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The trade deadline dilemma

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  July 29, 2013 08:55 AM

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University of Connecticut basketball coach Jim Calhoun was once asked about the idea of recruiting junior college players and transfers to bolster his roster. This was early in his tenure with the Huskies, well before they became regulars in the Final Four and won three championships.

Calhoun said he preferred to recruit high school players he could develop over the course of time. The idea of a quick fix didn't appeal to him.

"I came here to build a program, not a team," Calhoun said.

That's the question Ben Cherington has to answer between now and the non-waiver trade deadline on Wednesday afternoon. Did he become the general manager of the Red Sox to win once in 2013 or several times over the course of a long and fruitful tenure?

It's not one or the other, of course. But this is a time where the Red Sox have a philosophical decision to make.

The Sox can obtain virtually any player they want at the trade deadline. Cherington has the prospects to sit at the table in every trade discussion out there. The Sox also have the financial flexibility to take on a large contract, too.

If you want Cliff Lee, Hunter Pence and Michael Young added to the roster, that's certainly possible. Just be prepared to give up Henry Owens, Jackie Bradley Jr., Deven Marrero and three or four other solid prospects.

Heck, the Marlins would probably take Xander Bogaerts as part of a package for Giancarlo Stanton. Anything is possible.

Or do you prefer the Red Sox retain their top prospects and build a self-sustaining program that will produce contending teams for years to come? That's really what this comes down to.

The Red Sox have a group of 13-15 prospects with vast potential. In three years you could well have a team that includes Bogaerts, Bradley, Owens, Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, Drake Britton, Brandon Workman, Blake Swihart, Will Middlebrooks, Jose Iglesias, Garin Cecchini, and Rubby De La Rosa in prominent roles.

They won't all work out. But the percentages of finding young stars becomes higher when you keep more of them around.

The more cost-controlled young talent you have, the better positioned you are to add players via trade and free agency in the winter. History shows us that's when the better deals are made, not in the frenzy of late July.

Cherington's first job with the Red Sox was in amateur scouting. Then he coordinated international scouting before becoming director of player development. His background, and his actions so far in nearly two years as GM, suggest he will not mortgage the future.

John Henry can end that with one phone call. He is ultimately in charge of this, after all. But in talking to people at Fenway Park, there is a clear sense that Henry is wary of paying high prices for past performance, which is what a player like Lee or Jake Peavy represents. Henry believes in the idea of building a deep roster instead of a top-heavy one.

The 2013 Red Sox need some help and Cherington will probably provide that. Look for the Red Sox to pick up a reliever or two and perhaps even a backup catcher before the deadline. He will try and play both sides of the equation by trading some talent but not out of that core group of high-ceiling prospects.

Do not expect some bold trade. Cherington has moved carefully as GM and those moves have the Red Sox in first place now and well-positioned for the future.

He's here to build a program, not a team.

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