The Red Sox are the envy of baseball. Why? Because they have two players many teams would love to have right now: Bartolo Colon, who is just about recovered from an oblique injury and is scheduled to pitch in a spring game tomorrow in Sarasota, and outfielder Brandon Moss, who has piqued the curiosity of several teams.
"I've been trying to get Moss for three years," said an American League West general manager. "I think he's a guy who is going to be a very good major league player.
"He can do a lot of things. Strong lefthanded bat. Good head for the game, but the Red Sox aren't inclined to deal him. We've tried, believe me."
With J.D. Drew returning to the lineup last night, recovered almost fully from a left quadriceps strain, and Sean Casey (hip) likely to come off the disabled list next Sunday, Moss's days in the majors could be numbered.
In Moss and Colon, the Red Sox appear to have not only depth but chips they could use in a deal if they needed to enhance an area of the team at the trading deadline.
"They're in a great position with those two guys," said a National League West GM. "I think a lot of teams have been tracking Colon, and if he makes it back - and it looks like he will - it's going to create an interesting scenario for the Red Sox as to what to do with him.
"It seems their entire rotation is clicking right now. Things can change rapidly, obviously, but Colon will be a guy a lot of teams will be looking at."
Before sustaining the oblique injury, Colon might have been used instead of one of the young starters, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. But both are pitching very well.
The veterans - Josh Beckett (who is healthy after battling a back injury and then a stiff neck), Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Tim Wakefield (healthy all season) - are making their starts, too, which leaves Colon the odd man out.
It's not known how many starts Colon will need to get ready for the majors again, but three is often the magic number, with Colon perhaps going to Double A and then Triple A before being considered for a roster opening.
Moss, hitting .286 with two homers and three RBI, seems to be stuck behind Drew for the foreseeable future. The Sox will likely pick up Manny Ramírez's 2009 option of $20 million. Jacoby Ellsbury appears to be a fixture in center field, as is Kevin Youkilis at first base. Thus Moss would remain a jack-of-all-trades if he remains in Boston.
When told of the interest in him around baseball, Moss responded, "I'm very happy right here. I love being a Boston Red Sox, I really do. This is the greatest atmosphere to play baseball in. I love everything about it. I'm a young player and I'm going to be patient. I haven't proven anything to anyone yet."
Coaches in the minor league system have made it clear they want Moss to stay. The Sox were able to get the Texas Rangers to take David Murphy in the Eric Gagné deal, keeping Moss out of it.
In spring training, scouts thought assistant to the general manager Allard Baird did a great job in identifying Colon as a low-risk signing. Colon was throwing at 95 miles per hour in spurts early in spring training, but his ability to set up hitters is what's been most impressive.
Colon could have escaped his contract May 1, but because of his injury situation and because he likes the Red Sox fit, he decided to stay put.
Beyond Moss and Colon, another obvious piece for future use as a chip is Coco Crisp, but there is currently no interest, mainly because of Crisp's leg injuries early in the season.
Terry Francona thought the time was right for Drew to spring into action again. The manager wasn't committing to Drew beyond last night, wanting to see how he responded in cold, possibly wet conditions. Drew had to leave last Tuesday's game against the Blue Jays with the injury and has had intense therapy the past few days . . . Alex Cora was turning double plays in practice at second base yesterday. He'll go to shortstop today. The Sox think Cora is just about ready to come off the disabled list, but they're considering whether a rehab assignment is necessary.
Eric Hinske couldn't have picked a better situation than Tampa after winning a World Series championship with the Red Sox last season. The Sox did not re-sign Hinske, who hooked on with Tampa as a nonroster player. Entering last night's game, Hinske was batting .282 with 6 homers and 15 RBIs. Five of his six homers have come lefthanded; he's hitting .339 (20 for 59) from that side. "It's a good team with a lot of talented young players," Hinske said. "They really addressed the bullpen, which has been great for us. Danny Wheeler and Troy Percival [6 for 6 in saves] have really solidified things for us over there." The Tampa bullpen had a 2.43 ERA (best in baseball) entering last night, having held opponents to a .208 average. The bullpen was the majors' worst last season with a 6.16 ERA. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the last bullpen to go from worst to first was the 1963-64 Reds (4.03 to 2.59).
Hinske said one of the most impressive things about the Rays is that they have performed well without Scott Kazmir, who makes his first start today vs. Boston after recovering from a left elbow strain. "That's the thing, we've done it without our No. 1," said Hinske. Kazmir said he'll likely have a 100-pitch limit. He expects to be revved up because he's pitching in Boston. "The adrenaline is definitely going to be there, and the atmosphere here is always great. I have to stay within myself, like every start," he said. Kazmir said the month he's been down "feels like forever. One month feels like an entire season. I'm excited to just contribute, excited to get back out there. Everyone's been lights-out. Part of you wants to stand back and not mess things up, but you want to be around your teammates and helping them win." . . . The Rays waited a long time to post a lineup because manager Joe Maddon was trying to determine whether center fielder B.J. Upton could play. The answer was no. Upton strained his shoulder on a swing Thursday against the Orioles.