As they move deeper into the shadow of the annual trading deadline, the Red Sox now may be leveraging against expectation. The whispers from Fenway Park last night suggested that tomorrow's trading deadline may come and go quietly. Meanwhile, on the field, the cries for help intensified.
Roy Halladay, Victor Martinez, Adrian Gonzalez.
As we have learned in recent years, the whispers from Fenway mean little. At deadline time, things can change rapidly. Twenty-four hours before trading Nomar Garciaparra in 2004 and Manny Ramirez in 2008, the Red Sox similarly indicated that any major deals were unlikely. The Sox subsequently pulled the trigger on trades that, in some ways, shook the organization to the core, altering the clubhouse DNA and changing the direction of the franchise.
Beyond Halladay, Martinez, and Gonzalez, the Sox are certain to have inquired with other teams about marquee players, most notably with the Florida Marlins about Hanley Ramirez. (Don't hold your breath.) Halladay, Martinez, and Gonzalez remain the most likely targets for an assortment of reasons, and each appeals to the Sox in different ways.
For all of the talk and rumors emanating from this negotiation, multiple baseball sources indicate that the sides are not close to a deal. According to one source, the Red Sox have had nothing more than exploratory discussions with the Blue Jays and have given no indication that they will even make an aggressive offer. The chances of a deal currently seem extremely remote, though there is always the chance that talks will intensify just before 4 p.m. tomorrow, when teams like the Red Sox are likely to use the deadline as a leveraging point.
One of the truly elite pitchers in baseball, Halladay has strengths that are obvious. He is signed through next season at what amounts to basically $15 million per year. In the short-term, acquiring him would give the Sox a 1-2-3 succession of starting pitchers that also includes Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, a trio that would rival that of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz from the dominating Atlanta Braves teams of the 1990s. Given the Red Sox' offensive issues, Halladay would give the Sox more chances to win lower-scoring games and could have a significant impact on the Boston bullpen. (He saves arms.)
Long-term, at the very least, Halladay would give the Sox choices. Assuming they exercise their 2010 contract option on Josh Beckett, the team could enter next season with both aces (not to mention Lester, who is under control through 2014) and evaluate the health of each. The chances of keeping both Halladay and Beckett beyond 2010 would seem remote, but the presence of each would allow another year for the Sox to develop pitching prospects like Casey Kelly, Junichi Tazawa, and Nick Hagadone, assuming none of those players are in the deal.
As for the specific offers the Sox have made for Halladay, it is prudent to remember how the Sox operated in the Johan Santana talks, when they offered the Twins a menu of options. The Sox grouped players into Groups A, B, and C, allowing the Twins to choose one player from each group and create a custom combination meal. Naturally, the Sox put their best prospects in Group A, meaning the Twins could have only one of those players. Unless or until one of those players slides into Group B, chances of a Halladay deal remain remote.
If the Padres move him -- and that is a very, very big if -- let's be clear: The Red Sox are the perfect fit. Gonzalez is not Mark Teixeira, but he just turned 27 in May and has put up 30-homer, 100-RBI totals in each of the last two seasons despite being in a bad lineup that makes its home in the Grand Canyon. Though he doesn't run well, Gonzalez is the reigning National League Gold Glove winner at first base and hits to all fields, making him a perfect fit for Fenway Park.
Years ago, when Gonzalez was merely a prospect and was traded to the Padres, Sox general manager Theo Epstein tried to acquire Gonzalez from the Rangers. This season, Gonzalez has more walks (80) than strikeouts (75). Since the start of the 2006 season, Gonzalez has played more games than any player in baseball, suggesting he is one of the more durable figures in the game.
Following last season, the Red Sox were concerned enough about their long-term offensive output that they were willing to offer Teixeira the biggest contract in team history. The concerns have only grown since that time, and the potential loss of Jason Bay during the offseason could push the Sox into a full-blown crisis. (They need a hitter in addition to Bay.) At the moment, all indications are that the Sox will have to trade for a hitter during the offseason, anyway, so why not make the deal now?
The big question here is whether the Padres want to move a productive player due to make a total of slightly more than $10 million through 2011 and who is one of the most popular players on the team and with the fan base. The Padres are a long way from contending, which means Gonzalez could be gone by the time they improve, anyway. Their minor league system is barren. They need minor-league inventory the way the Baltimore Orioles did when the O's curiously traded Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners -- and the Red Sox have inventory. San Diego's desire to move payroll -- any payroll -- also could result in having someone like reliever Heath Bell thrown into the deal.
If Clay Buchholz is involved in the package to get Gonzalez, the Sox may have to at least temporarily move someone like Justin Masterson into the rotation. Because of that, the Sox could certainly take on Bell.
Martinez is not quite as appealing as Gonzalez, which is why the Red Sox, according to a major league source, rejected Cleveland's initial offer of Martinez for Buchholz. Indians officials have said they do not want or need to move Martinez, but the question, again, may concern the club's need to decrease payroll. The country's financial crisis has hit some teams harder than others, and the Padres and Indians are among the sufferers.
Two years ago, after all, the Indians reached Game 7 of the ALCS. Last winter, the club signed closer Kerry Wood with visions of contending in the AL Central. (The roster is better than the results.) Nonetheless, in recent days, the Indians have traded away Ryan Garko and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee, the latter of whom could have been under their control through 2010 thanks to a very affordable contract option ($8 million). From the outside, it certainly looks as if Cleveland is dumping money fast. (Garko is making about $450,000, but he will be eligible for arbitration the next three years.)
Martinez, 30, is older than Gonzalez and offers different things. He is a switch-hitter. He strikes out less and hits for a higher average, but with less power. Martinez's greatest value comes in that he can play catcher, though there are still questions as to whether he can be an everyday backstop. (He has improved in this area significantly since the start of his career.) Regardless, because of the Red Sox' long-term offensive issues, Martinez could help them in a variety of ways, this year and beyond (he is signed through this year with an option for 2010).
For example: If the Sox acquired Martinez this year, they could use him behind the plate on some days, at first base on others, even as a designated hitter. (The Sox can move the newly acquired Adam LaRoche in any deal they make, especially if they are willing to eat salary; LaRoche will be a free agent at the end of the year.) At the very least, Martinez would have nearly a year-and-a-half to learn from catcher Jason Varitek, giving the Sox the option of using him behind the plate. If that doesn't pan out, the Sox could continue their quest for a catcher and try to re-sign Martinez as a first baseman or designated hitter. By the end of 2010, after all, the contracts of David Ortiz and Mike Lowell, among others, will have expired.
As always, with all players, the ultimate question is cost. How much are the Sox willing to pay? How desperate are teams like the Padres and Indians to move payroll? Internally, how great are the Red Sox' long-term need for offense?
Slightly more than 24 hours before the annual trading deadline, the clock is ticking.
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