First pitch: Where do Red Sox go for power?

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First pitch: Where do Red Sox go for power?

ANAHEIM -- Across baseball, there has been almost universal acclaim for what the Red Sox accomplished last weekend.

By pulling off their nine-player megadeal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Sox not only gave their clubhouse a colonic of sorts, but also purged more than 250 million from future
payroll obligations.

Along the way, not incidentally, the Sox managed to obtain two highly-regarded pitching prospects.

But there is a caveat for some. While unloading the onerous contracts of Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford, the Red Sox also had to include Adrian Gonzalez.

That leaves the Sox with a significant hole in their lineup for the forseeable future. And with David Ortiz set to be eligible for free agency, the Sox head into this off-season without having anyone under control who can be counted on to, say, knock in 90 runs next seeason.

"I understand why they did the deal,'' said one talent evaluator of the Sox. "But I'm not sure they understand how hard it's going to be to go and replace someone like Gonzalez. Guys like that are hard to find.''

And, he could have added, getting harder. Beyond front-line starters, run producers and power hitters have become the the most valued commodity in the game.

Thanks to more thorough drug-testing, power -- and offense in general -- is down throughout baseball. Now that widespread PED use is believed to be a thing of the past, so, too, are the inflated numbers they brought.

A 30-homer season is, once again, an achievement, and not, as it was a decade ago, the expected output of a No. 7 hitter.

First base is still regarded as a power position, but the Sox currently have no one on the horizon for that spot. James Loney is slilck-fielding and has an RBI in each of his first three games since joining the Sox, but he will be eligible for free agency in the fall and is unlikely to be retained.

Loney's career high for homers is 13 and after back-to-back 90 RBI seasons in 2008 and 2009, his RBI totals have dwindled.

Moreover, there's little in the minor league system at the position. Soxprospects.com features one first baseman among its list of the top 40 prospects in the system -- Travis Shaw, at No. 28, and Shaw is just 25 games into his Double A career, having spent much of his first full season in pro ball at Single A Salem of the Carolina League.

Even the most optimistic projection wouldn't have Shaw competing for a spot on the big league roster until 2014.

Of course, it isn't completely necessary to get power out of first base, especially if a team can get suitable production somewhere else in the lineup.

But here again, the Sox' system is thin. The best power hitting prospect is outfielder Bryce Brentz, and he still needs to make significant progress when it comes to making regular contact.

Free agency doesn't offer much in the way of power. Steering clear of a potential landmine like Josh Hamilton, there's no one whom the Sox could sign -- any any position -- who could reasonably expect to produce 30 homers and 100 RBI. And if such a player existed, he'd cost the Sox close to 20 million annually, the kind of contract they just strained to rid themselves of.

A more likely avenue is the trade route, but the Sox are likely to make finding a young front-line starter a higher priority. To get one of those, multiple high-end prospects will need to be sacrificed, leaving less to put in a deal for a power hitter.

Ortiz, in all likelihood, will re-sign with the Sox, either for a year or two. But Ortiz cannot do it alone. When the Sox have been an elite offensive team, they've done so with a one-two middle-of-the-lineup combo: Ortiz-Ramirez; Ortiz-Bay, or Ortiz-Martinez.

And finding the other half of that pair may prove to be almost as challenging as unloading all the salary the Sox shed last weekend.

Lowe: Wouldn't be shocked if C's move Bradley

Lowe: Wouldn't be shocked if C's move Bradley

Zach Lowe’s most recent podcast is worth a listen, as it features plenty of talk about what the Celtics may or may not due ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline. 

Lowe brought up the possibility of the Celtics top-1 or top-2-protecting Brooklyn’s first-round pick and including it in a deal for Butler. He surmises that the inclusion of the Brooklyn pick -- protected or not -- might not come until the final minutes. 

“Look, if Butler gets traded or if Paul George gets traded, that’s when it’s going to happen,” Marc Stein responded. “It’s going to happen in the last five to 10 minutes, so Boston has to make a decision, and let's see if they’re doing the math that they’ve had these assets for a while and it is time to do something bold and the time is now. Really, I think Boston will do it. The question is what will Chicago or Indiana do? And those are two hard reads.” 

Stein spoke to the Celtics’ lack of activity at certain points, but he said that if the C’s do fail to come away with a star player Thursday, it won’t be for lack of aggressiveness. 

MORE TRADE TALK

“I think the Celtics are taking criticism for waiting, and they’ve had all these assets they haven’t moved yet, but I think the record shows that Danny Ainge in general, in total, is very aggressive, not afraid to roll the dice, not afraid to make the aggressive move,” Stein said. “So I have less doubt about Boston saying, ‘Let’s just do it.’ I have far more questions about what Chicago and/or Indiana would do.” 

Lowe said that he imagines the Bulls would “think about” trading the C's Butler if Boston threw in the Nets’ pick unprotected, but added that Chicago would demand to also take two players out of Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. 

“I think that will be the offer and they’ll get there and Chicago will either have a moment where they say, ‘We walk away or we’ll do it.’ And Boston’s not going to throw in the other Nets pick,” Lowe said. “That’s just not going to happen.”

Rating the aforementioned foursome in terms of trade value, Lowe said that Crowder is the best piece because of his “ridiculously good” contract, followed by Brown, Smart and Bradley. 

Lowe added that he considers Bradley one of the “sneaky interesting pieces at this trade deadline” because his contract is up after next season, which is the same time that Isaiah Thomas’ contract expires. Lowe says that given the uncertainty of his future in Boston, he wouldn’t be overly surprised if Bradley is moved at the deadline. 

Report: Ainge wouldn't trade Nets pick for Butler, but would for George

Report: Ainge wouldn't trade Nets pick for Butler, but would for George

Will the Celtics part with the right to Brooklyn’s 2017 first-round pick in order to get a star before Thursday’s trade deadline? 

MORE TRADE TALK

Citing a pair of NBA executives, Frank Isola of the New York Daily News wrote this week that Danny Ainge’s willingness to trade the pick should be in doubt.

Sola named Chicago’s Jimmy Butler and Paul George as potential targets, adding that the C’s might include the latter.   

Wrote Isola: 

Two executives doubt that Ainge, who historically plays it close to the vest, would give up the Nets pick in a deal for Butler. However, Ainge might consider it in a trade for George, the Pacers-free agent-to-be who has expressed doubts over re-signing with the Pacers.

‘With Danny, no one ever knows what he might do,' said the executive. ‘He's one of the best. If he thinks he can make a run at the Cavs this season, considering all the injuries Cleveland has had, I can see him making a move.

‘Everyone is talking about Butler to Boston but Danny and Larry Bird go way back. Paul George could be the sleeper.’

This season, the 26-year-old George is averaging 22.3 points 6.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists a game.