Red Sox have a lot to think about

BOSTON -- Theo Epstein's top lieutenants began assembling here in advance of meetings that start Wednesday as the Red Sox general manager plots his final strategy for the trading deadline, which is Sunday afternoon at 4 ET.

The array of options the Sox are considering remains considerable, according to a team source. "Lots to think about," he said.

Scout Galen Carr has continued to track the Mets and outfielder Carlos Beltran, while scout Steve Peck, a former pitcher and minor league pitching coach, was in to see Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez make his last start. And the Rockies had a scout at Fenway Park on Tuesday night.

Those are two of the bigger names that have been shopped this trading season, but far from the only players the Sox have at least inquired about. However, for all the activity, it remains eminently conceivable that the Sox will make only minor tweaks, if any, to the team that has the best record in the American League.

Numerous teams are still in talks with the Mets regarding Beltran, the 34-year-old switch-hitting outfielder who is a free agent after the season. He has expressed a preference to remain in the National League, although his agent, Scott Boras, said Tuesday that Beltran wants to play for a winner. Beltran has considerable say in his destination, with full no-trade protection in his contract.

And the Mets, who are looking for a big return in exchange for a player who has 11 home runs in 22 postseason games, are hamstrung by a clause in Beltran's contract that stipulates a team trading for him will not receive draft picks as compensation if he signs elsewhere as a free agent after the season. For that reason, one executive on a team with keen interest in Beltran said Tuesday that the Mets are unlikely to get a "Tier 1 prospect" back. "Maybe a couple of Tier 2 players," the executive said.

The Mets, meanwhile, maintain hope that in the hours before the deadline, a team will relent and surrender a premium prospect. The executive said he expects a decision to come no later than Saturday, because, he said, the Mets have to give Beltran, as a player with 10-5 trading rights, a 24-hour window to accept or reject a deal.

Sox sources have confirmed the team's interest in Beltran, but "the price would have to be sensible," one team source said. Beltran's interest in remaining in the NL appears genuine -- the Giants still appear to be the most likely destination -- although Beltran said Tuesday that the Mets have not yet come to him seeking approval for a deal.

"When they approach me and they say, 'Carlos we have a deal, this is what's going to happen,' then I will listen to the deal," Beltran said, according to Adam Rubin of ESPNNY.com. "And if it makes sense for both, then, like I said, we will move forward.

"Right now there's a lot of rumors out there. I haven't heard from Sandy [Alderson, the Mets' GM]. I haven't heard from Scott [Boras]. So I'm here playing baseball."

Boston's regular right fielder for the better part of the past five seasons, J.D. Drew, went on the disabled list Tuesday with what the team called an impingement of his left shoulder, which is one way of describing an inflamed rotator cuff. But even before he went on the DL, Drew was displaced as the starter in right Thursday by 24-year-old rookie Josh Reddick, who began the night batting .366 and leads all big league rookies in average, on-base percentage and slugging (minimum 75 plate appearances).

Reddick's emergence as a viable option has made the acquisition of Beltran appear less pressing, especially since the Red Sox already have the majors' most prolific offense, one that Tuesday night registered its 10th straight home game with at least 10 hits.

On the other hand, adding Beltran, a six-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glover with a proven October track record, would give the Sox the right-handed bat they would like so much to add, with Reddick sliding into the role of fourth outfielder who can play all three positions well.

The Sox could settle for a lesser option in right field, although one club source denied a report that the Sox had interest in Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilborghs.

Pitching would appear to be a greater need for the Sox, given the uncertainty surrounding right-hander Clay Buchholz, who has been out five weeks with what the team is calling a lower back strain. Buchholz threw off a mound for the first time this week and is expected to go a second time Wednesday, with Terry Francona expressing hope that the team will soon be able to accelerate his return.

Epstein last week called Buchholz's return better than any trading-deadline acquisition he could make, but still, the Sox have been exploring the limited pitching options available. Jimenez would command a big price in return; a more viable option could be Edwin Jackson of the White Sox, who is a free agent after the season and would cost a club less than $3 million as a two-month rental.

But the Red Sox might decide they can get by with internal options such as Tim Wakefield, Andrew Miller, Felix Doubront and Kyle Weiland.

"I like our team," Francona said. "Again, I've been around here long enough to know that Theo's going to be on the phone doing his due diligence, which he's supposed to. I don't need to sit up here and say what we need because I think my job is to get the most out of these guys and I like them a lot. But I also know Theo's going to try to make us better if he can.

"I like our young players enough in our system that I'm not saying, 'Hey, go do this,' because I like our young guys, too," Francona added. "I really like the idea of our young guys coming up and helping us. I don't think that hamstrings us one bit."

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.