered about.
This conundrum leaves Boston at the aforementioned crossroads.
What if there was a move, however, that would be beneficial to either direction? What if the Red Sox could execute a deal that would not hinder their chances of salvaging 2014, but would also serve as a bonus if Boston decides that its postseason prospects have waned?
There is such a deal—the kind that would make sense on either side of the fence.
In short, Boston needs to trade incumbent closer Koji Uehara.
Let's get the numbers out of the way first. Uehara's 2014 statistics aren't indicative that his age is catching up with him.
Over the course of 42 games and 43.2 innings pitched, Uehara has posted a 1.65 ERA along with a 0.756 WHIP—and he's 39 years old.
His strikeout-to-walk ratio is down slightly from last year—9.50 in comparison to 11.22—but all other signs point to Uehara being as effective as ever.
So why trade the most venerable member of the Red Sox bullpen?
First, there are contractual considerations—Uehara is set to become a free agent no matter how Boston's season ends. Having signed a one-year contract for the 2013 season with an option for 2014 that vested last August, Boston will have to determine his future with the team sooner or later.
Given his age, it is hard to judge where Uehara sees himself a year from now, but the fact that he is still pitching effectively suggests that he will want to retain a prominent role next season.
The only real question is whether or not it will be with the Red Sox.
In 2014, their lineup of batters has gradually transformed from that of aging veterans toward a younger cast of characters, who should comprise the team for years to come.
Outfielder Mookie Betts and catcher Christian Vazquez are two examples of Boston's young talent breaking into the big leagues.
Since the Red Sox also have a plethora of pitching prospects awaiting their eventual debuts, they should also consider applying this theory to the pitching staff in general.
Granted, finding an effective reliever to serve in Uehara's stead would be tough. Few closers have equaled Uehara's performance in his two seasons with the Red Sox.
There are those analysts—like ESPN's David Schoenfield—that would argue the closer position is overrated.
"The point isn't that a closer isn't important; of course he is," he writes. "The point is that a lot of guys can do that job—and that the job is extremely volatile."
This isn't to suggest that Uehara is overrated or that his contributions are no longer needed, but if one wants to strike a balance between a quick fix and a long-term solution, then dealing Uehara makes sense.
Contending teams are almost always looking for pitching help, and they become even more desperate as the trade deadline approaches. Adding serviceable relievers can often be the difference between success and failure in the playoffs.
And how many postseason games are decided in the later innings? This author has seen more than a few.
Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles (h/t Ben Shapiro of MassLive.com) pointed out a possible buyer in the relief-pitching market via Twitter, suggesting that the Los Angeles Dodgers might be pursuing added bullpen help—namely former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon.
But Papelbon has a year remaining on his four-year, $50 million contract—with an option for 2016. While the cash-laden Dodgers have little concern over the price tag, a considerably cheaper move for Uehara seems much easier to pull off.
The trade package would also appear more amenable from both parties' standpoints.
As only a matter of speculation, a possible trade-chip commodity is Dodgers' outfield prospect Joc Pederson.
With a loaded outfield consisting of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig, Pederson's chances of making the Dodgers' big league roster appear distant.
In an article on ESPN.com back in November, Saxon pointed out this dilemma even after listing Pederson as the No. 2 prospect in the Dodgers' farm system.
The Red Sox need outfield help—we know that all too well. Los Angeles has an overload of outfielders, and they want relief pitching, according to Saxon.
This sounds like a plausible trade opportunity. Of course, Boston could be enticed by a possible exchange for veteran outfielder Ethier, who is another rumored target, according to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe (h/t Marc Normandin of SB Nation).
But why not go after a younger player with incredible upside?
Ethier is 32 years old, and his numbers have fallen considerably from the All-Star caliber stats he posted in 2010 and 2011.
The Dodgers, however, aren't the lone entity when it comes to a potential trade partner. Other teams certainly come to mind when discussing the acquisition of relief help.
The Detroit Tigers are another contender with bullpen needs; Chris Iott of MLive.com suggests the Tigers will be aggressive when it comes to upgrading this component.
We might as well add Uehara to that discussion as well.
Additionally, teams like the St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Angels are other teams that could possibly be in the same boat.
Any plausible transaction like this begs two questions—will it actually happen and, if so, who will take over the closer's job in Boston?
Let's address the second question first.
Lefty Andrew Miller would be the best option to fill the void, in this author's opinion. He has been as serviceable a reliever as the Red Sox could have hoped for over the past two-plus seasons. Both righties and lefties are batting under .200 against him this year.
Miller is a pending free agent, and the Red Sox would like to keep him into 2015, per Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe. Miller's current contract is worth a little over $1.9 million, making him a much cheaper commodity than Uehara.
Why not preview what an increased role would do for Miller's future in Boston?
The bigger question, of course, is whether or not the Red Sox would actually execute this idea. One could make the argument either way.
Cafardo reasons that Boston would like to retain Uehara for just one more season, based on the fact that Uehara has shown no signs of slowing down. Cafardo also points out the obvious—Uehara's age alone could thwart a potential transaction, and the Red Sox would not be likely to get much in return.
We also know too well that teams get desperate as the playoffs draw closer. Exchanging highly touted prospects for two-month rentals is nothing new.
Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston shares this perspective—he suggests the Red Sox should trade Uehara if they can get something of value in return.
Edes' statement is essentially our conclusion.
Boston won't trade Uehara for some mid-range prospect or major league platoon player. The deal would have to be lucrative enough to convince Cherington that it's the right one to be had.
As we have stated numerous times, however, teams in need of bullpen help at the deadline can be too aggressive—sometimes even overpaying for the talent they want.
From the Red Sox's perspective, dealing Uehara would not mean conceding the 2014 season: As mentioned, Boston has bullpen options. More importantly, any upside addition to Boston's beleaguered outfield would be nothing short of a bonus.
In addition, the Red Sox could secure at least something for Uehara if they decide that retaining him for 2015 is no longer worthwhile.
This is more speculation, of course. Trades can be a tricky thing to evaluate. While it is nice to play fantasy GM and swap excess components for the best players out there, the reality is that both teams involved need to come to a mutual agreement.
The complex nature of such agreements is nearly impossible to ascertain, which is why so many trade rumors never materialize.
Still, the Red Sox would be wise to shop Uehara. Given the fragile nature of the closer role, combined with Uehara's age and contract status, we can deduce that the six-year veteran is not a part of Boston's long-term plans.
From that vantage point, why not try to get something in return?
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com—and contractual information via Cot's Baseball Contracts—unless otherwise indicated.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report covering the Boston Red Sox. Be sure to check out his entire archive for Red Sox news, insight and analysis. Follow him on Twitter @PeterMcShots.
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