Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said he and his staff did everything they could to pull off something bold at Tuesday’s trade deadline, but in the end it didn’t feel right so Cherington came away with Craig Breslow in a deal sending reliever Matt Albers and outfielder Scott Podsednik to Arizona. He didn’t bag Matt Garza or Josh Johnson.
Of course, especially after starter Josh Beckett grabbed his back in the third inning and left Tuesday night’s game against the Tigers.
The mood around the Sox has been upbeat after they won a tough series in New York and then beat the Tigers Monday night in the first game of a 10-game homestand. There’s no question that if the old playoff format still existed, there wouldn’t be much in the way of optimism, and perhaps then the Sox would have been more intense sellers than quasi-buyers.
“We did feel empowered to do something bold but we just didn’t find something bold that made sense for us,” Cherington told reporters immediately after the 4 p.m. deadline. “We explored some things that were bold and came close on a couple of things but we just didn’t feel like anything of the big, bold variety made sense for us right now.”
It seems the popular move would have been to trade Beckett, who was booed by the Fenway Park crowd as he came off the field Tuesday night, but that was off the table on Monday as talks with the Rangers didn’t go very far, and the interest of the Dodgers and Braves was only moderate.
The Sox claim they are not throwing in the towel by doing virtually nothing, in fact, they’ve empowered their $170 million roster, most of which is back now. David Ortiz, who is nursing a sore heel, is still missing, but he should be back by the end of the week barring another setback.
As Cherington pointed out, Andrew Bailey is on the mend, Daniel Bard is improving, and catcher Ryan Lavarnway, a good hitter, also is in the future mix. The Sox had opportunities to deal Kelly Shoppach (Washington, Milwaukee, Mets), but they held on because they like Shoppach’s defense. Ryan Sweeney had drawn interest and was on the verge of being traded before he punched a door and now might miss the rest of the season with a knuckle fracture. They waited too long to deal Aaron Cook, who had a buyer in Texas before a bad outing nixed it.
The Sox are right to think that this roster should be able to nail down a final playoff spot, but only if Beckett and Jon Lester pitch the way we think they should. Lately there had been signs that they were doing that, but then came Beckett’s injury.
Still, adding another good pitcher would have made the perception of the Sox seem that much better.
With the 31-year-old Yale graduate Breslow, who was 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA for the Diamondbacks, it brings the Red Sox back to that brief time this season when they had three lefties (Rich Hill, Franklin Morales, and Andrew Miller) all pitching out of the bullpen, which gave Bobby Valentine some interesting options.
The added benefit to getting Breslow is that it frees up Morales to go back to the starting rotation if someone should fail. The Morales experiment in the starting rotation was fruitful, though the word in the organization is that he needs to improve his secondary pitches to be an effective starter long-term.
Albers was for the first time in his career put in a position to succeed, pitching in important situations and not just in the mop-up role he was used in last season with the Sox.
Albers faded terribly in the second half of last season (7.36 ERA) and had begun to show signs of fading this season, so the Sox may have dumped him just in time. Podsednik really helped the Sox for a time, but when Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury returned there was no room for him and he idled in Pawtucket, from where Arizona rescued him.
“We worked hard the last few days on a thousand different concepts,” Cherington said. “I was hoping to do more and help the team. In the end we preferred not to do not things rather than make decisions that hurt us in the long run. We’re happy with what we did and moreso we’re happy with the guys we have here. It’s a reflection on them. We believe in the group. We feel we have just as good a chance in this cluster of teams fighting for the wild card and that we can go win it.”
The Sox made one other minor move, sending Lars Anderson to the Indians for knuckleballer Steven Wright, who was 9-6 with a 2.49 ERA for Akron (Double A).
“We scouted him a lot this year,” Cherington said of Wright. “He’s thrown the knuckleball in the past but he’s throwing it more exclusively this year. He does a lot of things pretty athletic. He can throw a fastball and breaking ball for a strike. He has action on his knuckleball and we feel it’s major league quality. We feel he can be a major league starter. We’re hopeful we got a major league starter out of the deal.”
Cherington fielded a few requests for catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. According to a report from ESPN’s Jim Bowden, Saltalamacchia would have been the centerpiece in a deal for a starting pitcher. The Sox mulled it over and then decided against it.
Cherington acknowledged that he was in a very unfamiliar position trying to balance where the Sox are in the standings and the number of teams they would need to leapfrog to capture a wild-card spot. “You’re trying to balance the desire to make the team better and give guys every chance, with the reality of where we are,” he said. “As good as we feel about the group, you need to do the math [on] the cluster of teams and what you need to do to pass all of them. We have to weigh that against our desire to make the team better. There was an additional layer in the decision. We pursued a lot of different things, but in the end this is what we did.”
They pursued Justin Masterson, Josh Johnson, and asked about Cliff Lee. They dipped their toes in on Matt Garza, though in the end they backed off, as did other teams, because they didn’t get a chance to see him pitch after he went down with a triceps strain. Earlier they had pursued Francisco Liriano and came up short to the White Sox.
Cherington said the Sox’ unwillingness to pull the trigger had nothing to do with protecting the farm system.
“There’s a core group that we didn’t want to touch,” he said. “We feel they represent the next generation of core impact players. We know on our best teams in 2007 and 2008 that bringing up core impact players helped us so much. We want to protect that. We started to do that with [Will] Middlebrooks and [Felix] Doubront and we want to continue that. I wouldn’t say protecting our farm system got in the way of a deal. I think we’ve always tried to protect the farm system, and in this case I’m glad we did.”
Give Cherington credit, he did not let the pressure from the fan base or media sway his decision. He didn’t listen to the polls, the talk shows, or yours truly, who called on him to blow up this team before the Yankee series. Instead he did what he thought best.
“It’s our job to stay disciplined and make good decisions, and that’s what the good organizations do,” Cherington said. “We explored different things and ultimately we think we’ve helped our pitching staff. We still believe in the guys in that clubhouse and the depth we have at Pawtucket.”
What Cherington did was prudent, and probably wise.
But boy, was it disappointing.