Will They Or Won't They?

With the trade market more uncertain and unpredictable than ever, it makes sense to take a look at Theo Epstein's trade deadline track record when trying to assess what the Red Sox might do between now and Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m. But a careful examination of Epstein's moves since his first season as general manager in 2003 leads to more head-scratching, not less.

For instance: The Sox, who were one of the first big-market teams to begin hoarding prospects, have not dealt a first-tier prospect during the season since Epstein took over. Freddy Sanchez won the NL batting title for the Pirates last year, but the Sox saw Sanchez as nothing more than a utilityman in the majors and don't regret dealing him at the deadline in 2003. Matt Murton was selected in the first round by the Sox in 2002 but was still in Single-A when he was traded in 2004.

Lately, the Sox haven't even dealt second-tier prospects around the deadline. (For a complete list of trades made by the Sox in July and August since 2003, see below).

But neither the 2005 nor 2006 teams looked like a title contender at the deadline. When Epstein thought the Sox had a chance to win it all in 2003 and 2004, he earned his reputation as a gutsy risk-taker by acquiring the likes of Scott Williamson, Jeff Suppan, Doug Mientkiewicz, Orlando Cabrera and Dave Roberts while dealing some franchise icon named Nomar.

So what to believe this year? No first-place team has a bigger division lead than the Sox, who have been alone atop the AL East for more than three months. The Sox enter today with the best record in the game. And let's not forget that most of the eventual world champions this decade have stood pat at the deadline (please CLICK HERE for more)

On the other hand...that big division lead? It used to be a lot bigger. The Sox' margin over the second-place Yankees fell to 6 ½ games Wednesday, the smallest lead for the Sox since May 11 and a hearty 5 ½ games fewer than it was three weeks ago today. Since May 30, the Sox are 25-25. They have scored four runs or fewer 28 times in that span.

What Epstein must determine over the next five days is whether or not this lull is just par for the course over 162 games—or if this edition of the Sox can win the World Series but not without a dramatic infusion of new blood, a la 2004, when they went 41-40 from May 1 through July 31.

In the interests of covering all bases (and covering our backside as well so that, come Aug. 1, can say we told you so come regardless of what happens), here's a look at why the Sox won't make a big move over the next few days—and why they will.


WHY THE SOX WON'T MAKE A BLOCKBUSTER MOVE: NFL-like parity has arrived with a vengeance, which means the trade deadline will be an extreme seller's market. Sixteen teams are within seven games of a playoff spot, so those who are willing to trade veteran talent to contenders can afford to ask for the sun, sky and the moon—i.e. several upper-echelon prospects who will help the big league team soon.

Epstein has proven over the last few years he's unwilling to mortgage the future in order to win today, which means the two players most wanted by a rebuilding team—
Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury—are likely off-limits. The reluctance to part even with secondary prospects over the last two years would seem to preclude the Sox from making even a mid-level deal.

In addition, while the Sox have scuffled offensively, there's not a whole lot they can do to shore up their weaknesses. Their best players recently—Coco Crisp and Mike Lowell—are also their most tradable big league commodities. It would be difficult to replace Crisp's contributions on both sides of the ball, and Lowell is valuable for reasons on and off the field: In addition to hitting .304 with 15 homers and 71 RBI, he provides some rare levity in a perpetually dour clubhouse.

Along those lines: Not every midseason acquisition can fit in as seamlessly as Cabrera, who was personable enough to handle life in the Boston cauldron and more than capable of replacing the production of the fading Garciaparra. Mark Teixeira is regarded as a solid clubhouse presence, but his home/away splits indicate he may be a product of the Rangers' hitter-friendly home ballpark.

Through Tuesday, Teixeira was a lifetime .303 hitter with 84 homers, 293 RBI and a .576 slugging percentage at home. On the road, he's hitting .265 with 69 homers, 205 RBI and a .492 slugging percentage. In addition, he's hitting just .207 with one homer in 58 career at-bats at Fenway Park.

And given Epstein's luck with acquiring "established" relievers over the last three seasons, is it really worth the risk to try and upgrade over the sizzling Manny Delcarmen (1.65 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings since his recall from Pawtucket June 17) or the resurgent Mike Timlin (16 consecutive scoreless innings over his last 11 appearances dating back to June 26) with someone like Octavio Dotel or Salomon Torres?


WHY THE SOX WILL MAKE A BLOCKBUSTER MOVE: Two months of mediocrity is too long to be a fluke. No one should be surprised the Sox are no longer on pace to win more than 110 games, but to fall off like the Sox have over suggests they need a lot more than a new fourth outfielder (Bobby Kielty?) or right-handed reliever.

