Friday, July 31, 2009

Expect the Red Sox to keep pursuing Gonzalez, Halladay this winter

"In previous days, we had some things working, things we were really excited about, and a couple that got really close but didn't happen. That's par for the course in deadline season. We shot big on a couple things, a deal that could provide maximum impact. We were very aggressive in use of our own prospects, those deals got close. Maybe the foundation is laid for the offseason." -- Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein

Well, that's interesting.

The Red Sox landed Cleveland's Victor Martinez with a package of youngsters fronted by relief pitcher Justin Masterson and later swapped first baseman Adam LaRoche -- who becomes to the Red Sox what Mike Piazza was to the Marlins -- to Atlanta for first baseman Casey Kotchman. While Masterson provided a power arm in the Red Sox bullpen and Single-A lefty Nick Hagadone could turn into a Jon Lester-type ace, the Red Sox made both moves largely without depleting their farm system of their top prospects.

Funny thing: Neither Adrian Gonzalez nor Roy Halladay were traded before the deadline. Both will remain with their teams for the rest of the season -- and both likely will be right back on the trading block come November.

Epstein didn't exactly seem to hide the fact that he's ready to take another run at both once this season comes to an end.

The Blue Jays and Padres both reportedly demanded huge ransoms from the Red Sox in return for Halladay and Gonzalez, the team's other two primary targets all day and all week. Both have those players under control through next season and thus have at least two more chances -- the offseason and the July trade deadline next year -- to get a haul of prospects back. (Halladay is a free agent after the 2010 season. Gonzalez, actually, has a no-brainer club option built into his contract for the 2011 season.)

Epstein went out of his way, though, to say that maybe "there's a foundation laid for the offseason." He clearly intends to use the offseason to go after either Halladay or Gonzalez (or both) the way teams went after Minnesota's Johan Santana two winters ago. Rather than having to juggle roster spots and rob Peter to pay Paul, Epstein can build his roster around the players he acquires and the players he trades away.

If the Red Sox had found a compromise with San Diego, for example, the trade might have looked a little something like this: 1B Adrian Gonzalez for RHP Clay Buchholz, RHP Justin Masterson, RHP Michael Bowden, 1B Lars Anderson, OF Josh Reddick. But had the Red Sox traded Buchholz on Friday, they would have found themselves with an immediate hole in a starting rotation already depleted by injury (Tim Wakefield), ineffectiveness (Brad Penny, John Smoltz) or both (Daisuke Matsuzaka). They would have had to spin another prospect or two to the Kansas City Royals for Brian Bannister or make a similar move just to have enough starting pitchers to get through August.

Should Epstein pursue Gonzalez again this offseason, though, he'll still have the same prospects available. He might even have more prospects available given that all of the players in his system will have two more months of experience and thus will be two months closer to the major leagues. Westmoreland will be a year older. Reddick will be a year older. Casey Kelly will be a year older. Tim Federowicz -- who caught Daniel Bard at North Carolina, incidentally -- will be a year older.

He'll also be able to adapt far more easily than he would have on Friday. If he has to trade Buchholz and/or Bowden, possibly his No. 4 and 5 starters next April, he can go get a free-agent pitcher.

(He also could announce, "Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz will open next season at the top of my pitching rotation. Each one is just as off-limits as the other.")

If he has to trade shortstop Jed Lowrie to get Gonzalez, he can go get a free-agent shortstop. If he has to trade center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, he can get get a free-agent center fielder. If he has to trade reliever Manny Delcarmen, he can go get a free-agent bullpen arm. You get the picture.

Even better, he'll have a chance to shape his roster so manager Terry Francona doesn't get ulcers just deciding who plays and who sits. He can dangle a well-rested Mike Lowell and offer to pay half or more of his remaining salary just to give Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis regular at-bats at first base and third base, respectively. He can try to figure out what's going to happen with designated hitter David Ortiz and catcher Jason Varitek. He can make a decision about picking up the $7.5 million option in the contract of new acquisition Victor Martinez.

Nothing about Friday's trades precludes a run at Gonzalez or Halladay this winter. In fact, as Epstein does, it simply lays a foundation.

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