(Just in case you didn't see the ESPYs.)
The Red Sox are an old team. There's no way around it. Of the nine players who have more than 200 plate appearances this season, only two -- Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury -- are under 30 years old. Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis are 30. J.D. Drew and David Ortiz both are 33. Mike Lowell is 35. Jason Varitek is 37.
(Edit: Jacoby Ellsbury is under 30. Jason Varitek is not under 30. Jason Varitek has not been under 30 since the Joe Kerrigan administration.)
That's a big problem this season -- particularly because the team's OPS has dwindled every month since April.
But that's a big problem for next season, too, because the Red Sox don't exactly have anyone waiting in the wings to make the type of impact Dustin Pedroia made in 2007 -- or even the type of impact Jed Lowrie made in 2008. Lars Anderson is at least a year away. Josh Reddick is at least a year away. Ryan Kalish is at least two years away. Ryan Westmoreland is probably four or five years away.
Chris Duncan pretty much becomes the player at Triple-A Pawtucket with the most potential impact immediately upon his debut with the team. No one else on that roster -- with the possible, exception of 25-year-old Aaron Bates, whose age limits his ceiling -- appears to be someone who could hit in the middle of a major-league lineup at any point in his career.
Without trading Clay Buchholz, there appears to be little the Red Sox can do this week to make a dramatic upgrade that addresses the lineup's dual problems -- being cold and being old. Cleveland's Victor Martinez would be a nice short-term solution, but he's 30 years old himself and has never finished a season with an OPS of .900. (That's fine if he's a catcher. That's not fine if he's a first baseman.)
Even if the Red Sox made a move this week to land Martinez, they'd either have to give him a lucrative extension at the age of 32 or go into the 2011 season depending heavily upon Anderson, Reddick or Zac Daeges. (That's assuming the Indians don't demand Anderson, Reddick and/or Daeges as part of the trade.)
What do the Red Sox have to do to get younger?
Well, here's the current list of 20-somethings with a 1.000 OPS:
1. Albert Pujols, 29 years old
2. Ben Zobrist, 28 years old
3. Joe Mauer, 26 years old
4. Prince Fielder, 25 years old
1. Pujols is signed through 2011 -- assuming the Cardinals exercise their $16 million option -- and hasn't made a peep about any kind of desire to leave the city that loves him more than it loves the Arch.
2. Zobrist might have to have this type of season one more time before people start to take him seriously as an MVP-caliber hitter.
3. Mauer is set to ignite a frantic bidding war after the 2010 season, a bidding war either the Twins (based on loyalty) or the Yankees (based on the $324 gajillion dollars they'll offer him) figure to win. (Sorry.)
That leaves Fielder.
Cecil's kid has a .438 on-base percentage and a .610 slugging percentage so far this season, numbers that would lead the American League in both categories. He OPS'ed better than 1.000 two years ago but saw his numbers tumble all the way down to .276/.372/.507 -- in other words, what Evan Longoria has done so far this season -- last year.
He signed a two-year contract to stave off arbitration with the Brewers: He's earning $6.5 million this year and will earn $10.5 million next year. After that, though, he'll be looking at a Ryan Howard-type arbitration number -- and the Brewers might not have any choice but to send him packing.
They might even be convinced to do so this winter with both Fielder's $10.5 million salary and a package consisting of Anderson, Michael Bowden and Casey Kelly staring them in the face.
The Red Sox love cost efficiency. The trade of Julio Lugo and $13 million in cash to the St. Louis Cardinals, though, once again demonstrates the team's willingness to open its wallet when the situation demands it.
Fielder might be the perfect player for what the Red Sox need. He hits home runs. He works counts and sees pitches. He draws walks. He strikes out less often than Jason Bay, J.D. Drew, David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis do. (The list of "Players who strike out at a higher rate than Prince Fielder" also includes Carlos Pena, Ryan Howard, Justin Upton, Evan Longoria, Grady Sizemore and Adam Jones.) He's a brutal defensive first baseman, but the Red Sox have done just fine with David Ortiz as their full-time designated hitter.
He'll also be a month shy of his 26th birthday when next season begins. The prime of his career lies ahead of him.
That's the type of player worth cashing in your chips for. That's the type of player that's worth packaging Anderson and Bowden and Kelly and Reddick and Tazawa.
(OK, maybe not all of those players. But maybe four of the five.)
That's the type of player around whom the Red Sox could build their team for the next six or seven years. If they're going to trade some of their highly touted prospects, that's the type of player they ought to be trying to get.