McAdam: Sox target bullpen help at trade deadline


McAdam: Sox target bullpen help at trade deadline

By Sean McAdam Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
As the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline draws closer, the temptation is to view a team's needs through the prism of the present.

But for the Red Sox, that's the wrong bit of perspective. After exactly 100 games, it would take a collapse of historic proportions for the team not to qualify for the post-season.

The important math isn't the team's two-game lead over the second-place New York Yankees; it's the 8 12 game edge they hold over the wild-card runners-up.

Essentially, the Red Sox and Yankees will spend the final 10 weeks of the season for the privilege of having home-field advantage.

The Sox, then, aren't seeking help for August or September; they're shopping with an eye toward October.

That's why addressing the bullpen -- and not right field -- is paramount for the Sox. It's far more likely that a playoff game could be won or lost by a reliever than it is for an outfielder.

With almost no contributions from the right field spot -- until Josh Reddick more or less took over the job in the past week -- the Red Sox still lead the American League in every significant offensive category. And since it's reasonable to expect that Reddick will give them more than Drew did going forward, the team's focus is elsewhere.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon is solid -- just one blown save nearly two-thirds of the way through the season -- and set-up man Daniel Bard has been otherworldly.

In the absence of Bobby Jenks (currently on his third DL stint), Matt Albers has emerged as the team's mainstay for the seventh inning.

What's missing, for now, is a dependable lefty. Franklin Morales can possess devastating stuff, but his command is often spotty. The last thing a manager wants when he summons a matchup lefty in a big spot is an inability to throw strikes.

A look at some lefties believed to be available at the deadline:

Craig Breslow, Oakland A's
The A's are open for business and are attracting plenty of interest in their relievers.

Breslow was with the Sox in 2006 and has experience. In his career, he's held lefty hitters to a .222 batting average. This season, however, Breslow has struggled against lefties, who have hit him at an alarming .390 clip.

That could force the A's to lower their asking price, or, if the Sox' scouting reports aren't good, eliminate any interest the Sox might have had.

Grant Balfour, Oakland A's
Signed as a free agent last winter, the righthanded Balfour has pitched well, with a 2.08 ERA and a WHIP of 1.077. Even more impressive is his success against lefties, having limited them to a .162 batting average.

There are two caveats on Balfour. One A.L. West source is unsure whether the A's will deal him, since they have him under control through the end of next season.

In a related issue, Balfour signed a two-year deal with a team option for 2013. That would leave the Sox on the hook for 1.25 million for the remainder of the season, 4 million next year, plus a 350,000 buyout on a team option for 4.5 million in 2013.

Total minimum investment for the Sox: 5.6 million. For a team watching its payroll expenditures and attempting to avoid the luxury tax, will that be a factor?

Reddick has earned the majority of playing time in right, and Drew will be available next month as a late-inning defensive replacement.

The Sox don't need a star player like Carlos Beltran, or even an everyday player like San Diego's Ryan Ludwick.

Instead, they'll be looking for a more affordable option who can hit left-handed pitching to serve as a platoon partner with Reddick.

An ideal target would be Jeff Baker, but the Cubs have already told the Red Sox -- and anyone else who's inquired -- that Baker won't be moved.
Reed Johnson, Chicago Cubs
The Cubs won't move Baker, but Johnson is said to be available. He's not a great outfielder, but the Sox could probably live with his defense.

What's most attractive is his ability to hit lefties -- he has a .929 OPS against lefties this season.

It doesn't hurt that given his supremely affordable contract (900,000), he would cost the Sox a little more than 300,000 to rent.

Jeff Francoeur, Kansas City Royals
Francoeur profiles more as an everyday player, and there are concerns about how he would respond to part-time duty -- both in terms of attitude and production.

On the plus side, he's a good outfielder with a plus arm who could handle the spacious dimensions of right field in Fenway. Another positive: he has post-season experience with Atlanta (2005) and Texas (last year).

His 2.5 million deal translates into a cost of about 800,000 for the final two months, affordable enough.

Sean McAdam can be reached at Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

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