Before the Boston Red Sox landed Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox last December they were considered serious contenders. After Sale joined the Red Sox it seemed irrational to bet against Boston.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why the game is played on the field and not on paper. Heading into Spring Training, John Farrell had a pitching staff with two Cy Young winners in Rick Porcello and David Price with Sale as the dubious third wheel.

Sale, unsurprisingly, has carried the Red Sox in 2017 with feeble run support while Porcello has dropped back to his wishy-washy ways. Meanwhile, Price suffered a setback in Spring Training with elbow inflammation that did not necessitate Tommy John surgery but has nevertheless sidelined the southpaw for the first two months of the season.

Despite inclement weather delaying Price’s rehab starts, the hurler is set to make a few minor-league appearances before returning to the big leagues – assuming all goes well.

Besides pitching setbacks, the enigmatic Pablo Sandoval went down with a sprained knee a few weeks ago leaving a gaping hole at the hot corner. Sandoval’s barometer for success swings with his weight and there was renewed optimism around the maligned third baseman when he reported to Spring Training in lean physical condition.

Sandoval left an April 23rd game in Baltimore early after tweaking his knee and has been on the DL ever since. He will travel with the Red Sox to St. Louis and if his mobility continues to improve, could begin a minor-league rehab stint this week.

While Panda has been out, Boston has patched the gap with a rotating carousel of players with lackluster success. Josh Rutledge, Steve Selsky and Deven Marrero have stepped in to cover the hot corner with bland results. Meanwhile, Brock Holt remains on the shelf as he continues battling vertigo, but there is optimism he could be reactivated soon.

In a division the Red Sox were supposed to run away with the New York Yankees have assumed the mantle of success while the Toronto Blue Jays continue melting down, and the Baltimore Orioles and Red Sox struggle to keep pace with the Yankees.

Boston sits four games behind the Yankees with the Orioles a half-game back from the Bronx Bombers. The dramatic role reversals in the A.L. East is a common theme around the league. Yet, the season is just beginning and while a poor start can put teams behind the eight-ball the cream always rises to the top.

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There are rumors floating around that the Red Sox are searching for a third baseman and starting pitcher to fill the fifth rotation spot vacated by Steven Wright.

Kyle Kendrick was promoted to fill Wright’s spot and over two starts has been shellacked for a 12.96 earned run average in only 8 1/3 innings pitched. Kendrick has given up 18 hits and 12 earned runs over those innings, but in his defense, Boston has played spotty defense behind him as his fielding independent pitching indicates (FIP, 4.94). The Red Sox defense trails only the Oakland Athletics for the most errors (32) and worst fielding percentage (.976).

Despite all the cause for concern, should the Red Sox hit the panic button and start searching for trades?

If they do, the White Sox certainly have some available options.

It is unlikely Dave Dombrowski will be able and willing to land White Sox ace Jose Quintana. Despite his sordid statistics, Quintana has a history of soaking up innings with incredible durability and tremendous command of his pitches. In fact, Quintana is the unfortunate recipient of one or fewer runs from his offense in one-third of his starts. The season is still young and given Quintana’s augmented routine after playing in the World Baseball Classic there is scant concern Quintana will rebound.

The White Sox still control Quintana for four more years placing him squarely within the upswing of the current rebuilding effort and Rick Hahn won’t sell the southpaw for a song. If the Red Sox want to dive in with Quintana they will have to pay an exorbitant price.

Even after skimming Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz in the Sale trade, the Red Sox still have an attractive cadre of minor-league talent.

Quintana’s price will be high, commanding a collection of elite prospects from Boston’s organizational top-10 rankings, but Dombrowski will undoubtedly exclude Rafael Devers and Jason Groome. Still, Sam Travis and Bobby Dalbec would be attractive pieces in a trade deal for Quintana, except there would have to be one more elite prospect in this type of deal – most likely a pitcher. And if Dombrowski wants to really bet the farm and include Todd Frazier, he would have to open the coffers again for at least two more prospects.

Miguel Gonzalez or Derek Holland fit Dombrowski’s budget. Holland is just the right size considering he is on a one-year deal worth only $6 million that won’t inflate the Red Sox already enormous payroll (Boston has the third highest payroll in Major League Baseball).

Boston’s bullpen has been strong with a 2.97 ERA allowing the fourth fewest runs, but if Dombrowski has any concerns about their durability, Hahn can offer Anthony Swarzak and Tommy Kahnle. Swarzak has been lights-out this year with a 0.00 ERA, permitting a measly four hits over 19 2/3 innings pitched, and Kahnle has posted an equally staunch 1.93 ERA.

Even more appetizing to the Red Sox if they want to avoid transaction fatigue, the White Sox offer one-stop shopping as they could add Frazier on a half-season rental.

The permutations can expand from there as the White Sox can offer Nate Jones and Dan Jennings as additional bullpen depth, or Matt Davidson as an affordable alternative to Frazier.

Still, Rick Hahn is going to want prospects and many of them in any deal with Dombroski. Given the price for veteran players and the success rate of prospects versus certified big leaguers, it is conceivable that Hahn will ask for at least two prospects per player sent to Boston — with mild flexibility depending on the names involved. The price could rise if someone like Quintana or Frazier are included in a deal as those two could return five players by themselves unless Devers and Groome are in play.

It is still very early and the Red Sox are in the thick of things. Hitting the panic button and betting the farm for early trades with the White Sox doesn’t seem to be an intelligent move.

The Yankees early lead will wither away considering the slew of rookies on an early tear and a pitching staff led by the unpredictable duo, Luis Severino and Michael Pineda. Even the Yankees might admit that counting on Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia offers hollow hope for sustained success.

Toronto may be too far behind to stage a viable rally given the strength of Baltimore’s lineup and rotation. Therein lies the true competition for the Red Sox, and if they believe that given the strength of their lineup and the timetable of recovery for their infirmed veterans they can hang with the Orioles, trades are a bankrupt strategy.

And if they need reinforcements from the minors, Devers is close enough to earn a promotion later in the season as he slashes his way through Double-A hitting .324 with seven home runs. If pitching is in question, much of Boston’s prospects are at the lower levels of the minors, but Brian Johnson (No. 11 organizational prospect) is throwing well at Triple-A. A reasonable trade for a back-end starter seems the most prudent move for the Red Sox to make with the White Sox.

Given the current climate for trades and the early timing,  reasonable trade for a back-end starter seems the most prudent move for the Red Sox to make with the White Sox.

Matt Enuco is a Staff Writer for Outside Pitch MLB covering the Chicago White Sox. Follow Matt on Twitter.

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