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ON BASEBALL

Best deal may be to stand pat

MINNEAPOLIS -- There are no transactions under "Boston (AL)" in today's newspaper. Perhaps the Red Sox, fresh off an 8-2 pounding of a very good Minnesota Twins team, don't feel any urgency to make a deal just to make a deal with today's 4 p.m. nonwaiver trade deadline fast approaching.

In fact, Bronson Arroyo, the team's fifth starter -- on paper, at least -- pitched another solid game as the home team couldn't deal with Arroyo's fabulous offspeed offerings. When Arroyo pitches the way he did last night, many citizens of Red Sox Nation may think, "Do we really need another starter?" Arroyo got plenty of offensive support from Gabe Kapler (three hits, three RBIs, and a great Dwight Evans-like throw to nail Justin Morneau trying to stretch a double in the seventh). Kapler's performance may have even more citizens asking, "Do we really need another outfielder?"

On the field, the Sox have been a big tease this season, performing with consistent inconsistency leading to much frustration for the front office and the fandom. But the prudent thing to do -- and what the Red Sox might still do before 4 p.m. -- is add depth to their pitching and outfield and possibly first base.

The Sox probably needed to make a major move to break from their current win one-lose one pattern, but major means Randy Johnson and that doesn't appear likely.

Games such as last night's make you believe the Sox can turn this around without any additions, but that's why fans and sportswriters aren't making the decisions. That's a general manager's job. The GM can separate himself from the daily emotion of the team and look at the big picture. And Sox GM Theo Epstein has that ability.

"Theo [Epstein] is steering the ship on this and he's keeping everything pretty close to the vest," a team source said last night. "That's his prerogative."

Industry sources were still telling the Globe last night the Sox may do something, and certainly will do something in August when waivers are required to make a deal. The Sox were still pursuing minor moves, including a deal for San Diego outfielder Jay Payton. Another industry source indicated talks with the Cubs -- Nomar Garciaparra for righthander Matt Clement -- may be revived. The Sox, according to the source, were apprehensive about Clement's ability to adjust to the American League.

While many major deals were completed last night, the Sox and Yankees stood pat.

Both organizations have thin farm systems and can't put together an attractive enough package to land a name player.

Johnson's agent, Alan Nero, was sitting by the phone at his New England vacation home waiting to see if there were any deals to be struck. The Sox were never able to even get into the hunt for Johnson.

Boston's Frank McCourt, the new owner of the Dodgers, parted ways with popular catcher Paul Lo Duca, setup man Guillermo Mota, and outfielder Juan Encarnacion to the Marlins for pitchers Brad Penny and Brad Murphy (Double A) and first baseman Hee Seop Choi. The Dodgers may turn around and deal Penny to the Diamondbacks for the Big Unit. The Dodgers are also trying to acquire Charles Johnson from the Colorado Rockies to replace Lo Duca.

"We haven't been told much," Nero said last night. "As far as we know, there's no surprise team entering the picture. It appears to be the Dodgers and Randy would have to decide to do that. As of right now, he hasn't made any decision because he hasn't been asked tonight."

The Sox had some interest in Phillies outfielder Ricky Ledee, but he went to San Francisco for reliever Felix Rodriguez. Arroyo last night reinforced the belief that the Sox have a decent rotation. The righthander, who improved to 3-3 with a 2.79 ERA on the road and 2-0 with a 2.83 ERA in his last five starts, doesn't seem to worry about much.

"I just want a chance to pitch every turn, with a chance to make the most out of every appearance without getting injured," he said. "If you do that, everything takes care of itself."

Said Sox manager Terry Francona, "Arroyo has more weapons to attack lefthanded hitters. He keeps the ball down consistently."

He struck out eight and walked none last night. This is not the work of a fourth or fifth starter. This is the work of a No. 2 or No. 3 starter and maybe that's what he's become.

Still, the Sox' needs remain the same -- a reliever (Seattle's Mike Myers?), an outfielder (Mariner Randy Winn?) to protect themselves in case Trot Nixon's absence is prolonged.

Francona said he's very comfortable with Kapler in the lineup. He knows Kapler was signed to be a platoon player, but in his last 17 starts, the muscular outfielder is batting .375 with six doubles, three homers, and 13 RBIs. And trying to find that in a trade isn't easy right now.

Kapler said last night that for the past 4-6 weeks the Sox have been on an even keel. Few ups and downs emotionally, which he feels is a sign of a good, confident team.

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