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Trade might just be warm-up to big deal

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / November 20, 2008
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Every day, we try to interpret Hot Stove happenings.

For instance, is the acquisition of righthanded reliever Ramon Ramírez from the Royals yesterday for Coco Crisp the forerunner to Justin Masterson returning to the Red Sox' rotation? Or is Ramírez a reinforcement in case the Sox use Manny Delcarmen as a chip in another trade? Or would the Sox entertain trading Masterson for one of the Texas catchers, knowing they have Clay Buchholz?

And what to make of the reports that the Sox are "fully engaged" in free agent talks concerning A.J. Burnett? Do we file that with the Johan Santana trade talks of last offseason, in which the Sox stuck around to jack up the price for the Yankees (the Twins eventually traded Santana to the Mets)?

Do we think the Red Sox really want to spend $80 million over five years for Burnett, who has made 30 or more starts in only two of his 10 seasons?

Doesn't sound like a move Sox general manager Theo Epstein would make. Does sound like a player John Henry likes from his days with the Florida Marlins, but Henry has never struck me as an owner who would demand that his GM pay huge dollars for a player unless the baseball operations people were on board.

Burnett is a high-risk player, but when he's healthy, he's a high-reward player. That's what he was in 2008, when he went 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA and 231 strikeouts in 221 1/3 innings for the Blue Jays, his best season in the majors. But at 31 (he'll be 32 before the start of the 2009 season), can he be depended upon to be that for the next five years? Or would the Sox' offer be for fewer years at more money per annum?

Wish we had the blueprint for what the Red Sox are trying to do this offseason, but what fun would that be? It could also be that the blueprint is being formulated as things unfold.

For sure, Epstein can put a check on his to-do list next to "Trade Crisp." Julio Lugo might be next.

Dealing Crisp for a player who is not eligible for arbitration, such as Ramírez, creates a little more payroll flexibility for the Sox, who were at about $134 million last season.

Does the move enable them to make a big splash with a high-profile free agent (for example, Mark Teixeira)? Or does it allow them to think bigger? Crisp will make $5.75 million in 2009. The Sox have also shed Manny Ramírez's $20 million, Curt Schilling's $8 million, and, for the time being, Jason Varitek's $10 million, so perhaps we're looking at a situation in which they could make two big moves and not increase their payroll exponentially.

They also have to factor in pay increases and possibly long-term deals for some in a group that includes Kevin Youkilis, Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, and Jon Lester.

In an offseason in which the Yankees are setting the bar pretty high in these otherwise tough economic times, they are in position to blow any team, including the Red Sox, out of the water for a player. That was evident in their six-year, $140 million offer to CC Sabathia, and the five years, $80 million they're possibly willing to offer Burnett. Who knows what else Hank Steinbrenner has in mind to help fill those expensive seats in the new $1.3 billion Yankee Stadium.

The Red Sox never like to "keep up with the Yankees," but could they deaden the impact a little if they, too, sign a couple of marquee free agents - one offensive player and one pitcher? Or even trade for one?

While he doesn't have Boston high on his list of destinations, Jake Peavy would be perfect for the Sox. He's a 27-year-old, battle-tested righthander who is entering his prime. Deals with the Braves and Cubs have so far fallen through. One major league source indicated that the Angels might soon make a bid for Peavy, and with the Cubs re-signing Ryan Dempster, does that preclude them from continuing their pursuit of Peavy? The Dodgers would also have the chips to make a deal for Peavy.

Peavy's agent, Barry Axelrod, said that while Boston was not among the top five teams (all in the National League) for which Peavy would waive his no-trade deal, never did he indicate that he was dead set against the Sox. In fact, Axelrod said that early in the process, "the Padres came to us and said there'd be one American League team who would make a good trading partner and asked us whether Jake would go there. We said no. That team was not the Red Sox."

Axelrod said Peavy's list isn't etched in stone. The agent said the Padres will work out a deal and then ask for Peavy's approval.

The Red Sox would be a very good trading partner with the Padres, who would probably seek three top prospects or young major league-ready players.

The bottom line is that the Red Sox' bottom line was stretched a bit with the Crisp deal. They can probably get more and spend more than they thought they could a few weeks ago.

Of course, this can be a dangerous time as well. It could be a time when you take a chance, cross your fingers, and try to sign a player you know might be a risk.

It's a nice problem to have. At least that is today's interpretation.

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