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Lucchino: Sox not shy about making first move

By Nick Cafardo
July 24, 2011

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Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino was surprised to hear that word on the street is the team can’t afford to do much at the trade deadline.

“Just look at our history,’’ Lucchino said.

True. The Sox tend to do a lot. They certainly keep the lines of communication open. “You would hate to see our phone bill at this time of the year,’’ said Lucchino.

There’s a feeling that the Red Sox are closing in on the luxury-tax threshold, which is about $175 million, and that they refuse to pay a tax this season. Lucchino flat-out denied that, saying the Sox have paid the tax before, including last season, and would do so again for the right deal.

Which begs the question: Do they really need to make a deal?

The answer could be no. Perhaps this isn’t the greatest indicator of things to come because they’re playing doormat teams Seattle (this weekend) and Kansas City (this week), then head to Chicago for three games against the White Sox before the deadline.

You look at the roster and ask, where’s the need?

1. The biggest concern at this time is Clay Buchholz and whether he will return in due time to take his spot as one of Boston’s top three starters. The Sox have gone and will go slowly with him, and what was originally hoped as an early August return now seems more like mid-to-late August. Given the schedule and available secondary pitching, the Sox may attempt to get by with what they have.

2. J.D. Drew has, for the most part, been replaced by Josh Reddick, but it’s not only because of Drew’s poor performance. The veteran right fielder has also been battling a sore shoulder, which may be affecting him at the plate. He was scheduled to have an MRI to determine whether he needs to go on the disabled list. If he does, the Sox could step up their search for an outfielder, preferably a righthanded hitter.

3. Reddick is also front and center. He’s getting his chance to be the everyday right fielder. But when you think about it, the next week is probably an audition of sorts. Not that he hasn’t proven anything, but Reddick’s history has been he goes through a very good stretch, then falls into a very bad one. The Sox want to make sure his performance is consistent enough to where they don’t have to worry.

4. Shortstop is somewhat of a concern. Marco Scutaro is as tough as nails, but will he wear down? Jed Lowrie doesn’t appear to be in the picture because of his shoulder. The Sox could use Yamaico Navarro as a backup or bring up Jose Iglesias for his defense.

5. Sometimes Franklin Morales looks really good. Other times, not so much. He throws 95-96 miles per hour, but sometimes the hitters seem to know what’s coming and can catch up to it. So, lefthanded reliever always seems to be an area of some need.

But are these pressing needs or ones they can ignore without giving up valuable prospects?

It’s a shame to give up prospects unless they’re being used for an impact player, such as the Mets’ Jose Reyes. When you do that, it’s one fewer player you have at your disposal to include in a future deal. Sometimes you just have to do it to fill a need to protect yourself.

While it’s been suggested here that the Red Sox should do just that for Reyes, the likelihood is it’s not going to happen, amid reports the Mets won’t deal him and will make him an offer soon to keep him long term.

The question is, do the Sox want to give up prospects to acquire role players?

There’s no doubt that teams will enter August with needs they just can’t fill. Whether the Yankees can get a starting pitcher and/or a lefthanded reliever is still in doubt because they face the same dilemma of giving up prospects for players they’re not sure they want to commit to.

The Giants, Braves, Phillies, Rangers, and Angels, the better teams in baseball, face the same question. All will do their best to get by with what they have.

For the Red Sox, it’s a calculated risk. They must always be mindful of the Yankees because that’s their main competition, and when you have $200 million-plus and $170 million payrolls, that should be good enough with or without injuries.

The one thing we’ve gathered through this process is don’t believe reports the Red Sox can’t afford to do things. They always have the money.

IN GENERAL TERMS
Gillick draws some interest Pat Gillick, who will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame today in Cooperstown, N.Y., is still being wooed as a general manager. There have been reports out of Chicago that Cubs owner Tom Ricketts has reached out to Gillick, but those rumors were denied by the team last week.

Yet, you could see Gillick taking a GM job.

