Call it baseball's version of seasonal affective disorder: Hope springs eternal until summer punches you in the face.
Everyone wants to believe they're a contender in March, but July has a way of setting the pretenders straight.
We don't yet know how the 2021 Red Sox season will unfold in this time of cautious optimism, what with an improved pitching staff, the return of manager Alex Cora, and a potentially diverse offense. But we should at least allow for the possibility that things go south for a second straight season, in which case the Red Sox will once again be sellers at the trade deadline.
Chaim Bloom and Co. will do everything in their power to make sure that doesn't happen, but they'd be neglecting their duties if they didn't plan for the possibility. In that vein, here are six players who could be looking at a change of scenery if the Red Sox recognize on July 31 that they're not legitimate contenders.
1. Matt Barnes
Some of baseball's most lopsided trades have been made for veteran relievers at the deadline, whether it's the Red Sox sending an unknown prospect named Jeff Bagwell to the Astros for Larry Andersen, or nearly 25 years later receiving left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez from the Orioles for half a season of Andrew Miller.
Barnes was the Red Sox reliever with the most value last summer, but they elected to keep the 30-year-old, parting instead with closer Brandon Workman and setup man Heath Hembree.
Barnes has all the tools rival organizations prize in a late-inning arm -- power arsenal, extensive postseason experience, an affordable $4.5 million contract in his final season of arbitration eligibility.
He'd be a rental, but a valuable one.
2. Adam Ottavino
Virtually everything we just said about Barnes applies to Ottavino, except he's that he's five years older and makes twice as much money. Still, if he regains his form of 2018-19, when he posted a 2.19 ERA in 144 innings between Colorado and New York, there should be a robust market for his services, especially since there's little chance he's a long-term part of Boston's future.
The Red Sox assumed his salary from the Yankees in order to buy pitching prospect Frank German, and perhaps they can add a second prospect on the other end if they send him away.
3. Michael Chavis
It's a credit to Chavis that he arrived in such tremendous shape, which has led to improvements at the plate, in the field, and on the bases. With five home runs and a 1.116 OPS this spring, he's forcing the Red Sox to make an unexpectedly difficult decision.
The question is how and where he fits long term, however. Even Chavis admits that he doesn't see how he has a spot on the roster. If he does make the trip to Boston for Opening Day, it will only be because outfielder Franchy Cordero isn't quite ready.
Chavis's combination of power and defensive versatility is desirable, however, and if he's able to continue his hot spring in either the big leagues are at Triple A, he will attract interest.
4. Christian Vazquez
All of the rumors involving Vazquez last summer turned out to be little more than sound and fury, but this summer could represent the sweet spot for Bloom to maximize this particular asset. Vazquez is an everyday catcher with pop on a reasonable contract that includes a $7 million option for 2022.
There's tremendous value in that, and the Red Sox would be crazy not to explore it, especially with a couple of intriguing young catchers in the system in Connor Wong, who was the final piece of the Mookie Betts trade, as well as former top-100 prospect Ronaldo Hernandez, who recently arrived from Tampa.
Vazquez could represent that perfect storm of contract, skillset, and long-term expandability that makes him a trade candidate.
5. Nathan Eovaldi
Let's envision a scenario in which injuries and ineffectiveness hit the Red Sox rotation hard but spare Eovaldi, who's coming off his best season, albeit in only nine starts. The Red Sox would love to clear the remaining year-plus of his four-year, $68 million extension off the books, even if they have to eat some money, and July could be the time to do it.
Eovaldi has already shown the impact he can make on a pennant race once. In 2018, Dave Dombrowski shrewdly acquired him a week before the trade deadline in an under-the-radar move that ended up paying massive dividends when Eovaldi posted a 1.61 postseason ERA.
With a 100 mph fastball and results that are finally starting to match his stuff, Eovaldi could swing a pennant race.
6. J.D. Martinez
Speaking of money the Red Sox don't want, they twice would've let Martinez walk had he opted out of his five-year, $110 million contract, but both times he decided to stay put. The slugging DH is coming off a horrible season, but let's assume a return to form.
DHs aren't always the most desirable trade targets, but Martinez is a proven difference-maker who believes he can play until he's 40. He's signed through 2022 at $19.35 million annually, and he could transform the heart of any order.
With the Red Sox valuing athleticism and versatility under Bloom, it's fair to wonder if future iterations of the club will include a plodding, one-dimensional DH -- even one as talented as Martinez.