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Little Sox chatter as trade deadline approaches

By Peter Abraham and Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 30, 2010

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There are times when the trade deadline is critical to the Red Sox. When disgruntled Manny Ramirez was shipped to the Dodgers in 2008, the complicated negotiations between three teams were completed with minutes to spare.

But no frenzy is expected in the hours leading up to the 4 p.m. deadline tomorrow. For many teams, especially the Red Sox, there could be more activity in August, even if players have to first be passed through waivers before being traded.

At 58-44, the Sox are in third place in the American League East. That is close enough to contemplate making improvements, but not at the expense of the organization’s best prospects.

Within two weeks, general manager Theo Epstein will have a much better feel for how aggressive he should be. A four-game series in New York against the Yankees Aug. 6-9 will be telling.

Meanwhile, the Sox are changing from within. In just the past week, catcher Victor Martinez and starting pitchers Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz came off the disabled list. Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and second baseman Dustin Pedroia are moving closer to joining the team, as well.

Ellsbury has played in three minor league rehabilitation games, while Pedroia is scheduled for a CT scan on his broken left foot today.

“We’re not too far away from having those guys back and going back to what we were in the beginning,’’ designated hitter David Ortiz said.

Until then, whatever moves Epstein makes before the deadline are likely to be smaller, more cost-effective upgrades.

A major league source said yesterday that Epstein is discussing several trade possibilities with Padres general manager Jed Hoyer, his former top assistant.

The Padres were seeking an infielder before they acquired Miguel Tejada from Baltimore yesterday. They also need outfield help. In Bill Hall, Jeremy Hermida, and Darnell McDonald, the Red Sox will have an excess of outfielders once Ellsbury returns. The Sox could be interested in Padres lefthanded reliever Joe Thatcher.

The bullpen has been the focus of Epstein’s efforts. Through Wednesday, Red Sox relievers had allowed the most home runs in the American League and opposing hitters had a .750 OPS against them, by far the worst for a contending team.

Manager Terry Francona said Wednesday that he has not pondered whether a trade is needed.

“I don’t think about it. We spend so much time and get consumed with what we’re supposed to get consumed with, trying to win. The stuff about the trade deadline, I haven’t given it much thought because it doesn’t help,’’ he said.

“I know Theo is out there always doing what he thinks is in our best interest. I trust that. We’re just trying to do our part.’’

Francona’s solution lately has been to lean more heavily on his starters and the only two trustworthy relievers he has, setup man Daniel Bard and closer Jonathan Papelbon.

On Wednesday, in his second start after spending two months on the disabled list, Beckett threw 112 pitches against the Angels.

Tuesday saw John Lackey work into the eighth inning and throw 124 pitches, matching his season high. Over the weekend in Seattle, Francona left Jon Lester in for 7 2/3 innings and 124 pitches.

Bard and Papelbon were given Wednesday off to rest. Bard had appeared in six of the last nine games and Papelbon four of the last six. Bard is tied for fourth in the AL in appearances with 48, one fewer than he made last season.

“I feel great,’’ Bard said. “Everybody keeps asking me and I’m telling everybody the same thing. They’ve been careful with us.’’

Toronto lefthander Scott Downs would be a worthy addition, but the Blue Jays asked for 20-year-old righthander Casey Kelly, the Red Sox’ top pitching prospect. Their demands to other teams have been similarly outlandish.

The Sox have inquired about a wide variety of other relievers, including Rafael Perez (Indians), Will Ohman (Orioles), Matt Capps (Nationals), Sean Marshall (Cubs), along with Michael Wuertz and Craig Breslow of the Athletics.

One source with knowledge of the situation even indicated the Red Sox inquired about Trevor Hoffman, the all-time saves leader, who is having a poor season for Milwaukee.

Epstein has pulled surprises at the trade deadline before, acquiring Martinez from Cleveland last season and in 2004 dealing away Nomar Garciaparra for players who proved to be key components of a world champion.

But tomorrow’s deadline looks to be far less historic, with the real work left for August.

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