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Heavy hitters are able to deal with deadline

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 20, 2011

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BALTIMORE - J.P. Ricciardi, an adviser to Sandy Alderson with the Mets, was in Portland, Maine, last night.

It fueled speculation that Ricciardi was checking out Boston’s Double A prospects for a possible deal for Carlos Beltran or Jose Reyes. Ricciardi insisted he was there to watch his own Double A team. He was. But the former Blue Jays general manager did not blindfold himself when the Sea Dogs came to bat.

Wildfires are just beginning in this trade season and they will escalate between now and the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.

It’s fun when trade scenarios pop up on an hourly basis on Twitter and on blogs. Scouts are out in full force trying to find that one deal or piece that may put their team over the top. You’ll hear everything and anything, but only a small percentage of the scenarios come to fruition.

The Phillies were here looking at some Orioles relievers. It’s all because, as one American League East scout put it, “When my boss asks me should we go for this guy or that guy, I’ll be able to tell him, ‘I think this guy can help us more than that guy.’ ’’

Teams are becoming increasingly protective of their prospects and draft pick compensation, but the serious teams - such as the Red Sox, Yankees, and Phillies - aren’t afraid to deal prospects for proven, young veterans.

“Most teams have a window and if you don’t do all you can to win in that window, you’re shortchanging your organization and the fans of that organization,’’ said a National League scout.

And the Red Sox have lived by that philosophy. They have scouted and developed as well as anyone in the game, but they’ve also never been afraid to trade prospects if it means getting a valuable piece in return. They traded Hanley Ramirez to Florida for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. They sent Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone, and Bryan Price to Cleveland for Victor Martinez. And they shipped Reymond Fuentes, Casey Kelly, and Anthony Rizzo to San Diego for Adrian Gonzalez. The Ramirez deal yielded a World Series championship.

As the deadline approaches, the Sox strategy remains the same.

Inquire about anyone who may make an appreciable difference to your team, then start matching up the pieces with that team. There are hundreds of dead ends. Most of the work is futile because either the teams don’t match up or the money is too exorbitant. Yes, even the Sox reject deals that are too costly.

“What some of us understand is, prospects are just that, prospects,’’ said the NL scout. “Some of them make it big. Some of them don’t. If you’re in that window and you hold on to those prospects, you may find yourself waiting for the next window and that might be a ways down the road.’’

Teams develop prospects to either hold onto and develop or use as chips in a deal.

The Red Sox’ needs include starting and relief pitching, an outfielder, and a shortstop.

Where does it make the most sense to give up young talent?

The Sox have inquired and discussed everyone from Ubaldo Jimenez, Felix Hernandez, Beltran, Reyes, Jeff Francoeur, Jeff Baker, Michael Cuddyer, Ty Wigginton, Hiroki Kuroda, Ted Lilly, Jeremy Guthrie, Ryan Ludwick, Josh Willingham, Conor Jackson, Ryan Spilborghs, Mike Adams, and others. What does it hurt?

Beltran was an offseason fallback guy along with Magglio Ordonez before the Sox pulled the trigger on Carl Crawford. Beltran has extra appeal because he is a switch-hitter, a player who Boston GM Theo Epstein’s top talent evaluator, Allard Baird, had as a young player in Kansas City. Beltran already has waived his no-trade clause for Boston, and although Beltran’s agent, Scott Boras, would be a little torn because he would be replacing another of his clients, J.D. Drew, the Red Sox are a team that may want to acquire Beltran.

Beltran has other suitors, most notably the Giants and Phillies.

Beltran would not yield draft compensation because of a clause in his contact that prevents his team from offering him arbitration, but the three teams involved don’t really care - at least not to the point that it would be a deal-breaker.

“When you’re trying to win, that can’t be a reason for not making a deal at this time of the year,’’ said one NL GM. “You always want to be able to get compensation if you elect to let the player go and become a free agent, but that can’t drive you if you’re serious that this is the player that can help you the most.’’

Would it be awful if the Red Sox did nothing? Of course not.

Here is another thing to consider: What are the Yankees doing?

When all is said and done, the Sox and Yankees are going to slug it out for the division. And the loser is likely going to be the wild-card winner.

The Yankees have needs - a starter, a reliever, a bat. They have some interesting prospects in their system, including a plethora of catchers, a position that teams normally target. There’s no question, despite their denials, that Epstein and Yankees GM Brian Cashman keep tabs on one another. If one catches wind the other is about to acquire Player X, there’s usually either an attempt to battle for that player or the other team counters with a deal.

Most teams will say certain players are off limits unless they are bowled over by an offer. But everyone knows that game. There aren’t many untouchable players. The Red Sox have tried to obtain Hernandez in the past and although it may be futile to keep trying, the Mariners don’t appear to be going anywhere and the package of prospects they could get might be beneficial.

The Sox must decide in the next week or so whether they really need to make a deal. Jon Lester (lat muscle) will pitch Monday, and if he’s OK, you can cross that concern off the list. Clay Buchholz (back) may be the one pitcher the Sox may have to wait on. The club hopes he can get in a rehab start or two by Aug. 1. If they have Lester, Buchholz, Josh Beckett, an improving John Lackey, and a choice of Tim Wakefield, Alfredo Aceves, and Andrew Miller, would the Sox still pursue a starting pitcher? If their bullpen continues to yield good results - and they feel good about lefthander Franklin Morales - do they really need another reliever?

With Josh Reddick red hot and emerging, does that put Beltran on the back burner even though Reddick bats lefthanded?

The shortstop situation is also an issue. There are times when a Marco Scutaro-Jed Lowrie combination would be adequate enough, and with Jose Iglesias, at least the Sox know they have a top defender.

But do you want to put a 21-year-old in a pennant race in Boston? Reyes is an intriguing solution, but that would cost prospects and a lot of money.

Every team needs a boost when the dog days of August start. And sometimes a trade gives a team just that. It excites the fan base to see a fresh face, especially a name player. The Red Sox are always conscious of that.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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