NEW YORK — Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington was alone on the field at Yankee Stadium at 2 p.m. on Friday, pacing in front of the visitors’ dugout with his cellphone pressed against his ear.
The non-waiver trade deadline is Tuesday afternoon and despite the Sox showing few signs of being a legitimate playoff contender, Cherington is determined to do what he can to improve the roster.
Starting pitching is the priority.
“It’s the area that needs to improve,” Cherington said. “I still think it’s going to improve more just by our guys pitching better than any trade we can make. That’s an area where we’ll look to improve regardless.”
Cherington said the Sox would not part with their top prospects given the team’s uncertain position. Players such as Matt Barnes, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Xander Bogaerts have more value to the Sox long term than they do as trade chips.
“We’ve had conversations with teams. There are a handful of guys that would be really tough to move,” Cherington said. “We’ve always been our best when we’re bringing impact talent up to the team. You look at what Will [Middlebrooks] and [Felix] Doubront have done. We’re going to need to do more of that.
“There’s more than one benefit that comes from it. There’s an energy that comes from it. Performance on the field is key and it makes managing the payroll easier. We have to be really careful to keep those guys.”
Cherington said it’s clearly a seller’s market for starting pitching. That is an indication that if the Red Sox obtain a starter, it will not be a top-of-the-rotation type.
“You do have to look closely at the return, whether the reward is there, by doing the math,” Cherington said.
“Sixty games [left], five games back in the loss column [for the wild card], what needs to happen for us to climb that hill and can this guy help us climb that hill. It’s never certain, obviously. Last year proved that.
“In previous years the odds were much higher. You could look at it through the lens of what does the team need to be as good as possible come October.”
Could the Red Sox become sellers if they lose the series against the Yankees?
“I’m choosing not to think about that. I don’t see a scenario where we’re going to shift over to that side,” Cherington said. “But we have to be honest with ourselves and see where we’re at.”
The bright side
Bobby Valentine was asked before Friday night’s 10-3 loss how his first season with the Sox was going.
“There’s been a lot of stuff going on. Very challenging, very exciting, great group of guys,” he said. “Glad I’m having the opportunity and I think we’re headed in the right direction. We got off to a lousy start with some confusion in our bullpen. We’ve been about five games over [.500] since a bad start in April. I think we can build on that to go to 10, 15, and 20 games over, I think.”
Valentine was asked how he could feel that way given the team’s poor play in recent weeks.
“I’ve seen Adrian [Gonzalez] and Dustin [Pedroia] really hitting their stride. We went 80 games without them really hitting their stride. They’re feeling good. I see David [Ortiz] coming back. I see [Jacoby] Ellsbury and Carl [Crawford] in the lineup and I see our bullpen pretty well stabilized and our starting staff feeling pretty good about themselves.
“Everyone says how the heck can the staff feel good about themselves without Josh [Beckett] and Jon [Lester] winning their last starts and all that. They’re healthy and throwing the ball well . . . This is a team that’s come along pretty well. I don’t see things going backward.”
Valentine was asked if his enthusiasm has waned.
“I don’t think so. I’m a lucky guy,” he said. “When I wake up in the morning, I count my blessings. Hell’s bells, this has been exciting. Challenging for sure.”
Ortiz getting closer
Ortiz rejoined the team and took batting practice on the field, his strained left Achilles’ tendon feeling much better. He is eligible to come off the disabled list on Wednesday and hopes that will be the case.
“Every day is different. Every day for me has been improving. But we’ll see. If I’m ready to go, I’m ready to go,” Ortiz said.
“It’s been a slow process. It’s something . . . you just need some time off, seems like. When I get back, I’ll have to deal with the ups and downs. Just need some time off.”
He said pain still comes when he runs, but not while batting. “I never had any issues with that, just the running thing,” Ortiz said.
List of problems
The Red Sox have had 22 players on the disabled list this season, with Daisuke Matsuzaka, Rich Hill, and Ryan Sweeney each making two trips. The 1999 Tampa Bay Devil Rays (who finished 69-93) were the last team to put 22 players on the DL in one season. The Sox haven’t had that many since 1971. The 25 DL stints are the most for the Sox since they had 26 in 2001 . . . Scott Atchison, on the DL with a forearm strain, started for Triple A Pawtucket in Indianapolis and allowed three runs on three hits in his one inning, including a home run. He struck out two . . . The Red Sox did not play the Yankees in New York until the 100th game of the season. That is the latest into a season that has happened . . . The game lasted 2 hours 41 minutes, the quickest between the teams since a 1-0 Yankees victory on Sept. 11, 2005, at the old Yankee Stadium. That game lasted 2:29 . . . The Red Sox have drawn only 10 walks in their last seven games . . . The Red Sox are 16-24 against AL East teams.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.