The Sox have more than enough young talent to make a major move without dealing either Buchholz or Ellsbury. Michael Bowden has struggled since moving to Double-A Portland, but he's not even 21 and still projects as an upper-rotation starter. Brandon Moss is big league ready but has no place to play in Boston. Portland shortstop Jed Lowrie isn't quite a finished product, but his patient plate approach and ability to play either middle infield position makes him an attractive commodity.

Don't let the recent success at Pawtucket fool you: Craig Hansen needs a change of scenery in the worst way. And while the likes of David Murphy, David Pauley and Devern Hansack do not project as stars in the big leagues, they're polished enough to help out a team immediately.

The most interesting trade bait possibilities aren't even prospects anymore: Jon Lester, Kason Gabbard and Kevin Youkilis.

A baseball source we spoke to recently believes the timing of Lester's promotion means the Sox are showcasing him and/or Gabbard for a trade. Lester's toughness was on display Monday in Cleveland, when he started and won a big league game less than 11 months after he was diagnosed with cancer. And his talent is undeniable: He projects as a no. 1 or no. 2 starter and he's only 23 years old. As good as Gabbard has been lately for the Sox, he's 25 and is more of a mid-to-back of the rotation guy.

Two more things worth pointing out: Lester was the prospect the Rangers wanted from the Sox during the aborted Manny Ramirez-Alex Rodriguez talks after the 2003 season. And Joel Pineiro, designated for assignment by the Sox when Lester returned to the majors Monday, chose to remain in the organization and started for Pawtucket Wednesday. Hmmm.

As for Youkilis: At 28, he's already in the prime of his career. And he will never have as much value as he does right now, particularly if his recent funk (.205 with two extra-base hits in 44 at-bats since the All-Star Break) is the start of another second half swoon. The Sox can't get a Teixeira-type without dealing Youkilis or Lowell, and Youkilis is still young enough to be painted as a building block by the team that acquires him.


TRADES MADE BY THE RED SOX IN JULY OR AUGUST SINCE 2003

July 22, 2003: Acquire P Scott Sauerbeck and P Mike Gonzalez from Pirates in exchange for P Brandon Lyon and P Anastacio Martinez
July 31, 2003: Acquire P Scott Williamson from Reds in exchange for P Phil Dumatrait
July 31, 2003: Acquire P Jeff Suppan, P Brandon Lyon and P Anastacio Martinez from Pirates in exchange for P Mike Gonzalez, IF Freddy Sanchez and cash
Aug. 28, 2003: Acquire IF Lou Merloni from Padres for P Rene Miniel
July 2, 2004: Acquire P Jimmy Anderson from Cubs in exchange for P Andrew Shipman
July 21, 2004: Acquire IF Ricky Gutierrez from Cubs in a conditional deal
July 24, 2004: Acquire P Terry Adams from Blue Jays in exchange for 3B John Hattig
July 31, 2004: Acquire OF Dave Roberts from Dodgers in exchange for OF Henri Stanley
July 31, 2004:Acquire 1B Doug Mientkiewicz from Twins and SS Orlando Cabrera from Expos in three-team deal that sends SS Nomar Garciaparra and OF Matt Murton to Cubs
July 7, 2005: Acquire IF Alex Cora from Indians in exchange for IF Ramon Vazquez
July 13, 2005: Acquire P Chad Bradford from Athletics in exchange for OF Jay Payton
July 19, 2005: Acquire 2B Tony Graffanino from Royals in exchange for OF Chip Ambres and P Juan Cedeno
July 19, 2005: Acquire OF Adam Hyzdu from Padres in exchange for P Scott Cassidy
July 30, 2005: Acquire OF Jose Cruz Jr. from Diamondbacks in exchange for IF Kenny Perez and P Kyle Bono
Aug, 9, 2005: Acquire P Mike Remlinger from Cubs in exchange for P Olivo Astacio
July 30, 2006: Acquire P Bryan Corey from Rangers in exchange for P Luis Mendoza
Aug. 4, 2006: Acquire C Javy Lopez from Orioles in exchange for a player to be named later (Adam Stern)
Aug. 17, 2006: Acquire IF/OF Eric Hinske from Blue Jays in a conditional deal
Aug. 28, 2006: Acquire P Mike Burns from Reds in exchange for P Tim Bausher
Aug. 31, 2006: Acquire P Kevin Jarvis from Diamondbacks in a conditional deal
Aug. 31, 2006: Acquire a player to be named later (George Kottaras) from Padres in exchange for P David Wells


Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752.

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