Boston Globe baseball writer Gordon Edes check in every Thursday with his take on the Red Sox. Ask your question now, and come back next week to see if it was answered.
First off, I want to thank those of you who attended my Jimmy Fund event in Chicago June 10. It looked to me like most everybody had a good time, no one more so than me, and I'm happy to report that because of the generosity shown by Sox fans (and an anonymous Chicago lawyer who made a matching contribution), we raised in the neighborhood of 80 grand.
OK ... It's almost trading season. What do you think the Sox' biggest needs are, and when do you anticipate the trading season heating up? Any rumors out there yet?
Mark, West Hartford
A: Mark, yours is the most popular question these days. I think that although the Sox made inquiries about Jason Schmidt of the Giants, and were told that SF would have to be overwhelmed to move him, that with Curt Schilling on the comeback trail, the primary need is relief pitching. I think the Sox will be looking at guys like Ricky Bottalico of the Brewers, David Weathers of the Reds, Brian Fuentes of the Rockies, pitchers who could bolster their setup corps. I think they will trade Jay Payton, who is unhappy in playing a supporting role; I think they're working on bringing back Gabe Kapler. I don't expect a blockbuster, but let's not underestimate Theo Epstein's capacity to surprise.
Do you think the Sox having a stocked minor league system will be a curse instead of a blessing when Theo looks to find deals before July 31? In other words, will teams refuse to deal with the Sox if Theo is unwilling to part with his top prospects (i.e., Hanley Ramirez, Jon Papelbon, etc.)
A: I understand where you're coming from, Samantha, but I think the good news is that the Sox have enough prospects that they won't have to give away one of their very best prospects to make a deal. They're not going to trade Hanley; he has a chance to be a very special player. Remember, it took Matt Murton to get the Nomar deal done, and although Murton, who is tearing up Triple A, has a chance to become a big leaguer, wasn't the tradeoff of winning the World Series worth it?
Ever since Theo Epstein said changes might be coming if the Sox don't shape up the team has gone 6-1. Do you think those words riled them up, or is it just coincidence?
A: Samantha, you get a two-fer. It's probably always a good motivator when your boss puts you on notice, but I think Theo's oratory dovetailed with a nice stretch of pitching by the Sox starters. It's hard to look good when you're down 5-0 after a couple of innings.
Jay Payton's been playing well lately and he's made it clear he wants to be traded. Do you think he'll be dealth before the deadline?
Ron, Manchester, N.H.
A: Ron, I think you can almost bank on it. This team won't win unless everyone is pulling in the right direction, and Payton clearly isn't buying into his role as a complementary player. The Sox may have to eat some salary to get a deal done, but I think this won't be Payton's place much longer.
Gordon, why don't the Red Sox try to make a move for the Tigers Carlos Pena? That way, both 1b's (Millar and Olerud) can be moved, and Pena could play every day. He would come cheap since the Tigers don't seem too pleased with him right now, and he would be just as well liked as Millar, being a Northeastern guy... Another guy mentioned as being available is old friend Scott Hatteberg. What is the book on him, is he likely going anywhere soon? He would also get a great response if he were to come back to Boston. And, as a side note, it's great to see Brian Daubach back in the majors, where he should be, good for him. Thanks.
A: J, Your last point first: I, too, am happy to see that Daubach has made it back to the big leagues. There's a doggedness about Daubach, a refusal to lay down when things don't go his way, that is very admirable. Carlos Pena? He can't even keep a steady job with a mediocre team. He seems to be a great kid, but has only shown flashes of the talent expected of him. Tigers sent him to the minors at the end of May; I hardly think he would be the answer at first base. Hattberg, too, has lost playing time in Oakland to a rookie, Dan Johnson, The Millar bashers are legion, I know, but he still manages to get the job done. Doesn't that count for something?
Would the Red Sox ever consider trading Trot Nixon rather than Jay Payton. Maybe to Oakland in a package deal for a pitcher?
Adam Wolf, Portland, Maine
A: Adam, If it ain't broke, why fix it? Why trade Nixon, a tough, gritty,. team-first kind of guy? He's hitting just under .300, he has an OBP just under .400, and while he's not putting up the power numbers he did a couple of years ago, he's on pace to hit 20-25 home runs, which would put him close. Nixon is one of the core players on this team. I suppose you think about it if you're talking about a Barry Zito package, but I don't think Nixon is the kind of player Billy Beane would want back for Zito. He'd want young guys that he could use as building blocks for the future.
Why doesn't Francona hit Bill Mueller, a switch-hitting former batting champ with a high .OBP, second rather than the hot/cold Edgar Renteria? Sure, Renteria is faster, but his .OBP is significantly lower than Mueller's and speed doesn't help you if it strikes out and sits down on the bench.
Trot Nixon might be another option, given his high .OBP and, as a lefty, he'd be more likely to advance Johnny Damon from first-to-third or even score him on a base hit--although admittedly that would leave the sox lineup top heavy with lefties (Damon-Nixon-Ortiz) and vulnerable to LH relievers, plus Trot has HR power which might be better used down in the lineup.
Dave Wheeler, Conn.
A: Dave, you make a very good point, especially with Edgar struggling again this month (.208 in June) and really having trouble at Fenway, where he is hitting 70 percentage points lower (.231 to .301) than he is on the road. Part of it is Mueller's comfort zone; he has made it known to Terry Francona that he likes hitting lower in the order. Part of it, as you accurately point out, is that Francona doesn't want Nixon in that slot because he wants to avoid having three straight lefties. Bellhorn would have been another option, but is swinging and missing at an astonishing rate. So I think they ride this out for a while longer.
Gordon, what is your take on Kevin Youkilis? Do you really think he has much upside? He just strikes me as a player who is about as good as he is ever going to be and for that reason I think the Sox should look to move him. I'm not taking anything away from him. He's worked very hard to get to the big leagues. He has a great eye at the plate and is a good, not great, hitter. However, he has limited power, is painfully slow and does not have a true position in the field. I just don't see him being much more than he is now so why not get something in return for him.
Tony Dente, Malden
A: Maybe the question is whether Youkilis has more value to another club as an everyday player than he does now to the Sox as a complementary piece. I suspect if other clubs were clamoring for Youk, he would have been moved by now. But because he doesn't fit the slugging, big RBI prototype for a third baseman, I think other teams have questions?as do the Sox, for that matter, as they look down the line. The Sox opted for Bill Mueller as their every-day third baseman because they thought they had a 30-HR guy at short in Nomar. If Youk played every day, would his flaws be exposed? That said, I think Youk has adapted very well to what is a tough role with the Sox, giving the club terrific at-bats even while playing sparingly. I'm not sure how much he'd bring back in a deal.
Gordon, When I look up at the retired numbers in right field, it still bothers me that #14 is not one of them. Assuming Jim Rice is denied admission to the Hall of Fame, do you see the Sox making an exception and retiring his number? Or do they feel making an exception would open up a can of worms with other players ( i.e. Dwight Evans).
KC, New Jersey
A: KC, I don't see the Sox making an exception for Rice's number to join the others unless he gets elected to the Hall. The good news is, Rice's chances of being inducted are better this year than in previous years because there are no first-year eligibles that leap off the ballot.
What's the rumor about Hillenbrand possibly returning to the Sox all about?
Jim Fitch, Washington, D.C.
A: Beats me, Jim. It certainly didn't start here. I don't think Theo was ever a big Hillenbrand fan, and given the disparaging things Shea said on his way out the door, I can't see the Sox doing anything there. He got off to his usual great start, hitting .390 in April, but is hitting .268 with 6 homers and 23 RBIs in 45 games since.