As you may have noticed, no chat today. Wasting away in Vacationland, but with the Sox still on my mind, here's a quick column to take you into the weekend. -- CF
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With roughly a full day remaining until the non-waiver trading deadline, it appears a glamorous deal is not in the works for this admirable band of misfit toys and emergency-room regulars known as the 2010 Boston Red Sox.
That is, I suppose, unless your idea of a blockbuster is swapping around a relief pitcher or two. And even those small repairs may be difficult for Theo Epstein to make given that the Twins just overpaid for Nationals closer Matt Capps, swapping promising catcher Wilson Ramos for a decent pitcher (albeit one who was non-tendered by the Pirates over the winter) having a good year for a lousy team. Maybe the Blue Jays' demands of Jose Iglesias or Casey Kelly for coveted veteran lefty Scott Downs aren't that insulting given the sellers' market. (Upon further consideration: Nope, still pretty insulting.)
We do agree with the conventional wisdom, which happens to contain an uncommon amount of common sense for once: The Red Sox don't necessarily need to make a mega-acquisition like they did last year, when Victor Martinez came over from Cleveland for a trio of pitchers and instantly was a perfect fit in the No. 3 spot in the lineup, behind the plate for the creaky Jason Varitek, and in the clubhouse. What they need is for their injured and ailing to return -- and return as immediate contributors, with little rust to be shaken off -- so they can make up the 5.5-game deficit in the wild-card race over these remaining 60 games.
Sure, they're going to have to sprint while the division-leading Yankees glide and the Rays run at a comfortable pace . . . but it can be done, especially with the in-house reinforcements already arriving. Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz appear to be in top-of-the-rotation form. Martinez, who may have been missed more than anyone, the great Dustin Pedroia included, lengthens the lineup while sparing us further from Kevin Cash's painful nightly exhibition on how difficult it is to hit a major league breaking ball. Pedroia, despite his frustration that his bones won't obey his will, is getting there, and you know his name will be on the lineup card the exact moment the doctors give him the go-ahead. There are even rumors that Jacoby Ellsbury will play a 10th game for the Red Sox at some point this season.
The band is damn close to being reunited, and for all of the temptations there have been this season to write it off as a lost year -- we haven't forgotten what some of you banshees were shrieking in April, before you gave the likes of Adrian Beltre a fair chance -- they've earned our faith (if not, apparently, our nightly viewership), with this 6-4 West Coast road trip being the latest affirmation that they're not dead until the math says they are. This is a deep, versatile and likable if not particularly charismatic ball club; sue me for enjoying a clutch J.D. Drew hit whether or not he pumps his fist in celebration. It features a lineup that mocks those who thought they'd have trouble scoring runs and a starting rotation that finally has all five of its starters healthy and pitching well at the same time -- and perhaps, the ideal time. I'm convinced this group is capable of a memorable October, if it can just find a way to grab a slot as one of the eight teams in the tournament.
After the lumps they've endured, they deserve every chance to make that run. Which is why, despite the words spent in previous paragraphs acknowledging that a major deal by 4 p.m. is neither likely nor particularly necessary, there is one possibly available player for the right ransom who would be a perfect fit for the Red Sox for this season and beyond.
Tell us, Theo, that you're making a genuine run at Joakim Soria.
Yes, yes, I know the idea that the Red Sox could acquire the consistently excellent 26-year-old closer of the Kansas City Royals falls somewhere between conjecture and a daydream. The Royals would have to be overwhelmed to trade one of their few true prime-of-career assets on their major league club, and that is precisely Soria's standing with the Royals: In four major league seasons, he's never had an ERA higher than 2.48, has a career WHIP of 1.007, and strikes out 10 batters per nine innings. He is an elite and tremendously accomplished young pitcher, not to mention one signed to a very team-friendly contract. He's in the middle season of a three-year, $8.75 million deal that also has three club options that peak at $8.75 million in 2014.
There is no fundamental reason for Royals GM Dayton Moore to trade Soria . . . and yet, wouldn't he have to do it if he were overwhelmed with an offer? Yankees headwarmer fetishist Brian Cashman thought so, reportedly offering the Royals slugging prospect Jesus Montero, an alleged catcher and born designated hitter whom the Yankees are probably willing to deal since DH is traditionally their rocking chair for overpriced aging veterans.
It was a shrewd and reasonable inquiry by Cashman, who no doubt saw Soria as the setup man this season (replacing Joba Militello) as well as the eventual heir to Mariano Rivera, should the warranty ever run out on any of his robot parts.
Such a scenario is similarly appealing to a Red Sox fan: How would a Bard-Soria-Papelbon back end of the bullpen sound, particularly since Soria is death on lefthanded hitters (.201 average, .553 OPS) over his career? Further, he could be the eventual replacement for Papelbon, whether he's dealt or departs via free agency, one or the other of which seems inevitable, with Bard remaining in a setup role.
Still, it's worth exploring, even with the steep price. The Red Sox don't have one prospect with the appeal of Montero, so would you part with Kelly or Iglesias? I would, without a second glance at Baseball America. And it would take more than that, whether that means Ryan Kalish, Lars Anderson, or another prospect or two of genuine promise. To put it another way: Soria is worth what the Blue Jays have demanded for Downs.
I know, Epstein has been accused of clinging to his precious babies in the farm system -- Larry Lucchino made light of the notion on WEEI recently -- but it's not really a fair perception. Look at the Martinez deal. Or look back to this time last year, when we learned after the trading deadline passed that the Red Sox had reportedly made a mind-blowing blockbuster proposal to the Seattle Mariners for superb young starting pitcher Felix Hernandez, which would have included five players of Jack Zduriencik's choosing from a list that included Buchholz, Bard, Justin Masterson and Felix Doubront.
One of Epstein's strengths as a general manager is his willingness -- more of an insistence, actually -- on considering all alternatives and exploring all avenues to improve the ball club. He particularly seeks out deals with long-term benefits rather than rooting around for a band-aid to slap on whatever ails a particular season's Red Sox team. Last July's Martinez deal qualified as the former. The King Felix deal obviously would have as well, though with a year's hindsight we could debate the merits of giving up Buchholz and Bard for him all day.
And a deal for Soria would fit the helps-in-the-present/helps-in-the-future criteria as well, though it must be noted that there is a significant roadblock beyond Moore's justifiable demand for pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, and green clovers in return. Soria has a no-trade clause preventing him from being dealt to New York, and Boston is also reportedly on his short Ain't Going There list, which makes one wonder if he has an aversion to big cities and/or the big stage. But roadblocks can be overcome, and this must be explored, because there isn't a potentially available player who is better suited to help the Red Sox this year and beyond.
Yeah, I realize it's a long shot. Some might say the same of the Red Sox' playoff chances. But I've been right about this team before, and I believe the playoff berth will be proven attainable.
For the next 24 hours, excuse me while I hope Joakim Soria is as well.
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.