You couldn't fault Ben Cherington if he stole a peek at his cellphone during a panel discussion Tuesday night with a couple of fellow general managers at UMass's Isenberg School of Management. Perhaps he even covertly slipped in a call or two himself during a lull in the conversation. The Florida Marlins, who gut their roster roughly as often as the NHL self-immolates in a labor war, were in everything-must-go mode again, and a Red Sox division rival had just filled up its shopping cart.
In this offseason's first true reminder that the hot stove league is as fun as the games themselves, the Marlins and Blue Jays pulled off a blockbuster that sent Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonaf ... well, pretty much everyone worth a damn on the Florida roster other than Giancarlo Stanton, for a collection of legitimate prospects (Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, and Adeiny Hechevarria), plus shortstop Yunel Escobar, pitcher Henderson Alvarez, and alleged catcher Jeff Mathis.
Some of the names in the deal didn't surprise Cherington -- he said at the event he'd discussed Johnson and Reyes with the Marlins -- but the magnitude of the transaction measured on the Richter Scale across baseball, and some Red Sox fans were quick to provide their own reactionary aftershocks, suggesting an opportunity was lost.
While the deal, at least on paper, makes the Red Sox' climb from the depths of the AL East more daunting at least in '13, any suggestion that Cherington should have trumped the Jays' offer is ill-conceived and reactionary. It's hard to resist envying a huge trade by a supposed rival, but taking on well-known, well-compensated players from the Marlins' 69-win team is not the way the Red Sox should approach revamping their 69-win team.
If the Red Sox, who begin what they hope will be an accelerated rebuilding with deep pockets and a deep farm system, want to see what else the Marlins might sell, here's an easy hypothetical that is probably pure fantasy, but one Cherington is required to look into nonetheless. He needs to call the Marlins and find out if Giancarlo Stanton can be had.
There is no logical reason why he would be available. If Bud Selig, on a whim/power trip, ordered an entire redrafting of the major leagues tomorrow, Stanton would arguably be the third pick behind the two newly crowned Rookies of the Year, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Stanton hit 37 homers last season and led the National League in slugging (.618). He is not eligible for free agency until 2017. And he just turned 23 last week. Players don't get much more appealing than that.
A reader asked this compelling question on Twitter Tuesday after the news of the blockbuster broke: Marlins call Sox & offer Stanton for Barnes, Bradley, & Webster. Cherington says...
Cherington says, "Hell, yes, and do not hang up that phone. I've just gotta clear it with ... [sigh] ... Larry."
Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and pitchers Matt Barnes and Allen Webster are, respectively, the Nos. 2, 3, and 4 prospects in the Red Sox organization according to Baseball America. They are vital to the Red Sox' future, and for the dynamic Bradley in particular, the future could be sooner than we realize now. But Stanton is a special player, a franchise cornerstone who keeps getting better and whose peak may not be in sight, has hitters such as Frank Robinson, Eddie Mathews, Juan Gonzalez, Miguel Cabrera, and our own Tony Conigliaro on his age-22 comp list, and who is no more than seven months older than any of those three prospects.
I can't imagine they could trade for him without starting the offer for Xander Bogaerts, but they must find out. A player like Stanton, at his age and with his ability, should not be available. And perhaps he is not. Probably he is not. But who knows what the Marlins are capable of right now. Stanton is furious, and if that leads to a trade demand, at the very least Cherington should be on Line 1.
The Red Sox have never replaced Manny Ramirez. They must find out if this is their chance.
Regarding the megatrade that actually did happen, there are two crucial questions as I see it regarding the Red Sox, and neither relates to whether they should have made the trade: How does the trade affect them and how should it affect them.
First, the former. It certainly makes their challenge of rising from depths of the AL East in 2013 more daunting. While everyone in the division has a glaring flaw -- the Yankees are aging, the Orioles don't have much of a rotation or an encouraging run-differential, the Rays too often hit like the '75 California Angels -- the Blue Jays have at the very least fortified their roster with proven talent, particularly Johnson, who is entering his second year after Tommy John surgery and is a legitimate ace when healthy.
Bonafacio is fast and versatile, an asset to be sure. What Buehrle and Reyes will give them is less certain -- the former is a well-compensated, fast-working innings eater at this point, while as Cliff Corcoran points out, Reyes and Escobar are much closer in value than the perception.
The Blue Jays have a lot of ifs among their holdovers -- if Jose Bautista comes back healthy, if Ricky Romero bounces back from elbow surgery and a horrible season, if Edwin Encarnacion can do it again, if Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie play to their ability -- and what becomes of the team in '13 depends more on them than the newcomers. But at the least, there's enough talent and depth that whoever happens to be the new manager will be stepping in to a great situation. Bobby Valentine could probably get 80 wins out of this roster.
And as for how the trade should affect the Red Sox, well, the answer is simple: It shouldn't. Signing the underrated David Ross last week was a sign that the Red Sox intend to make well-considered if perhaps not flashy moves, which is exactly how they should be proceeding this offseason. If a chance to make a reasonable trade for the likes of Andre Ethier or Alex Gordon presents itself, certainly it's worth investigating, at least until Bogaerts's name comes up. (I'm convinced he plays meaningful innings for the Red Sox this season.)
And of course that call on Stanton must be made, and made again, and once more after that, just in case. But if there's no chance to trade for a player who is roughly the same age as the Red Sox' best Double A prospects and 14 months younger than Will Middlebrooks, you stay patient with the prospects you have, and keep building the right way. After all, if history is a guide, Stanton should be in the midst of his prime right around the next time the Marlins have a fire sale.
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.