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Deadline decisions on deck

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 20, 2010

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OAKLAND, Calif. — It’s down to the final two weeks before the trading deadline and Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein is with the team to assess what needs to be done to keep it afloat in the second half of the season.

He quipped that the Sox will “look like the ’27 Yankees’’ when all the injured players return, and that could be true, but trying to bridge — there we ago again with that word — the next two weeks before all that happens is the tricky part.

The Sox have been in talks with many teams, said Epstein, and the latest name attached to them is catcher Chris Iannetta, the Rhode Islander who played his high school ball at St. Raphael Academy, a short distance from McCoy Stadium.

The Sox discussed Iannetta with the Rockies earlier this year, but according to a report the talks between Boston and Colorado have revived lately. Iannetta, solid defensively, is hitting .220 with seven homers and 14 RBIs this season, though he’s been streaky. Earlier in the season he was demoted to Triple A Colorado Springs, but now he’s on a streak in which he’s hit four homers in the last five games he’s played.

Sox catchers have been abysmal at the plate since Victor Martinez went down with a fractured left thumb June 27, and Epstein would like his catchers to contribute to the offense.

Martinez was supposed to be back right after the All-Star break, but it appears he’s going to be at least 10 days beyond that. He’s started to play catch, and while he still has soreness the team has provided him with a guard so he doesn’t go through the roof when the ball hits the thumb. Martinez should be ready in a few days (he’ll likely have a rehab assignment).

Replacement Kevin Cash is a good receiver, but he’s only hitting .100, and that’s currently hurting a lineup already void of Dustin Pedroia and Martinez. So Iannetta remains a possibility, if the price is right.

Epstein reported he isn’t close to any trades; other needs are a reliever and possibly an outfielder.

The Sox have been stung by the ineffectiveness of lefthanded reliever Hideki Okajima, who had been fantastic the last two seasons. He’s had some back issues this year, but it appears the league has started to figure him out and Okajima has not made the proper adjustments. If the Sox go for bullpen help, they would love a lefty who can fit that Billy Wagner role from 2009.

While Toronto lefty Scott Downs would be the catch of all catches, it appears the Blue Jays are holding out for quite a list of prospects. The Yankees also have interest in Downs, and it’s going to be tough to land someone of that caliber.

The Sox could take the leap on the Indians’ Kerry Wood, but he’s now on the disabled list with a blister and there’s a good deal of money to be taken on (the prorated part of $10.5 million this year and an option for slightly more next year). The Sox are now over the luxury tax threshold, so they would have to think long and hard about that one, and there’s no guarantee that Wood, who is a closer, would adapt to working the seventh inning.

Kansas City’s Kyle Farnsworth is available, as is Seattle’s David Aardsma, but the Sox aren’t crazy about bringing Aardsma back unless they could do so cheaply.

While the Sox are getting Jeremy Hermida back for the weekend series in Seattle, Epstein still may be looking for outfield help. There are quite a few teams looking for that one piece that could add consistency to the lineup. The Royals’ David DeJesus has certainly been a target, but for the moment he’s way too expensive. The Marlins’ Cody Ross has drawn interest from several teams, and the Sox are one of them. Brewers right fielder Corey Hart, who has interested the Giants and Padres, is likely out of Boston’s range.

The Sox still have no idea when Jacoby Ellsbury is going to resume playing. It’s been a long process to heal from five fractured ribs, but at this point, an ETA on a return is up to Ellsbury. The Sox have gotten strong play from Darnell McDonald, who is expected to stay with the team even if there’s a trade or no matter who comes back. Daniel Nava has minor league options remaining and likely will return to Pawtucket when Hermida and Ellsbury get back.

The Sox will not go after a starting pitcher, even though it appears the Yankees, who were scooped on Cliff Lee (much to Epstein’s relief), likely will set their sights on someone like Roy Oswalt, who suffered an ankle contusion over the weekend, or Arizona’s Dan Haren, who has not pitched well recently. Oakland’s Ben Sheets, who allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings last night, remains possible trade bait, though he hasn’t sparkled either. But the feeling among major league sources is that the Yankees will be in the market for a starter now that Andy Pettitte will miss the next five weeks with a groin injury.

Epstein said the Sox are leaving no stone unturned in looking for help, but they have to keep in mind they have returning players — they don’t want a logjam. Iannetta certainly would be more than a 10-day fix while Martinez works his way back. But Jason Varitek has a more complex foot fracture than Pedroia, so his absence could be longer than originally thought because catching is more stressful on the foot than being a positional player.

It should be an interesting two weeks.

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

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