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Their only move: Going backward

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 24, 2012
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ARLINGTON, Texas — The ship is taking on water now, and it’s reaching the point where if general manager Ben Cherington doesn’t make a deal soon to shake up the Red Sox, there’s no sense buying. You might as well sell.

After a 9-1 loss Monday night to the Rangers, the hapless Sox, who fell to 48-49, are sinking. They continued to get poor starting pitching (Felix Doubront) and received no offense to speak of. They were baffled by Texas’ emergency starter, Scott Feldman, for six innings, and were brutal in the field. A pair of former Gold Glovers made errors, Dustin Pedroia making a poor throw and Carl Crawford playing a single into a two-base miscue.

While the Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki Monday and the Tigers traded for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante, the Red Sox were still listening to the Marlins on Hanley Ramirez.

Given the woes of Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, the Sox’ interest should have been more in righthander Josh Johnson, who has had a disappointing season. As of Monday night, while the Sox were still scouting Johnson, no deal was close, according to a team source. And Johnson was pitching well Monday against the Braves until he came out of the game with a finger injury.

The Marlins have been very aggressive in trying to make things happen. They dealt Sanchez and Infante, who will play second base, to the Tigers for pitching prospect Jacob Turner, further bolstering Detroit’s bid for the American League Central Division title or a wild-card spot.

Sanchez was also discussed with the Red Sox, but the teams couldn’t agree on a suitable package.

Asked whether he feared the Sox might sell rather than buy if things continue to head down the wrong path, Pedroia said, “I hope not. With the second wild card, that could come down to the last weekend of the season. Everyone’s fighting here. We’re trying all we can. Maybe we need to take a step back to go forward and just go out and have fun and play the game hard.”

There aren’t many options out there for acquiring pitching help, especially with the Cubs’ Matt Garza leaving Saturday’s game with a cramp in his triceps, though he’s expected to avoid the disabled list. There were reports Monday that the Cubs were going to deal Ryan Dempster to the Braves, pending his 10-5 rights approval. A team could deal for Twins lefty Francisco Liriano for a decent price and Seattle’s Jason Vargas also can be had. Milwaukee is listening to offers for Zack Greinke, but is he suited for Boston?

The real prize would be Cole Hamels if the Phillies can’t work out a deal with him.

But the Yankees made the biggest splash by acquiring Ichiro from the Mariners. Suzuki, who played for the Yankees Monday night vs. Seattle and had a hit and a stolen base and played right field, will make his Yankee Stadium debut in pinstripes Friday vs. the Red Sox.

The Yankees had been looking at outfielders the past few weeks after finding out left fielder Brett Gardner will miss the rest of the season because of elbow surgery.

The Yankees were looking at Kansas City’s Alex Gordon but were never able to make it happen. They also kicked the tires on Phillies left fielder Juan Pierre. The Suzuki acquisition is intriguing, as he should benefit from playing at Yankee Stadium. He agreed to waive his 10-5 rights after requesting a deal about three weeks ago, according to a major league source.

Suzuki started the season hitting third and was moved to his customary leadoff spot when he couldn’t drive in the runs. But he never resembled the Ichiro of old.

Suzuki, 38, who was traded for righthanded pitchers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar, chose winning over spending the remainder of his career with a struggling Mariners team that seems far from being a contender.

Suzuki had played all 12 of his major league seasons in Seattle, but the last two seasons, he has fallen off noticeably.

Suzuki is a career .322 hitter, a former American League MVP, and holds the record for most hits in a season (262 in 2004). But he is hitting only 261 this season with 4 home runs, 28 RBIs, and 15 steals in 95 games.

He’s still an outstanding outfielder with a great arm and still runs well. He likely will have to shift to left field for the Yankees with Nick Swisher a fixture in right field (although Swisher is nursing a mild hip flexor strain).

“I was overcome with sadness taking off the Mariners uniform,” Suzuki told Seattle reporters. “I will be moving on with pride.”

“He brings a speed element,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, whose team was reeling from a four-game sweep at the hands of the A’s over the weekend. “This is a big day for us.”

The Yankees sure will have an older outfield with Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez, who have been platooning in left field, on the bench.

Suzuki is a two-time AL batting champion (.350 in 2001 and .372 in 2004) and has led or tied for the major league lead in hits seven times (2001, 2004, 2006-10).

With Suzuki and Jones on their roster, each having won 10 Gold Gloves, the Yankees now have two of the six outfielders in major league history to win at least 10. Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays had 12, and Ken Griffey Jr. and Al Kaline also had 10.

The Tigers also made a big move in obtaining Sanchez, who was traded by the Red Sox along with Ramirez to the Marlins in the Beckett-Mike Lowell deal.

The teams who want to make a splash need to do it ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. The Blue Jays and Astros already have made a 10-player deal, and Monday’s activity is more proof that in a competitive market in which there will be several teams competing for a second wild card, the only way to improve is to strike early and be willing to give up good prospects.

Buy or sell? The next few days may go far in determining what the Red Sox do.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Cafardo@Globe.com or on Twitter @nickcafardo

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