First pitch: New rules change MLB's trade deadline

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First pitch: New rules change MLB's trade deadline

Less than two weeks remain before the non-waiver trading deadline of July 31, which means it's about time for rumors to pile up and moves are made.

But for any number of reasons, this will be a trading deadline like few others in recent seasons.

A look at how the rules -- and the environment -- have changed and what it means to the Red Sox:

COME ONE, COME ALL
The introduction of the second wild card spot in each league has, to date, had the desired effect: it's created closer races and more competition for the post-season.

In the American League, 11 teams are, this morning, within two games of a playoff spot. Just three A.L. teams would appear out of the running for the post-season: Kansas City, Minnesota and Oakland.

That means, too, that there are fewer teams intent on selling at the deadline, and more teams looking to buy, believing that they, like so many others, are just one acquisition away from a pennant or world championship.

In theory, that should drive up the prices for teams in ''sell'' mode -- like the Twins, or, in the National League, the Chicago Cubs.

But it also may impact the deadline in other ways. With so many teams looking to add -- and, conversely, so few teams giving up on the season and looking to subtract -- the nature of the trades made is going to change.

In recent seasons, the typical deadline deal often involved a big-market team sending prospects to a out-of-contention small-market team in exchange for a player headed for free agency.

Those deals, however, are going to be rare this summer, for reasons we'll address in a moment.

In their place, executives expect, will be a return to old-fashioned baseball trades: Team A has a surplus of one area, and is willing to trade it to Team B, which has a surplus of another.

It's possible, then, to have two first-place teams doing a deal together, each looking to improve by trading from strength to fix a perceived weakness.

FEWER RENTALS
In the meantime, a change in the recent collective bargaining agreement means a change in the way teams are doing business.

In past years, the most popular deals involved a pending free agent being dealt to a contender. Think, say, CC Sabathia going from the Cleveland Indians to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008.

The Indians knew that they couldn't afford to sign Sabathia when he hit the market, so they decided to cut their losses and auction Sabathia off to the highest bidder.

The Brewers, who hadn't made the playoffs this century, were desperate to make a run at the post-season. They shipped four of their better prospects to the Indians and ended their playoff drought, with the help of Sabathia.

Part of the reason the Brewers were able to justify dealing off four of their best minor leaguers was the knowledge that, if they failed to sign Sabathia, they could at the very least, offer him arbitration that winter and get a first-round and sandwich pick back in the following June's draft.

That meant they got to at least partly re-stock their inventory of young players only months later, mitigating their losses.

But effective this season, thanks to the CBA negotiated last December, teams can no longer offer arbitration to rentals. If the Brewers were to make the same trade for Sabathia this summer, they would do so with the knowledge that they couldn't replenish their farm system next summer.

That, in turn, has impacted the value of players about to become free agents, such as Cole Hamels, Zach Greinke and Ryan Depmster.

Knowing that there will be no re-stocking next June, teams are reluctant to empty their system of their best young players. Those teams selling are getting used to the new reality, understanding that someone like Greinke doesn't have anywhere near the value that he might have had at the deadline under the old rules.

OFFENSE IN DEMAND
Another reality is the fact that teams are almost as interested in acquiring offense as they are pitching.

In this era of testing for PEDs (and amphetamines), scoring is it a 15-year low. Runs are down and power is hard to come by.

So while many teams are looking for a boost to their starting rotation or bullpen, almost as many others are in the hunt for that big bat to bolster the lineup.

"People still want arms," said one talent evaluator. "But I'm surprised at the amount of talk focused on offense. Some teams think they're a hitter away from being able to win and that's changed the nature of talks."

With an eye toward the post-season, the need is even greater. If scoring is down across the board in the regular season, runs will be tougher still in the playoffs when the pitching is generally better given the quality of teams involved.

McAdam: Doesn't take long for second-guessing of Farrell to resume

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McAdam: Doesn't take long for second-guessing of Farrell to resume

Three takeaways from the Red Sox' 6-4 loss to the Yankees on Tuesday night . . . 

1) Long relief may be short for the Red Sox in the postseason

The news that Drew Pomeranz won't start Thursday and is dealing with forearm soreness was ominous -- to say the least. While the Sox aren't concerned enough to order up an MRI for the lefty, it seems a fair bet that he won't pitch again this season. Pomeranz wasn't going to crack the postseason rotation and would likely have been relegated to relief duty. Now, even that seems a stretch.

