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Red Sox need to be careful at the trade deadline

Clockwise from top left, Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez, Marlins pitcher Josh Johnson, Indians pitcher Justin Masterson, Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach, Red Sox pitcher Aaron Cook, Red Sox infielder Nick Punto, and Red Sox catcher Josh Beckett.

Top row: AP; Bottom row: Globe Staff

Clockwise from top left, Indians pitcher Justin Masterson, Marlins pitcher Josh Johnson, Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez, Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach, Red Sox pitcher Aaron Cook, Red Sox infielder Nick Punto, and Red Sox catcher Josh Beckett.

The Red Sox have the opportunity to do something very unique by the 4 p.m. Tuesday non-waiver trade deadline. They could be both buyers and sellers.

They were four games out of the wild card after taking two of three from the Yankees over the weekend. After beating the Tigers, 7-3, Monday night they have 59 games left. It seems as if they still should be labeled contenders.

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The Sox, who haven’t been in the playoffs for two years, have been torn on whether to go for it with a big deal or stand pat and sell off smaller or unnecessary or redundant pieces.

Trade deadline deals don’t always have to be about the present. They can help you get an established player for the future as well.

The big story Monday was speculation about Josh Beckett. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reported the Sox had contacted the Braves and the Rangers about the pitcher, but general manager Ben Cherington said that wasn’t accurate.

OK, so the Braves and Rangers contacted the Sox? The games played at this time of the season are silly, but they are played. God forbid a GM is accused of shopping one of his players, it might hurt the player’s feelings. And Beckett, with 10-5 rights, can veto any deal, anyway. So anything the Sox negotiate has to be with several factors in mind.

Beckett doesn’t have to go anywhere. While his favorability ratings aren’t high, he did himself a world of good when he got tossed out of Sunday night’s game — he finally showed that he cared when he went after the umps for calling a foul ball on Will Middlebrooks’s bunt attempt when Middlebrooks clearly was hit in the hand.

The rookie third baseman made the point moot when he singled, but Beckett was right behind manager Bobby Valentine in getting hot about a call in a big series, at a big moment in the game. Anybody around baseball who saw that would give points to Beckett, whose reputation around the game hasn’t been so good.

The Braves seem to be out on Beckett, according to one major league source, although they were able to swing a deal with the Cubs for Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm. The Dodgers aren’t sure about Beckett, according to another source.

There’s always a chance Beckett would approve a deal to the Rangers, since he’s from that part of the country. The Rangers so far haven’t ruled out considering it, even though scouts who have watched the righthander haven’t been impressed with what he’s done on, or off, the field. That opinion may be different at the GM Jon Daniels/president Nolan Ryan level, however.

The combination of Beckett’s struggles and his enormous contract ($15.75 million per year) have made the Rangers lukewarm on him, unless the Sox were to eat a considerable amount of money, according to a major league source.

The Rangers have been aggressive with the Sox, scouting Aaron Cook and Kelly Shoppach. The Sox had the opportunity to deal Cook to Texas about a week ago and declined. Then Cook went out and had a poor outing and the Rangers backed off. The Rangers went in another direction at catcher, acquiring Geovany Soto from the Cubs.

Scouts have hesitated to give a full recommendation on Shoppach. But that shouldn’t hurt the chances of dealing him, which would allow the Sox to bring up Ryan Lavarnway, who has spent too much time in Triple A — or at least longer than he thought he would.

One veteran American League scout reminded, “You don’t want a jerk on your team. That defeats the purpose of obtaining someone. Character has to be important when you’re making a deal at the trading deadline because it’s your one chance to improve your club. You don’t want to get a guy who’s going to disrupt it.”

There are a handful of intriguing arms who have become hot deadline topics:

1. Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners — It would be a huge splash, and he’s a player you would build around, but the Mariners likely won’t deal him.

2. Justin Masterson, RHP, Indians — The Sox never wanted to part with him for Victor Martinez, but they received an excellent hitter and leader in Martinez, only to lose him to free agency. Masterson has lacked consistency this season and still has difficulty with lefthanded hitters, who are batting .281 against him with a .770 OPS. Righthanders are hitting .225 against him. Masterson also leads the league with 11 wild pitches and overall is 7-9 with a 4.47 ERA.

3. Jason Vargas, LHP, Mariners — An intriguing guy in that he could be effective against tough lefthanded lineups such as the Yankees’. He’s 11-7 with a 3.76 ERA, but he’s 4-0 with a 1.65 ERA in his last six starts. He’s a finesse guy, but he’s pitched well against the Red Sox. His downfall has been homers allowed — 25 of them to lead the league, but he has a very low WHIP (1.158).

4. Josh Johnson, RHP, Marlins ­— According to major league sources, Johnson may no longer be available because the 28-year-old righty won’t fetch what the Marlins are looking for — three top prospects. The Sox have spent significant time investigating him, but right now it doesn’t appear Boston will meet the asking price. Johnson definitely would help in the present and future.

5. Matt Garza, RHP, Cubs — With an injury to his right triceps, it would appear that he won’t be dealt now and that the Cubs will have to get waivers to trade him down the line, which may be difficult. The Sox have held a lot of discussions with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, but it doesn’t appear they would take a chance on Garza.

6. Ervin Santana, RHP, Angels — With Zack Greinke recently acquired by the Angels, Santana becomes expandable. He hasn’t had a good season, but has had success in the past.

7. Tim Lincecum, RHP, Giants — He’s been made more than available, but hardly anyone has called the Giants on him, believing they wouldn’t want to move him despite his struggles. Teams may be surprised if they do call. He hasn’t had a good season, but he is a two-time Cy Young winner.

The Sox also could sell off Cook, Shoppach, Nick Punto, Ryan Sweeney (assuming he didn’t hurt his left hand too much punching a door Monday night), and Daniel Nava and still have a pretty good team. Punto, a veteran utilityman who has a good reputation around the league, has a chance to go elsewhere now that Pedro Ciriaco has established himself.

The Sox have taken a cautious approach to the trade deadline, but leading up to 4 p.m. Tuesday there will be a frenzy of activity. Fans want to see a trade, but ownership and management have learned not to make a deal for the sake of making a deal.

A similar thing happened in the free agent signings of John Lackey and Carl Crawford. The Sox do not want to make those mistakes again.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.
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