Under cheaper circumstances, the allure of Bobby Abreu would be a tantalizing option for the Red Sox as we near baseball's trading deadline, less than a week away.
At $15 million for next season and $16 million for 2008? Please.
Outside of Alfonso Soriano, who could be "extremely close" to going to someone other than the White Sox today, the Phillies' Abreu is the hot name du jour on the market, with the Yankees (mostly), Red Sox, Angels, Mets, and Cardinals all reportedly showing some level of interest.
While Abreu's power numbers may be down, with just eight homers on the season, his .436 on-base percentage is fourth-best in baseball, just ahead of Manny Ramirez, just off the pace of Travis Hafner, Albert Pujols, and Joe Mauer. He leads all of baseball with 89 walks, but his slugging (.446) and OPS (.882) leave a lot to be desired. Hitting behind David Ortiz and Ramirez can likely go a long way toward curing those ills.
The Yankees long seemed the likely landing spot for Abreu, but their refusal to include pitching phenom Philip Hughes in the deal may have killed it. From New York's perspective, Brian Cashman figures why should he include Hughes when Abreu would demand his $16 million 2008 option be picked up as a precursor to waiving his no-trade clause. It's hard to argue with that stance for sure, even if the Yankees need a suitable replacement for Gary Sheffield in right field.
From the Red Sox' standpoint, the possibility of Abreu has magnified in recent days, ironically not to fight off the Yankees from getting him, but because of the continued ineffectiveness of Trot Nixon. Nixon has been terrible this month, batting just .183. He hasn't hit a home run since the start of the World Cup, and has driven in just two runs in his last 64 at-bats.
It's not exactly a shining time for the free agent to be.
It's possible Nixon is hurt with an injury he's trying to conceal, less it affect the dollars he's offered in the offseason. If that's the case, it's doing him more harm than good. And with the possibility increasing ever more that the Red Sox will not re-sign him at the end of the season, the potential that he is dealt by Monday increases.
It's got to be a slippery time to be Theo Epstein. There is the inherent need to improve this edition of the Red Sox as we hurtle toward October, but certainly not at the expense of giving up the farm. While just a week ago, there remained the obvious assumption that Boston needed starting pitching, Kyle Snyder has performed satisfactorily at the back of the rotation, and Kason Gabbard went from unknown to possible trade chip. The Red Sox' 3.96 ERA for the month is fourth-best in the American League, just as good as Minnesota's 3.94, and all the Twins have done is win 32 of their last 40 games with two of the best young arms on the planet.
But offensively, things are a much different story. Boston has hit just .257 this month, better than only Tampa, Seattle, and Oakland, although they lead the league in home runs (35), thanks to the continued prowess of the best 1-2 punch in baseball.
That's not all the fault of Nixon, of course, as a handful of stars has failed to live up to expectations as of late. Kevin Youkilis and Coco Crisp are each batting just .208 for the month, Jason Varitek, .226. Mike Lowell has one home run since last month's Mets series.
It's a matter of balancing need, want, and cost for Epstein and the baseball ops folks. They may want pitching, but could need hitting based on recent exposition. Enter the Phillies, who according to a Baseball Prospectus computer simulation, have about a two percent chance of making the playoffs. While GM Pat Gillick insists that they are buyers AND sellers this month, it's obvious to everyone else they are the latter.
According to the Newark Star Ledger, the Red Sox have been "pestering the Phillies about two starting pitchers -- former Yankee Jon Lieber and former Met Cory Lidle." That making you salivate? Didn't think so. Abreu should, based on his credentials. But that price tag just appears far too much of a blockade, no matter how nice Abreu and Ramirez sounds at the corners of the outfield and back-to-back in the lineup.
Boston's outfield situation is one of potential flux over the next few seasons, possibly with Nixon on his way out after '06 (or this week), and Ramirez on his merry way after '08. The Red Sox want to depend on Wily Mo Pena (who has also been mentioned in trade rumors) to be a cornerstone for them, but that still leaves an open spot to replace one of baseball's best hitters in two more years. As much potential as David Murphy and Jacoby Ellsbury promise, Boston's offense takes a significant hit the moment Manny is gone. Nixon for Abreu doesn't make much sense based on cost, but if the Phillies do trade Abreu to someone else, they might consider Nixon in exchange for Lidle or Lieber.
It's not just Nixon struggling, but he is the only one that may be most easily jettisoned. He is the longest tenured member of the franchise, a Lou Gorman guy. And he could be gone a lot quicker than most of us expected.