I still believe John Smoltz delivers in October, his favorite time of year. I still believe J.D. Drew is a more valuable all-around player than he gets credit for. I still believe Nick Green will someday make an accurate throw to first base with the game on the line in the ninth inning.
But even a happy-happy-joy-joy! optimist has to recognize the reality with the Red Sox right now:
They may make the postseason with the roster as currently constructed. But their chances of doing some damage once they get there would be greatly enhanced if they pull off a major deal before 4 p.m. Friday.
This is not something Theo Epstein should consider doing. It's something he has to do.
If Epstein can bring Roy Halladay to Boston without parting with Daniel Bard or Casey Kelly, he has to do it. Ditto for San Diego slugger Adrian Gonzalez. And if he can acquire Victor Martinez from the Indians straight-up for Clay Buchholz, he should offer the soon-to-be 25-year-old nothing more than a handshake and a plane ticket and point him toward Ohio.
Despite the gruesome lingering memories from the last time they played -- not to mention the concerns stemming from their recent bouts with lackluster play -- common sense suggests the Red Sox are a very good team, one that with a meaningful tweak or two could make a push for its third World Series title in six seasons. And isn't that the goal? To legitimately contend for the championship every single year?
Under most circumstances, I would understand if Theo didn't swing a major deal before the deadline, then explained that the asking price was simply too high for a particular player. I agree that a sustained run of excellence -- call it a dynasty if you wish -- is much more likely when the farm system delivers inexpensive high-quality young talent season after season than if you're reliant on free agency and trades to build a roster.
But this year, there is an interesting dynamic at play, because the three aforementioned players -- Halladay, Gonzalez, and Martinez -- not only are elite performers, but each would fill a major need for the Sox.
Halladay, the ultimate high-quality workhorse, would give the Sox a virtually unbeatable Big Three at the top of the rotation while also greatly reducing the Sox' dependence on Smoltz, 42-year-old Tim Wakefield, or Brad Penny. (We're going to assume Daisuke Matsuzaka has pitched his last meaningful inning in 2009.) The price would be steep, but it might be worth it just to see the Sox enter a crucial late-season three-game set or a five-game ALDS series with a rotation of Halladay, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.
Gonzalez? He would fit in so many ways -- he's 27, hit for power in spacious Petco, accumulates monster numbers away from San Diego, plays a slick first base, and would fill the offensive void the Red Sox rightly suspected they had when they pursued Mark Teixeira so vigorously in the offseason.
While Martinez's star isn't quite as high in the sky as Halladay's or Gonzalez's, his offensive punch and all-around versatility -- he's a switch-hitter with a lifetime .297 average who can catch and play first base -- would be of major benefit to the Sox, who have had an alarming abundance of deadwood in their batting order since the All-Star break.
So will Epstein pull off a deal for one player from among that coveted trio? The hunch is yes, that Victor Martinez will be a member of the Red Sox by tomorrow night. It simply makes too much sense, and the price in prospects won't be as steep as it would for Halladay or Gonzalez.
And make no mistake, the price is a factor. No matter whom Epstein acquires, you have to figure he'll have mixed feelings about the deal. On the day he was introduced as the Red Sox general manager six years ago, he spoke of his intent on building a "player development machine." That hope has long since become reality, but it still cannot be easy for him to part with young players the Red Sox identified and developed. He's far from the sentimental sort, but he wouldn't be the first general manager who overvalued his own prospects.
Is he doing that? You do have to wonder. We all see the promise in Buchholz, but we also realize he's almost 25 -- just seven months younger than Jon Lester -- and still hasn't established himself in the big leagues. For all of his talent and minor league success, this isn't a 22-year-old phenom we're talking about; this is a pitcher who need to prove he has the command of his excellent repertoire and poise to handle bad breaks and tough situations soon, before his value begins to wane.
Epstein is right to be hesitant to deal Lars Anderson -- he's often compared to Justin Morneau, and his Double A season at age 21 is somewhat similar to Morneau's in 2002 -- but he shouldn't be untouchable if he can bring a proven player of Halladay's or Gonzalez's caliber in return. Michael Bowden, who profiles as a mentally tough Jeff Suppan, should not be a deal-breaker. And if you heard of Ryan Westmoreland before yesterday, you're probably from Rhode Island.
Maybe the prospects will become more familiar names in the future. Maybe even a few of them will become stars. Given the Red Sox' track record recently, a few of them probably will. But right now, Theo Epstein needs to trade promise for production. If that means parting with some of his Baseball America bonus babies to bring aboard Halladay, Gonzalez, or Martinez, well, he should just consider it another benefit of his player-development machine.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.