Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Red Sox' Latest Infusion of Electric Youth Can Only Help Make a Deal for Giancarlo Stanton

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Casey Kelly, Boston's first-round draft pick in 2008, is 1-0 with a 2.21 ERA this season for the San Diego Padres' Double-A affiliate in San Antonio. The 24-year-old righthanded pitcher has been sidelined since his last start on May 19 with shoulder soreness, one year after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Anthony Rizzo, whom the Red Sox sent to the Padres along with Kelly in the 2010 deal for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, is hitting .267 with 10 home runs and 28 runs batted in, racking up an .864 OPS for the Chicago Cubs, who dealt for the 24-year-old slugger in 2012, Theo Epstein's first year on the job.

Reymond Fuentes, another Boston first-rounder, is hitting .198 for the San Antonio Missions. Eric Patterson bounced around for a few years and was released by the Cubs organization earlier this year.

As far as returns go, it's not exactly the Bartolo Colon trade (Cleveland received a package from Montreal that included youngsters Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips in exchange for Colon - and Tim Drew - in 2002), but there remains some promise in Kelly's arm despite his inability to stay healthy. From the Red Sox' perspective, sure, Gonzalez turned out to be kind of a dink, but it's a trade they'd still make over and over again.

Welcome to "again."

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After a weekend that saw Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Xander Bogaerts, Garin Cecchini, and Alex Hassan all contribute to the Red Sox' sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays, it's easy to envision Boston's future anchored with youth. Workman and De La Rosa combined to hurl 12 1/3 innings over the weekend, allowing only two earned runs (both Workman’s), with one ejection (also, Workman). Bogaerts, Cecchini, and Hassan batted .300 as a group, with the latter two players earning their first major league hits during Sunday’s 4-0 win.

Their average age: 23.5.

Alas, it's even easier to picture many of them playing in Miami as soon as next season, when Marlins star Giancarlo Stanton could very well be launching 450-foot moonshots in Fenway Park.

Where does the asking price begin for Stanton, who is having a monster season for the 28-28 Marlins, in the thick of things in a National League East that is starting to make its American League counterpart look like a powerhouse? The All-Star outfielder has rebounded from his subpar 2013 season hitting .311 with an NL-leading 16 home runs and 51 RBI. His 1.020 OPS is fourth in all of baseball behind Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki, Los Angeles’ Yasiel Puig, and Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz (turning out to be the steal of the offseason at a one-year, $8 million deal). Stanton is only 24 and has already pounded 133 home runs during his five-year career. On that note, if you want to spend the next 15 minutes drooling, check out the following. We’ll wait.

But as with all things involving the cash-strapped Marlins (unless they’re fleecing residents into building them a new palace), the good times are going to come to an end sooner than not. Stanton is making $6.5 million this season in his first year of arbitration. That’s tied for 41st among outfielders with 40-year-old Ichiro Suzuki of the Yankees and Washington’s Denard Span. The next time he and the Marlins go to arbitration, that salary is going to jump significantly, perhaps as much as three times as he’s making now, according to the Miami Herald.

The Marlins currently tout a $46.4 million payroll. Stanton and Jarrod Saltalamacchia account for 28 percent of the roster’s salaries.

Clearly this isn’t a marriage meant for the long haul. There’s hope in Miami that the Marlins could break pattern and break the bank for its young superstar, as the team did in its haphazard offseason in 2011, when it signed Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes to open its gaudy new stadium. But it’s mostly drowned out by the fervor over LeBron and the oncoming Dolphins training camp, and despite his team’s semi-resurgence this season, there’s little evidence that Stanton has been relieved of his misery.

“Does he like playing for the Marlins?” the Herald asked him last week. “’Yes,’ Stanton said flatly before turning away to get dressed at his locker. ‘I do.’”

That’s a ringing endorsement.

As long as the entire city is tampering with Kevin Love, when does Stanton get his weekend of being courted in Boston? The slugger swatted a home run here in 2012, when Bobby Valentine’s Red Sox ended up sweeping the Marlins, one of three hits he had during the midweek series. The Sox are realistically one of the only teams that can afford giving Stanton a long-term deal, even if it means at the expense of Jon Lester, whose performance on Sunday (seven innings, 12 strikeouts), was only the latest indicator that the 30-year-old lefty is going to cash in big time come November. A mid-season deal is probably out of the question, seeing as the Red Sox (thanks, Stephen Drew) are up against the luxury tax. But next season, Jake Peavy ($15.5 million), Lester ($13 million), A.J. Pierzynski ($8.25 million), Jonny Gomes ($5 million), Koji Uehara ($5 million), and David Ross ($3.1 million) are all off the books. John Lackey (6-3, 3.27 ERA this season) will make only $500,000 next season, the club minimum originally worked into his deal for missing all of the 2012 season after Tommy John surgery. That makes his trade value prior to the July 31 deadline at an all-time high, something – no matter where the Sox are in the standings – Ben Cherington would be remiss not to explore.

Then again if the Sox trade Lackey and lose Lester, they’re possibly looking at a 2015 rotation that will include De La Rosa, Felix Doubront, Anthony Ranaudo, Allen Webster, Workman, and the Ghost of Clay Buchholz. If they hold onto Lackey at the minimum, at least they’d have a veteran presence at the front of the rotation, albeit one with the ultimate wild card question of whether or not he’ll feel like pitching for peanuts.

That’s a young but potentially solid group, one that could probably survive losing its co-ace to free agency and one of its arms to Miami. Boston would love to sell high on lefty Henry Owens, who is 6-3 with a 2.52 ERA for Double-A Portland, but in the eyes of many, he doesn’t throw hard enough to be considered a high-ceiling pitcher. First-rounder Matt Barnes is 1-3 with a 5.35 ERA at Pawtucket, and is still seemingly finding his way at the Triple-A level. Twenty-one-year-old Mookie Betts (.994 OPS with the Sea Dogs) is due for a promotion any day, and could land in the Boston outfield by August. The Marlins have expressed interest in Will Middlebrooks in the past, but at this point, the injured and struggling third baseman is a player that would more likely be a throw-in for any deal involving Stanton.

Of course, that conversation is going to begin with Bogaerts, the Sox' budding superstar shortstop/third baseman, a guy Boston has on its short list of untouchables. Beyond Bogaerts? As much as we all enjoyed watching De La Rosa deal Saturday night, and as much as the Red Sox would like to steer the conversation away from his as well, if it starts there, so be it.

Any way you put the puzzle pieces together, the Marlins have to surrender Stanton at some point soon, and the Red Sox do indeed have a tantalizing list of names to choose from.

Let the tampering commence. Watching the kids over the weekend was fun. Seeing Stanton saunter to the launchpad 81 games per season would be something else entirely.

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