The Red Sox sit in a place they haven’t been at the trade deadline since 1997.
At 39-51 entering Thursday night’s game, they could be sellers in this year’s trade market. Even two years ago, when they finished with a disastrous 69 wins, they were two games over .500 on July 31 and ostensibly still in the wild-card hunt.
The Sox were six games under .500 at the trade deadline in 1997 and pulled off one of the more notably lopsided deals in MLB history. They dealt veteran reliever Heathcliff Slocumb to Seattle for little-known pitcher Derek Lowe and catcher Jason Varitek.
Slocumb was 0-4 with a 4.13 ERA and 10 saves for the Mariners. Varitek and Lowe became icons in Boston and cornerstones of the 2004 World Series team.
So if the Sox choose to go the same route as 1997 and sell off some players, who are mostly likely to be dealt?
1. Jake Peavy
Presuming he hasn’t already been traded by the time you read this, Jake Peavy is probably the hottest commodity on the Red Sox.
The addition of Peavy to the Sox last July 30 gave the team a tremendous boost as they eventually went on to win the World Series. Peavy was a big part of that, especially with a good start against the Rays in the ALDS.
Now, another team would like to replicate that success. Peavy will most likely be traded to a National League team, with the Cardinals already reportedly in negotiations to bring in the 33-year-old righty.
Peavy has struggled to a 1-7 record with a 4.64 ERA and just 84 strikeouts in 110 2/3 innings. The ERA would improve in the NL, and he’s third-lowest in the AL with only 3.22 runs per game support, so the record doesn’t matter.
But he has an abnormally high 42 walks after just 49 in an entire season (219 innings) in 2012.
But St. Louis is stocked with prospects the Sox would love and Boston prospect Rubby De La Rosa would get a permanent role in the rotation.
2. Will Middlebrooks
Teams usually ship veterans out of town for young players, but Middlebrooks still seems destined to exit Boston.
The 25-year-old third baseman was the 51st-rated prospect in all of the majors by Baseball America in 2012. He’s never lived up to it in Boston, but another team will likely give him a chance despite his .197 average and two home runs in 71 at-bats. Middlebrooks also is developing a bad injury reputation. He’s currently rehabbing from a broken finger, which came on a hit-by-pitch. But he’s also dealt with a broken wrist in 2012 and a strained calf earlier in 2014.
3. Jon Lester
If Jake Peavy is the most likely player on this list to be dealt before July 31, then Jon Lester is the least likely.
But that was not necessarily the case a few weeks ago. And there’s no question Lester would fetch a fairly nice return for the Sox.
It all comes down to whether Boston believes they can re-sign the lefty starter once he becomes a free agent after the season. If they do — and to a reasonable deal — he will not be dealt. In fact, the only way he is traded away is likely if general manager Ben Cherington and company believe there is no way they re-sign him come the offseason.
It’s the unlikeliness of that situation which makes Lester almost a given to return. And ESPN reported Wednesday the two sides were opening dialogue again over a contract extension.
4. John Lackey
Veteran starting pitchers are always in high demand at the trade deadline. And ones with sterling postseason records are even more desired.
Lackey meets both of those criteria. Plus, he’s due just $500,000 next season due to a clause in his contract which protected the Red Sox against an arm injury like the one that knocked him out of the entire 2012 season.
There are few teams that wouldn’t sign up to get a guy who has a lifetime postseason record of 6-5 with a 3.03 ERA and two World Series rings. The latter came in a series in which Lackey threw 14 innings in three games (two starts) to the tune of a 2.57 ERA.
Lackey is 9-6 with a 3.84 ERA in 2014. He may be 35 years old, but he still appears to have something left in his right arm.
It will come down to what type of return the Red Sox can get. He’s such an attractive commodity due to his 2015 contract that he should return fairly impressive prospects.
Whereas Lester is a free agent next season and Peavy is past his prime, and a free agent, the return should be higher on Lackey.
5. Koji Uehara
Red Sox fans may riot if the team trades the person they fell in love last season.
Uehara was the brightest spot in an altogether brilliant season in 2013. He finished with 21 saves, a 1.09 ERA and record-setting 0.56 WHIP as he took seventh in Cy Young voting.
But it wasn’t a freak season based on 2014. He has a 1.30 ERA this year and could slot into the closer role for a number of clubs expecting to make the postseason. It wouldn’t hurt to have the 2013 ALCS MVP in your pen. But as a free agent next season, he won’t bring a huge prospect in return.
6. Andrew Miller
A few years ago it would’ve been unthinkable, but Andrew Miller might be the most-desirable player on the Red Sox roster.
Miller had a 5.95 ERA in his first season with the Red Sox mostly as a starter. Since his move to the pen, he’s been much better — never more so than this season.
He has posted a career-best 2.34 ERA in 34 2/3 innings and has a dominating 57 strikeouts.
As always a left-handed reliever is in high demand at the trade deadline, so multiple teams will be inquiring about Miller.
7. Burke Badenhop
Few positions are traded at the deadline more the relief pitchers.
Burke Badenhop is another arm in the Sox bullpen who could be on the move sooner rather than later. He has a 3.00 ERA in 45 innings. While Badenhop is a right-hander, and lefties are in more demand, left-handed hitters have a .254 batting average against him. He has actually been better against lefties than teammate Craig Breslow, a lefty, who might also be on the market.
Follow Metro national sports editor Mark Osborne on Twitter @MetroNYSports.