Add that development to the continued absence of Steven Wright and the Red Sox are missing 40 percent of their rotation from late July and early August.

Healthy, both would have been stretched-out and available to provide multiple innings in the postseason.

Of course, most teams would prefer to not have to rely on long men in the postseason, since their very appearance in a game would signifiy that a starter got knocked out early.

When that happens, however, it's nice to have experienced, dependable arms to cover innings and not impact the bullpen's high-leverage pitchers.

Now, in such a scenario, the Sox will likely have to turn to either Robbie Ross Jr. or Heath Hembree.

2) Is Aaron Hill heating up?

In the month of September, Hill has posted a line of .381/.409/.571. On Tuesday night, he blasted a pinch-hit homer.

Admittedly, that's a relatively small sample size. But Hill has had better at-bats of late, especially against lefties.

It's doubtful that he'll take over third base -- now or in the postseason -- full-time, since John Farrell has two left-handed hitting options, with Travis Shaw and Brock Holt. Shaw certainly more power and has shown the ability to go on hot streaks at the plate.

But Hill is a veteran player, albeit one with little postseason experience (11 at-bats in the Division Series for Arizona in 2011) for a 12-year veteran.

And one other benefit: Hill is a .373 career hitter as a pinch-hitter, making him a valuable part off the bench in games started by either Holt or Shaw.

3) One loss is all it took for the second-guessing to resurface

The Sox had won 11 straight before Tuesday's loss, which quickly re-introduced criticism of Farrell.

Starter David Price had given up four runs through six innings, but the Sox rallied for two runs off Tommy Layne in the seventh to tie things at 4-4.

At 76 pitches, Price went back out for the seventh and promptly yielded a two-run homer to Tyler Austin, giving the Yanks another two-run lead.

Price hadn't been sharp in the first six. With expanded rosters, plenty of available relievers and a rested bullpen after a day off Monday, why stick with Price?

Offered Farrell: "You go with a right-hander they’re going to go with [Mark] Teixeira and [Brian] McCann with that right-field porch,” Farrell said. “Wanted to keep the (right-handed hitters) in the ballgame, (but Price) mislocated over the plate.”

Felger: Will October be a dance or a dud?

Felger: Will October be a dance or a dud?

For a Red Sox team that has been the best in baseball in September and had won 11 straight prior to last night, you have to admit: There are a lot of things that could go the other way with this team in the playoffs that wouldn't surprise you.

To wit:

-- Would it surprise you if David Price blew up again in the postseason? He has a 5.12 career postseason ERA and has never won a playoff start. Was last night a precursor? He looked like his old shaky October self with a chance to clinch the division in Yankee Stadium.

-- Would it surprise you if Clay Buchholz crapped his pants when it mattered most? This is your No. 3 starter, folks, or No. 4 at worst. He's getting the ball in the playoffs either way, and if I told you that two months ago you'd tell me the Sox are sunk. He looks good now, but we all know he is the ultimate tease.

-- Would it surprise you if John Farrell blows a game with a bone-headed decision from the bench? Of course not; he's been doing that for nearly four years. Yes, he did it all the way to a title in 2013, but the possibility remains very real. It's in the back of most everyone's mind.

-- Would it surprise you if Koji Uehara regresses and the eighth inning once again becomes a problem? Uehara certainly has the experience and has pitched well recently, but the fact is that it feels like his arm is attached by a noodle.

-- Would it surprise you if some of the Sox' youth shows its age? It shouldn't. Happens all the time. Would it surprise you if Craig Kimbrel can't find the plate in a big save situation? It shouldn't. He's shown glimpses of it all season and has never pitched past the division series in his career. Would it surprise you if Hanley Ramirez makes an important mistake at first? Or the Sox' hole at third becomes a factor? Nope and nope.

We could play this game all night.

Now, what do I think is going to happen? I think the Sox are going to pitch well, even Price, and the offense will remain a force. I have full faith in Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Rick Porcello and the lineup in general. There's a feeling on this team that's hard to ignore, likely inspired by Ortiz, and I think they'll keep it going in the postseason. I agree with those who say the Sox have the most talent in the American League, so that's a great place to start. I don't know if that means the ALCS, the World Series or a championship. I just think they'll continue to play well into October.

But all of that is just a feeling, just a prediction -- and you know what those are good for. The point is this: If it goes the other way for the Sox, I think we already have the reasons why.

E-mail Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 FM. The simulcast runs daily on CSN.