So much for Murray Chassís recent claim of confidence.
ďAt the rate at which the Yankees are slashing into Bostonís lead in the American League East, they will pass the Red Sox in the standings by July 4,Ē the New York Timesís Chass wrote on June 12, when the Yankees had pulled to .500 after winning seven in a row, and climbed to within 9Ĺ games of the AL East-leading Red Sox.
The Yankees have gone 5-6 since that point, and have fallen 11Ĺ games off the pace, making the possibility of an Independence Day soiree at the top of the standings a mathematical impossibility.
Not that it seems the Red Sox are treating it that way if weíre to believe the latest trade scuttlebutt surrounding White Sox horse Mark Buehrle.
According to a report in Sundayís Chicago Sun-Times, the Red Sox are the leading contender to land the lefthanded starterís services from the reeling White Sox, who are just 5-22 over their last 27 games, and are well within striking distance of the Royals for last place in the AL Central.
Less than two years after steamrolling over the Red Sox in the ALDS en route to a World Series title, the 29-42 White Sox are a mess and ready to sell off the pieces in order to build for the future. Buehrle, who is just 4-4 on the season, but with a 3.39 ERA and a no-hitter to his credit, is due to become a free agent at the end of the season, and has piqued the interest of a handful of teams looking to stock up for the second half of the season, including the Red Sox, Mets, Braves, and Yankees.
If there were an area that didnít exactly need improvement on the 48-26 Red Sox, it might appear that would be the starting rotation, which is anchored by Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka, both on pace for 20-win seasons. Julian Tavarez (2-0, 2.81 ERA in June) has also given Boston more than it could ask for in a fifth starter. The old men of the rotation, however, are of some concern. Curt Schilling is on the disabled list following four subpar outings in six starts, and Tim Wakefield, following Saturday nightís loss at San Diego, now sports a 7.06 ERA for June. On the whole, Red Sox starting pitching has been the shining beacon of this teamís success, but the 4.06 starting ERA is only fifth in the American League, a number that has tumbled in recent weeks thanks to the struggles of Wakefield and Schilling.
This isnít the first time the Red Sox have shown a keen interest in Buehrle. The Sox attempted to acquire him at the trade deadline a season ago for Coco Crisp, straight up. Just 28 years old, Buehrle struggled through much of Ď06, finishing 12-13 with a 4.99 ERA. But in 2007, he appears to be back on his game, with a crafty pitch selection that has many calling him among the best southpaws in the game.
It would cost the Red Sox prospects, with the names Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, Michael Bowden, and Clay Buchholz being bandied about, according to the Sun-Times. Theo Epstein would buckle at the thought of giving up Ellsbury or Buchholz, but would probably live comfortably with surrendering Bowden and Lowrie for Buehrle, as long as the Sox could come to an agreement on a contract extension for the lefty, whoís rumored to be looking for a five-year deal in the neighborhood of $70 million. Considering the seven-year, $126 million contract fellow lefty Barry Zito signed with the San Francisco Giants and the five-year, $55 million deal that Gil Meche signed with the Royals, those are probably dollars that the Red Sox might be willing to dole out for Buehrle.
Without a contract extension, it should be a no-brainer that no deal gets done. It would not be wise of the Red Sox to sacrifice prime prospects for a position that is not in desperate need of fixing, and there is some concern that Buehrle is set on signing with his hometown Cardinals come seasonís end. He was even spotted wearing a Cardinals cap last fall during St. Louis's postseason run, which is a little more problematic than say, Tom Brady wearing a Yankees cap.
However, if Chicago GM Kenny Williams agrees to let the two sides to talk and Buehrle agrees, then itís a 180-degree no-brainer.
Donít get caught up in the Willie McGee ďWhere would we play him?Ē hysteria. In Buehrle, the Red Sox would be getting a premier starting pitcher who should only add to their greatest strength. Buehrle would slide in nicely as a No. 3 on this team, which means Curt Schilling, once he returns, is your No. 4 starter. Four. Thatís borderline unfair.
Tavarez would go to the bullpen, which would negate another possible deal for the likes of Scott Linebrink, who probably didnít impress the brass too much yesterday when he allowed Jason Varitekís mammoth home run in Bostonís 4-2 win over the Padres. Now youíve improved your rotation for the immediate and distant future as well as given your bullpen another righthanded setup man, a role that Mike Timlin quite obviously is not as adept at as he once was.
Besides, imagine Beckett-Matsuzaka-Buehrle as a 1-2-3 for the foreseeable future.
That being said, this is not a deal the Sox NEED to make (and frankly doesn't appear to be one Dennis Eckersley would ever make). If everything falls into place and Williams is willing to take Bowden and Lowrie -- leaving Buchholz and Ellsbury off the table -- is willing to let the two sides to talk deal before a deal is struck, and Buehrle decides he can live playing in Boston for the next five-and-half seasons, then Epstein should thank the gods of gluttony and pull the trigger. If everything doesnít fall right into place before their eyes, they can still walk away from the table and not feel any worse for the wear.
Therein lays the beauty of an 11-game lead. Except, of course, for the fact that you have to watch Julio Lugo ďplay through it.Ē
Without a guy like Buehrle -- whom the Red Sox could always bid on come free agency without having to surrender prospects unless the fear is that the Yankees beat them to the punch -- Boston still has folks like Jon Lester and Buchholz ready to enter the rotation come 2008. But unless Schilling shows more of what he did in Oakland two weeks ago, and less of the noticeable decrease in his fastball, the $13 million that is possibly earmarked for him next season would be more wisely invested in a pitcher who is 12 years his younger, no?
Lowrie isnít likely to play in Boston anytime soon -- for better or worse the Red Sox are stuck with the monster contract of the lost Lugo -- and Bowden is one of a handful of top Red Sox pitching prospects coming down the line. If youíre going to trade either of them this summer for help that you think makes you a better ballclub for not only this season, but for future years to come, wouldnít you think long and hard about sinking them into a 28-year-old pitcher who some think is one of the top-five lefties in the game?
Bostonís starting rotation is something to behold for the moment. But looking at it down the road, it could be a concern. Beckett will be fine, although the possibility of more ďavulsionsĒ could sideline him later this summer. Matsuzaka has adjusted to the AL well, but it remains to be seen how the switch to a five-man rotation affects him come September. Schilling is maybe showing his age based on his recent outings, and Tim Wakefield has recently been even more erratic than one would expect.
Nothing dramatic, for sure, but warning signs all the same.
Buehrle would be a luxury in í07, but a key component of the rotation in coming years. But with or without him, the Yankees arenít catching up by July 4. That much we know.
Land Buehrle though, and the Red Sox take another step closer to assuring September isnít a real threat either.