He remains active scouting for the Phillies, especially in the amateur ranks, and his program-building approach is precisely what a team like the Cubs needs. That job remains one of the more intriguing and could be open at the end of the season, unless the persistent rumors of Jim Hendry’s demise are overrated.

One of his longtime assistants said recently of Gillick, “He could come back, if he wanted to, and I’m not sure he wants the everyday grind, and be the best GM in the game again.’’

Another interesting scenario is in Baltimore, where president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail is at the end of his deal. Word in the scouting community is that owner Peter Angelos is running out of patience, and that MacPhail may not be brought back. MacPhail has long been considered a candidate to replace Bud Selig as commissioner down the road, but in his last two jobs, with the Cubs and Orioles, things haven’t gone according to plan.

Another GM to watch is Brian Cashman, whose deal with the Yankees is over at the end of the year. It seems to be Cashman’s call whether he wants to stay on, though Cashman said last week it was up to owner Hal Steinbrenner. If Cashman were out there as a free agent, teams would stumble over themselves to grab him. Cashman appears to have a lot of power, so it would be difficult for him to leave the Yankees.

Waiting in the wings is Red Sox assistant GM Ben Cherington, who may soon get a chance to join former Theo Epstein disciples Jed Hoyer and Josh Byrnes in getting a GM job. Cherington has worn a lot of hats for the Sox and appears well qualified to take the next step. The Cubs and Astros (where Ed Wade could be at the end of the line) may be his best bets.

BIG TALKERS?
Chance exists with Sabathia The Red Sox made Mariano Rivera a three-year offer last offseason. While they knew that Rivera’s loyalties were to the Yankees, and Rivera ultimately accepted a two-year deal, Boston certainly helped drive up the price. This offseason, will the Sox get themselves involved with CC Sabathia’s opt-out?

It’s hard to imagine Sabathia leaving the Yankees, because they could just add a couple of years to the already massive deal. But what if the Red Sox sweeten the pot and add more years and money? Sabathia is obviously a great pitcher, and while the Sox already have three top starters in Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Josh Beckett, how good would a staff look with Sabathia as well?

“I guess you never know how things like that will work out,’’ said a major league source, “but I think everyone would be stunned if he opted out of his deal just to go to another team. I think CC likes New York and the tradition, and he obviously responds very well to not only being the No. 1 pitcher there but the pressure of playing there. I suppose Boston would offer him the same type of situation, but if any team can take care of his financial needs, it’s the Yankees.’’

Sabathia signed a seven-year, $161 million deal with a well-placed opt-out clause after this season. He’s scheduled to earn $23 million per year through 2015. If you’re the Yankees, do you add two or three more years? Would any team go up to $25 million-$27 million a year for a pitcher, even one of Sabathia’s status?

“He’s been so durable,’’ said the major league source. “He can pitch with the weight, he’s proven that. The problem is, will he be able to pitch with the weight in year six or seven of that deal if you add more years? Are you better off keeping the current length and just adding more money to the existing contract?’’

Do the Red Sox need to get involved? Probably not. But it could take perhaps the biggest piece of their biggest rival away from them.

ETC.
Apropos of nothing 1. Wish Major League Baseball still had American League and National League presidents. It used to make it more competitive; 2. Tropicana Field is becoming a joke, but still don’t believe baseball can sustain itself in that area even with a new stadium; 3. Feel bad for Eric Wedge, who must be getting the same feeling in Seattle he got in Cleveland; 4. Mike Stanton has Bo Jackson power; 5. Ryan Lavarnway could be Mike Napoli.

Updates on nine 1. Tyler Clippard, RHP, Nationals - One of the more sought-after relievers on the market, with 93-95 velocity and a changeup. The Rangers have made a lot of inquiries, but are just one of a few teams trying to get in on him. The Braves, looking for a veteran presence at the end of their bullpen, are interested, but it’s unlikely the Nationals would trade within the division. The Yankees have also sniffed around, as have the Red Sox.

