Theo Epstein weighing his options
Red Sox GM more likely to pull off small move before deadline than blockbuster
BALTIMORE -- He is an executive for another big league club that has keen interest in Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran, and when he was asked whether he thought Boston was a rival for Beltran's services, he let out a snort.
"You know that Boston gets involved in every player available," he said, "and most of the time, they're just trying to raise the price that everybody else has to pay. And this is a sellers' market, my friend.
"Boston is fine, just the way they are. They may not do anything, and the same may be true of the Yankees."
It would be out of character, of course, for Sox GM Theo Epstein not to make a move at the trading deadline, and while it appears highly unlikely the Sox will part with the prospects it would take to get Beltran, no one on Yawkey Way has absolutely ruled out winning the lottery to rent him for the last two months of the season. An "I don't know" from a Sox executive, when asked Wednesday to assess Boston's chances, leaves open a scenario in which Mets GM Sandy Alderson decides he likes what the Red Sox might offer more than what another team does.
That's what happened in 1997, when Montreal GM Jim Beattie liked Carl Pavano better than what the Yankees and Indians had on the table, and traded Pedro Martinez to the Red Sox. And with no draft picks as compensation for any team that acquires Beltran, per his contract, maybe Alderson will not be able to squeeze a team's best prospect in exchange.
ESPNBoston.com's Joe McDonald reported Wednesday that the Mets have been intensively scouting the Sox system from Triple-A Pawtucket all the way down to Class A Salem, so they clearly are taking Boston's interest seriously.
Still, Alderson has other very committed suitors, including the Braves, Giants, Pirates (yes, the Pirates!) and Phillies, all of whom could put together an enticing package. And the play of Josh Reddick, who started in right field ahead of J.D. Drew on Wednesday and had another multihit game, bringing his average to .378, makes it less urgent by the day for the Sox to mortgage a part of their future for a short-term rental.
So, if not Beltran, then who?
"I love him," the big league executive said of Francoeur. "Tough kid, great kid, great clubhouse guy. He's in great shape, really slimmed down, running better."
And he hits left-handers: .315/.357/.640/.998 against lefties this season, with eight HRs and 23 RBIs in just 89 at-bats.
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Cabrera, the former Yankee, also hits lefties (.297/.328/.422/.750) and has been on an absolute tear the past two weeks against everybody (.385/.419/.513/.932).
"Melky is arbitration eligible and could be had in the right deal," the executive said, "but I think the Royals want to hold on to both of them."
Francoeur has a $4 million option for 2012.
Another outfield possibility whose name has surfaced in recent days is the Padres' Ryan Ludwick. His offensive performance has suffered in Petco Park (.241/.307/.380/.687 overall), but he hit 84 home runs in parts of four seasons for the Cardinals. Ludwick is being paid $6.775 million by the Padres and is eligible for free agency after the season, so he could be a modestly priced rental.
Another major league executive said Wednesday that if he worked for the Red Sox, he would be lobbying for pitching help ahead of Beltran. Jon Lester is eligible to come off the disabled list Monday, and Clay Buchholz, who has missed more than a month, appears to be getting closer, but the uncertainty regarding his status could leave the Sox vulnerable down the stretch.
The Sox have internal options in Alfredo Aceves, Tim Wakefield, Andrew Miller and Kyle Weiland, but Wakefield has been getting hit, Aceves is of more value in the 'pen, Miller still has control issues and Weiland is a kid.
There are limited starting pitching options out there, but options nonetheless. The best of the bunch might be Hiroki Kuroda, the 36-year-old right-hander who has a 3.13 ERA for the Dodgers and would be a $4 million rental. (He signed a one-year, $12 million deal in the offseason.)
The Cubs are expected to hold on to Matt Garza -- to move him now after making him the centerpiece of a trade this past winter would be tantamount to a major admission of failure by Jim Hendry -- and Ryan Dempster has a $14 million player option in 2012.
The Astros would move Brett Myers, but he is owed $14 million after this season, $3 million as a buyout in 2013.
The Rockies will listen on Ubaldo Jimenez, and the Rays have let it be known, according to the big league executive, that they'd be willing to discuss James Shields, although that's probably a fishing expedition as much as anything.
The Mariners, who had lost 10 in a row prior to Wednesday night's game in Toronto, would be willing to move Jason Vargas and Doug Fister, the executive said, although how either would fare in the AL East is open to debate.
So that's the landscape -- or at least a big chunk of it -- facing the Red Sox as they move toward the deadline. More names will surface in the interim, and Epstein's capacity to surprise remains intact.
The Sox GM has said in the past that he considers it important to signal to the players that the front office's commitment to winning is as great, if not greater, than theirs, so expect the Sox to do something. But this year, less might be more.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.