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Warning signs ahead?

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  July 16, 2010 09:04 AM

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Good thing the Red Sox are paying Mike Lowell $12 million for those 80 at-bats this season.

In fact, that may ultimately be one of the main reasons the team chooses to do little-to-nothing at the upcoming trade deadline.

AOL Fanhouse's Ed Price writes that according to a source "who speaks to Boston's front office regularly, the team is not willing to add significant payroll" since its back is firmly up against the luxury tax threshold that kicks in after $170 million.

The Red Sox, as Price put it, are "tapped out."

Do you buy it?

Granted, a source who speaks to Boston's front office regularly could be the pizza delivery guy from Upper Crust, but perhaps some credence was lent to the theory of the team willing not to spend when Red Sox owner John Henry told Dan Shaughnessy last night, "This reminds me of 2006."

There's a way to sell your product. "Come see the soon-to-be imploding Boston Red Sox." Make sure to tell the leaglized scalpers we sent you.

"It's been reminding me of 2006 since San Francisco [at the end of June]. This team has a chance to be special. We're 51-37 with all these injuries. If we get our lineup and rotation back, we should be formidable. It won't be easy. New York and Tampa are really good teams."

Was that an admission or a warning?

In 2006, the only season the Red Sox have failed to make the playoffs under the current regime, Theo Epstein made nary a move as the deadline approached. He traded Luis Mendoza to the Rangers for Bryan Corey and released Enrique Wilson. A few days later Epstein made a waiver deal for catcher Javy Lopez. He's probably been trying to forget about it ever since.

Epstein did make one move late in the season that could have had a long-lasting effect on the franchise, signing Carlos Pena as a free agent in August, but releasing him following the season. One hundred and thirty-four home runs later, Pena has been a major part of the Rays' recent success.

But here's what's so lame about the team's inability - or unwillingness - to spend at this year's deadline: The situation is their fault in the first place.

They couldn't get anyone to take on Lowell and a huge portion of his salary during the offseason. They sank $18 million ($18 million) into John Lackey for this season alone, and have gotten a pitcher only slightly less frustrating to watch than Daisuke Matsuzaka. Bill Hall is making $8.4 million. Bill Hall. Oh, and they still happen to be paying one Julio Lugo to play for the 29-59 Baltimore Orioles.

Indirectly, Lugo's $9 million salary may be a large reason why the Red Sox don't aim to improve at the end of the month. How's that for a kick to the groin?

Reportedly, the Rangers have showed some renewed interest in dealing for Lowell, though one would have to assume any trade would involve the Red Sox picking up somewhere around the $9 million they had agreed upon during the offseason when they briefly acquired catcher Max Ramirez. Apparently, if they're sparking trade talks again, the Rangers are just as sick as the rest of us waiting to see when the team will award Lowell his outright release.

So, there's about $3 million of wiggle room. Other than that?

Uh...anyone want Lackey?

The Sox could look into dealing Matsuzaka, who might be attractive to anyone who has never watched him pitch because of his affordable salary ($20 million total due over the next two seasons). But with a full no-trade clause at his disposal, the ultimate decision would probably be in Scott Boras', er, Matsuzaka's hands.

As Price points out, the team has about $45 million in payroll currently on the disabled list, so it's likely that the biggest - and in some cases, best - moves it can make at the deadline will involve patience.

For the fans - the ones paying one of baseball's highest-average ticket prices - that patience might have to spill into 2011. For if the Red Sox are tightening the purse strings, perhaps you ought to feel compelled to do so as well.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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