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Bedard an obvious gamble, Red Sox still team to beat

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  August 1, 2011 08:27 AM

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“We would not have been satisfied if we let the deadline pass without getting a starter.”

- Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein

What the Red Sox needed was a body, first a foremost, and one with upside, too. So while there is a very real chance that Erik Bedard will be a bust, the Red Sox hedged their bets yesterday by essentially pairing Bedard with John Lackey and hoping that one of them delivers come October.

In the interim, cross your fingers for Clay Buchholz and know that the Red Sox are still the team to beat in the American League.

And so, as the Red Sox now enter the stretch of what has thus far been a championship-caliber season, let’s agree on Boston’s primary objective over the final two months: the Red Sox need to keep Jon Lester and Josh Beckett entirely healthy. Maybe that means a six-man rotation during the final month. Maybe it means an especially close monitoring of pitch counts. So long as the Sox keep winning at something close to their 101-win pace, maybe it means skipping a turn here or there to ensure the Sox are as close to full strength as possible come playoff time.

At this stage, after all, it would be foolish to bank on Buchholz, whom the Sox placed on the 60-day disabled list yesterday partly out of necessity and, perhaps, partly out of resignation. (Sean McAdam of Comcast Sports Net New England reported today that Buchholz has a stress fracture.)

“Clearly, we have some concern for Clay," Epstein told reporters in announcing the Bedard acquisition on Sunday night. "It's been a couple of months now, which is longer than we expected it to be. We're still awaiting some more feedback and another opinion. I think we have a feel for what might be going on, but Clay is seeing another expert [Robert Watkins] to get his opinion and then we're all going to put our heads together this week.

"I'll refrain from answering in too much detail until we have a chance to talk to Clay and we have a chance to talk things through. … We think we're in the process of getting to the bottom of it, and we're all going to put our heads together early this week and talk about it with Clay before we discuss it publicly."

Not exactly encouraging news, eh?

With regard to Bedard, you should be under no illusion as to what he can offer. If healthy, he is a good pitcher, not a great one. The fact that he is lefthanded is an obvious bonus, especially if the Sox face the Yankees in the American League Championship Series and, perhaps, the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. Neutralizing the lefthanded batters on both of those clubs is an obvious key in defeating either, though Bedard has proven to be just as effective against righthanded batters, too.

The downside? Bedard’s personality and injury history could be problematic, at least in this market. Former Sox player Kevin Millar, who played with Bedard in Baltimore, described Bedard as “shy” during an interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub last week – “Not a big media guy,” Millar said – and reporters in both Baltimore and Seattle hold Bedard in some disdain. Nonetheless, both Millar and Epstein stressed that Bedard was not a problem in his own clubhouse at either location, which is really the only chemistry that matters.

As to whether Bedard has the stomach to pitch in Boston, time will tell. Whether the Sox pair him with Jason Varitek will be of some interest, particularly if the Sox believe that Bedard needs to be handled with at least some care.

Beyond that, the health is a major concern here. Remember that the Sox seemed to have a deal in place for Oakland A’s right-hander Rich Harden before backing out because of health concerns, which speaks volumes about how they regarded Bedard. In this market, he was nearer the bottom of what was a very short list to begin with. The Sox were nowhere near as desperate for Ubaldo Jimenez as some other teams were, and the forfeiture of prospects in trades for Victor Martinez (2009) and Adrian Gonzalez (last winter) made the cost prohibitive.

The Sox didn’t need Jimenez and everyone knew it. If there are fans disappointed that their team did not go the extra mile for Jimenez at this deadline, they undoubtedly reside in or near the Bronx. The Yankees needed pitching more desperately than the Red Sox did -- and New York did a shocking nothing at the deadline. Even with Jimenez, the Indians are still looking up at the Red Sox. If there is a team that gained on the Red Sox at the deadline, it is undoubtedly the Texas Rangers, who strengthened a bullpen that needed fortifying.

Typically a team that refrains from short-term or rental acquisitions -- Jeff Suppan, anyone? the Red Sox this year had little choice but to roll the dice on someone like Bedard. They have invested far too much in this team – and this season – to do otherwise. That said, Bedard is a gamble in one way only – performance – because the Sox gave up no elite prospects while taking on a low base salary ($1 million) and incentive-laden contract.

If Bedard pitches well, they will happily pay him. If he doesn’t – be it the result of injury or anything else – damage seemingly will be restricted to the 2011 season.

Under the circumstances, that was a gamble the Red Sox had to take.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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