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What’ll they do? You just wait

Epstein is in no hurry to revamp ailing roster

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / June 30, 2010

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If you’re going to place a wager on whether the Red Sox will be buyers or stand pat at the trade deadline, your money should be on them buying. They usually do.

What they don’t want to do is panic and trade prospects because they have a few injuries at the moment. General manager Theo Epstein said as much yesterday, and if you analyze that, he’s right — you play with what you’ve got until the replacements prove they can’t compete.

If they can’t, then you do something.

The good thing is the Sox have plenty of time to overcome their injuries. The bad news, of course, is significant players are injured.

The Sox are only missing a former Most Valuable Player (Dustin Pedroia), a former league leader in steals (Jacoby Ellsbury), a switch-hitting No. 3 batter and catcher (Victor Martinez), their No. 1 pitcher (Josh Beckett), and their top lefthanded bat off the bench (Jeremy Hermida). They also have a less-than-effective outfielder in Mike Cameron (lower abdominal strain), and pitcher Clay Buchholz has a tweaked hamstring, although he won’t require time on the disabled list.

They have dodged every bullet imaginable so far, though, but in the back of everyone’s mind is the question — how long can they keep performing like one of the best teams in baseball under these circumstances?

“If you take that mindset, then it will catch up with you,’’ said Epstein. “You have to keep relying on players who might not be household names to most of our fans, but are here for a reason and continue to find ways to win. There’s a real good spirit about this club, everyone’s pulling for one another. We’ve thrived on getting contributions from unlikely sources.

“We’re going to see how this group plays and how the guys who are getting opportunities with the injuries fill in, see how they do the job before we do anything else.’’

Beckett, Ellsbury, and Pedroia all could be back by the trading deadline on July 31, further strengthening the Sox’ position if they can 1) hang on in the American League East race until then; and 2) not worry about giving up a prospect or two if they have to.

“I think if we do anything major, anything of real significance, it has to make sense now for the short term and also make sense once we get our guys back and healthy,’’ Epstein said. “You don’t want to make a major trade that all of a sudden three or four weeks from now doesn’t fit. We’ll be on the lookout for something like that.

“More likely, we’ll continue to see how this group of players performs, see how the players who are getting an opportunity to play more regularly now do filling in, and continue to be on the lookout for upgrades when we can. Usually things don’t happen until the end of July, anyway, and by that time we should start to get players back and we can get a feel for how the replacements have fared.’’

Of course, players eventually find their level. And if these replacement outfielders find theirs, and if Bill Hall can’t play second base well enough, then Epstein isn’t going to let the season get away. Even if it means doing exactly what he said he doesn’t want to do and acquire a player who doesn’t have a long-term role.

One recalls how the 2006 season got away after Jason Varitek was hurt and several pitchers went down in August.

“I know there are similarities,’’ Epstein said. “But to me it really feels different. Somebody brought that up internally the other day and it’s different this year because we have a chance to write a different ending.

“It seemed like when it happened right around the beginning of August four years ago, it was so sudden and there was so much depth to the injuries we didn’t have a chance to recover. It was almost a fait accompli that within two weeks we had lost our season. I don’t think that’s going to happen this time.

“I think we’ve already proven to a certain extent that we can withstand some injuries. We’ve lost two more guys but we have players capable of filling in and we’ve gained so much ground in the standings that we’re in a good position to withstand this if we continue to play good baseball until we get everybody back.’’

The Sox still have scouts looking at available players. Everyone in the organization would love to have a guy like David DeJesus, but not at any cost, and right now DeJesus is expensive. One never knows if between now and July 31 Epstein will feel the need for another starting pitcher. What if Beckett’s back continues to be balky? What if Daisuke Matsuzaka remains injury prone? What if another starter goes down? Would the Sox then join the bidding for Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt? Not likely, but if the need were there, they probably could pull it off.

Bullpen help?

“Every contending team could always use another useful reliever,’’ Epstein said. “That’s something teams are always looking to add, and we’re probably no different. It’s not a condemnation of our current pen. But to be realistic, a really good reliever always makes your team better.

“That said, when you trade for two or three months of a reliever, it doesn’t matter if you’re getting a good one or a great one, you still don’t know what you’re going to get. You don’t necessarily want to give up really, really good prospects to get that type of guy because you’re not sure what you’re going to get in a small sample size from a reliever.’’

Billy Wagner last season, for instance.

“The No. 1 way you can make your bullpen better is always to try and develop as much consistency as you can from the guys you have,’’ Epstein said. “In our case, we have plenty of talent out there.’’

The Sox can do OK without Beckett. They have scored a lot of runs without Ellsbury. What they don’t yet know is how they will survive without Pedroia, the heart and soul of the team.

If there’s a time for rash of injuries, better now than later. Tampa Bay is struggling. The Yankees have gone through major injuries to Curtis Granderson and Jorge Posada, although they’ve come out of it pretty well.

The ability to overcome injuries could determine who wins this tight and what could be an amazing race in the East.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona said before last night’s game that if a team can pitch, it has a chance every night.

The Sox are going to give that philosophy a test over the next few weeks.

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

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