SEATTLE — It’s tweaking season and Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington knows it.
He has his scouts out looking for bullpen help and righthanded power, and if there’s a chance to do something big in the starting rotation, he would.
The Sox have had their eyes on Phillies infielder Michael Young. The Phillies had two scouts watching the Sox in Anaheim and other scouts positioned in Boston’s fertile farm system. The Sox feel they could use more righthanded power with diminishing returns from Mike Napoli, so that could become a priority.
If Cherington wanted to do something big — the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton, for instance — he has the pieces to make a deal like that happen.
But potential trades have a tricky element: The Sox have devoted so much energy and resources to building good team chemistry, could changes disrupt a good thing?
Cherington acknowledged such discussions among the inner circle on Yawkey Way. The Sox are in first place, with their lead at 3½-games after Monday’s loss. Whatever they’ve been doing has been working.
Immediately, however, they need a replacement for Andrew Miller, who it appears will need season-ending ligament surgery on his left foot. What a blow. Miller had found his niche in the bullpen and was a vital cog, especially effective against righthanded hitters.
The Sox once had three lefties in the pen, now they have one — Craig Breslow.
White Sox lefty Matt Thornton could be a possibility given the familiarity of Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves to the White Sox staff. Righty Jesse Crain, who has been sidelined with a sore shoulder but has a 0.74 ERA for the White Sox, could be back soon.
“I don’t know if it’s as important whether it’s left or right,” Cherington said. “We need good pitchers.”
Cherington said Monday that finding an internal solution is preferred. But Thornton, who has been a closer, had held lefties to a .163 average.
“The most efficient way to do it would be to ignore [the trade market] completely,” Cherington said. “But then you run the risk of not having enough guys out there. We have to strike the right balance in the middle . . . I do think that if you can find solutions internally, that’s always the better way to go.”
Cherington knows more than anyone that the reliever market is a crapshoot. He was in on the decision-making leading to the Eric Gagne deal in 2007. He’s been burned by Bobby Jenks and Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan. Mark Melancon never got his Red Sox career going yet he’s been lights-out in Pittsburgh.
“We’ve got to have an open mind,” Cherington said. “As I said before, the players and the staff have done a great job putting us in this position working so hard, so we have an obligation to help them if we can. Losing Andrew is not something we were planning on. We’ll have to react and try to find solutions.”
Cherington won’t necessarily be targeting a closer. He feels Koji Uehara has done a good job and believes Uehara can be the closer for the remainder of the season, though he said that’s manager John Farrell’s decision.
The Sox are keeping their eyes on some closers, however, including the Phillies’ Jonathan Papelbon, the Mets’ Bobby Parnell, and Steve Cishek of the Marlins.
The Sox wouldn’t mind a few roster upgrades. That could be at third base, where Young would blend in nicely with team chemistry. According to a source, the Sox have yet to exchange names with the Phillies, but it’s a situation worth following.
Cherington said the plan was to keep Will Middlebrooks in Triple A for a while to recapture whatever edge he’s lost. Middlebrooks has been hot at Pawtucket and he’s also being reminded that teammate Xander Bogaerts is now a threat for the job, and that Double A third baseman Garin Cecchini is coming on fast. Middlebrooks could be major trade bait if the Sox were thinking of doing something big.
“We’re committing to a plan and let’s carry it out and give him a chance to get his feet underneath him again,” Cherington said of Middlebrooks. “He’s done that.”
A righthanded-hitting outfielder also could be in play.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino were both out with minor injuries Monday night, leaving the Sox with three healthy outfielders. Jackie Bradley Jr. is the most likely call-up, but he’s not righthanded. That’s why you hear names like Alex Rios linked with the Red Sox, because the White Sox could be selling players off any day now.
Cherington doesn’t seem to feel the Red Sox have a big need for a starting pitcher, especially with Clay Buchholz likely to return after the All-Star break.
“It’s a fine line, a slippery slope, call it whatever,” Cherington said. “The moment you saw you have enough pitching, you don’t. We’ve been through all that. You just have to make the right decisions at the right time and try to project what the needs might be later in the season. Sometimes that’s not always easy to do.
“I think we’re in a good position of being able to do some things if we need to. At the same time you want to protect the young core players that you think will be a big part of your future.”
And so the bell has sounded. Cherington needs a reliever and beyond that could do something bold. Whenever a GM mentions “upgrade,” that could mean something big.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.