Red Sox stuck in limbo at trade deadline

Red Sox stuck in limbo at trade deadline
August 1, 2012, 1:57 am
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At a game over .500, nine games out of first place and four games behind the second wild-card leader, the Red Sox found themselves in limbo on the day of the non-waiver trading deadline.

They're not fully engaged in the playoff race, but neither are they completely out of it, and their actions -- or lack of same -- toward the deadline.

The Red Sox made just one deal involving personnel on their 25- man roster, and it was essentially a swap of journeyman relievers -- with a 36-year-old outfielder thrown in for good measure.

As deadline deals go, it didn't exactly rival the four-team blockbuster that sent Nomar Garciaparra out of town and sent the Red Sox to their first championship in 86 years.

Fans wanted more, of course, a dramatic move in one direction or the other. Some wished for a massive sell-off; others wanted a trade of impact.

The Red Sox delivered none of the above.

They weren't seller or buyers. They were more like interested bystanders.

If they had been, say, eight or 10 games below .500, then they could have done what the Philadelphia Phillies did -- throw up the "For Sale'' sign and make the best deals they could for some established veterans, stockpiling prospects to fight another day.

The Phils auctioned off outfielder Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence in part because they were really, truly out of contention.

Conversely, if the team had been eight or 10 games over, the Sox would have been motivated to obtain a difference maker. Maybe then, the Sox would have been convinced to package two of the three Killer B's -- Matt Barnes, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. -- to trade for Josh Johnson or someone else who could make a difference this year and several seasons beyond.

For the best example of that approach, think of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who, in the last week, landed Hanley Ramirez, Brandon League and Victorino.

But the Red Sox weren't in it, or out of it. They just were.

You could see the seeds for this approach being planted two weeks ago, when Cherington, the day before the second of the half of the season, noted that, in Boston, giving up on a season simply isn't permissible.

And it's here that "The Monster'' of which Theo Epstein spoke, is in play. Because there are tickets to be sold, sponsorships to be negotiated and TV ratings to bolster, starting over isn't an option.

Yet they haven't been good enough or consistent enough to warrant a big acquisition.

Limbo can be uncomfortable.

Larry Lucchino revealed a week ago that the Sox had "empowered'' general manager Ben Cherington to do something "bold,'' thereby whetting the appetites for those who hoped for either a fire sale or blockbuster acquisition.

"It was an unfamiliar position,'' said Cherrington. "You're trying to balance the desire to make the team better and give the guys in the clubhouse every chance, (vs) the reality of where we are. You need to do the math and the cluster of teams ahead of you and what you need to actually pass all of them. We have to weigh that against the desire to make the team better.

"It was an additional layer in the decision-making process, as opposed to the past, when we've sort of been more clearly buyers.''

Acknowledging Lucchino's permission to be bold, Cherington didn't "find anything bold that made sense to us.''

Cherington, in his first year as GM but a veteran of many deadlines as Theo Epstein's assistant, labeled this July experienced "uncharted waters. It gives you more clarity when you're on side or the other.''

And so, they stood (almost) pat, which is a gamble in itself, considering that the inaction is, in effect, a show of faith in team's underachieving roster.

"We're happy with the guys we have here,'' said Cherington. "It's really a reflection more on them. We believe in the group. We feel we like we have as good a chance as any of the teams in this cluster of teams fighting for a wild card and win a lot of games the next two months.''

That, in point of fact, may be the boldest move of all at the deadline, for Cherington and his assistants are banking on a bunch that have done little to inspire anyone through the first two-thirds of the season.