2. James Shields, RHP, Rays - One scout evaluating pitching feels the Rays are at least open to listening on Shields. Whether anything happens probably depends on how far out the Rays are by the trading deadline. Shields would garner a lot of attention because he’s 29, pitching very well, AL East battle-tested, and a guy with a lot left, making only $7 million on an option for next season.

3. Hunter Pence, OF, Astros - There have been reports that Pence might be available, but we wrote in this space last week that he is not. Checked again with an Astros source and the word again was, “We’re going to hold on to him.’’ All bets might be off in the offseason when there’s new ownership and possibly a new GM in place, but for now the outfielder most perfectly suited for the Red Sox won’t be out there.

4. B.J. Upton, OF, Rays - The Nationals are considering offering the moon for him. There are a few factors. Some of the Nationals people feel Upton could use a change of scenery where his talents would be maximized. Also, he grew up with Ryan Zimmerman, and the feeling is Zimmerman would be a good influence on Upton, a good guy whose effort is inconsistent. The Rays have never felt that Upton would blossom in Tampa. The Nationals are looking for a leadoff man, and alternatives to Upton are Houston’s Michael Bourn and St. Louis’s Colby Rasmus, who through Thursday had hit only .182 since May 12, when his average was .313. The Cardinals appear reluctant to deal Rasmus, who is now platooning with Jon Jay in right field.

5. Joakim Soria, RHP, Royals - He is one of the prized relievers out there, but the Royals would want a ton. Soria’s teams to which he can’t be traded include the Yankees, Phillies, and Red Sox, but not because he wouldn’t want the pressure of those markets. He would go to those places if there was a financial adjustment in his contract. The Yankees are very interested.

6. Derek Lowe, RHP, Braves - The Tigers have at least some interest in the Michigan native, but would have to assume the $6 million remaining this year and $12 million next year. They’re trying desperately to fill their No. 5 role, and the Braves, who have a plethora of pitching, would be willing to take on money. But do the Tigers have anyone who could make an impact offensively for the Braves? The Tigers may also be eyeing, on a much smaller scale, a lefthander such as Bruce Chen. The Tigers have also kicked the tires on Shields and Dodgers righty Hiroki Kuroda.

7. David DeJesus, OF, Athletics - Are the Pirates really serious about making a move to improve their offense before the deadline? According to one of the top assistants to GM Neal Huntington, the answer is yes. DeJesus’s name has come up as a more realistic alternative to Carlos Beltran. Josh Willingham is another name mentioned prominently.

8. Craig Breslow, LHP, Athletics - Another reliever involved in lots of talk. The Yankees are trying to find a lefty who’s better than Boone Logan, and Breslow is one of their targets. The Red Sox would love to get him back, as well.

9. Brett Myers, RHP, Astros - Surprisingly, little activity on him. “We’ve had a couple of bites from National League teams, but not much else,’’ said an Astros official. The Myers market may heat up closer to the deadline, but so far it’s slow for a guy who has pitched in the tough Philly market and could help a team at the back of the rotation or in the bullpen.

Short hops From the Bill Chuck Files: “No team plays small ball in the AL more frequently than the Royals, who have 36 sacrifice bunts. The Red Sox have the fewest in the majors with just 10. By the way, the Royals lead the majors in singles.’’ Also, “The deal that enabled the Red Sox to acquire Victor Martinez from Cleveland keeps looking worse. Justin Masterson has a 2.64 ERA and 1.196 WHIP for the Indians, while reliever Nick Hagadone has 28 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings and a 1.265 WHIP for Triple A Columbus.’’ And, “Fenway leads the majors as the site of 45 hit batters, 26 by Sox pitchers, who lead the majors plunking 55 batters.’’ . . . Every Monday at 1:30 p.m., Massachusetts Hall of Fame broadcaster Eddie Andelman hosts a good time with pizza, beer, and baseball talk at Kelly’s Pub in East Boston. The address is 84 Bennington Street . . . Happy birthday (yesterday) to Nomar Garciaparra (38).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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