Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Reading between the lines with Terry Francona

Red Sox manager Terry Francona spent quite a bit of time talking to the media on Monday afternoon about the trade deadline: What he reads, what he doesn't read, what he knows, what he doesn't know. Here's a sampling of what he had to say:

"It's probably harder on the players. There's a lot of uncertainty this week. Part of what makes Boston so special is that we seem to be a player in everything. When I say that, obviously, we're not going after 11 guys. But because of who we are and what has been created here through ownership, we are a player in a lot of things. As soon as somebody's name gets out there, Boston is attached to it. I don't think we're the biggest city in the country -- and I'm horrible geographically and I admit to it, but we're not the biggest city in the country -- but we're a major market in baseball. That's because we have great fans and great ownership, and we have more money than a lot of teams to spend, so good for us."

The Red Sox do seem to be a player in everything. Roy Halladay's name has been omnipresent on the WEEI airwaves over the last couple of weeks. Victor Martinez and Adrian Gonzalez are the newest favorites on the rumor mill. (This writer still prefers Marco Scutaro, but I'm not lobbying for a job with the team or anything.) Perhaps the most amazing thing about the trade for Adam LaRoche was that no one really was talking about him before he was acquired. Everyone's attention already was fixated on Washington's Nick Johnson.

One thing to keep in mind: While the Red Sox have made a couple of huge trades in the tenure of Theo Epstein, both of them involved them unloading disgruntled stars rather than adding stars. Jason Bay was a big acquisition a year ago, but the Red Sox traded Manny Ramirez -- and not prospects -- to get him. Now, if the Padres make Adrian Gonzalez available for a package of players that doesn't involve Clay Buchholz or Daniel Bard, you'd better believe the Red Sox will listen. But nothing about Theo Epstein's history should lead you to believe he's going to back up the truck for just anybody.

"For about one week out of the year, it creates a lot of uncertainty in players. There's no way to get around it until it's over. This has generally been a tough week for us since I've been here."

Mike Lowell, you have to believe, would like to know his role. He said all the right things when he met with reporters on Monday, but he also sat and talked for 10 or 15 minutes in the dugout with Red Sox sports psychology coach Bob Tewksbury before the game. It's not reaching too much to speculate that he had some things to get off his chest. He's a veteran who has been a starter his entire career, and he now has no idea if and when he's going to get regular playing time in the second half of the reason.

Trouble is, until July 31 passes, the Red Sox don't know. They might have a plan now based on the roster as currently assembled -- playing Lowell against lefties, for example, or putting him on the disabled list to get him healthy for September -- but everything is too up in the air. The Padres might be willing to deal Gonzalez. The Indians might be willing to deal Martinez. Heck, if a contending team in the National League made a reasonable offer, the Red Sox might even be willing to deal Lowell -- whose contract will be a Lugo-esque drag on the payroll next season if his hip doesn't get better.

Lowell wants to know what's going on -- and he's not the only one. But until the trading deadline passes, no one can give him any answers.

"Do I pay much attention? Through the media? No. Do I pay a lot of attention to what's going on? Yeah. Not through you guys -- because, believe me, you don't know. If I went through every article that's been written or every radio show, we wouldn't have team that's here now. You take everybody's version, and we'd have half the American League and some of the National League here."
(You want to tell us what's really going on?)
"Nope. I don't know. But I do pay attention."

We don't know. That's what he's saying. We do usually know when names are floated around -- no one's imagining the availability of Roy Halladay, and you can assume the Victor Martinez rumors are pretty credible, too -- but we don't know one thing. We don't know how the Red Sox value their prospects. We have no idea if Theo Epstein would trade Clay Buchholz or Daniel Bard to the Padres for Adrian Gonzalez straight up, let alone in a three- or four-player package. Opposing executives tend to gripe about how highly the Red Sox value their prospects, but we still don't know the degree.

It would be fascinating to get from Theo Epstein some sort of criteria for a trade that would include Buchholz. He'd trade Buchholz for Albert Pujols, you have to believe. He wouldn't trade him for Yuniesky Betancourt. Somewhere, there's a middle ground. Francona is right. We don't know what that middle ground is.

"(Players) are getting asked a lot of questions. They're reading things that aren't true. Doubt can seep in there because I don't doubt you guys are asking a lot of questions that have no bearing on what we're doing. But you still have to address it because you guys ask it. ... I know what's going on. I know what's not going on. That's maybe why I don't pay as much attention to it -- because I know what's not going on."

On Friday, when asked about trade talks, Clay Buchholz said, "It’s been that way all year. I’ve had people go out and ask me about the trade talks and everything throughout this whole season. It is what it is. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, I’m here, and I’m hoping I’ll go out there every fifth day and help this team win."

Reporters asked Buchholz after Monday night's game about how he's dealing with trade talk. "Pretty confident I'm here for at least a little bit longer," he said.

The 24-year-old righty might just be saying that. He also might have been assured by Epstein and Francona that they've invested too much in him to trade him without ever giving him a second chance to prove himself. He might really not be going anywhere.

"I've been here long enough to know how Theo and the guys work. If they think they can improve what we're doing, they will -- but not at the expense of (what's going well). We're in a little bit of a unique position here, and I love it. We seem to be a player in a lot of things because of who we are. At the same time, we believe in what we're doing with a lot of our younger players. I think, maybe, we have a different view. We feel like we're almost dealing from a strength as opposed to a necessity -- or at least that's where we want to be. I know we're not running away with our division and we're not as comfortable with our standing right now as we'd like to be, but, at the same time, we like the mixture and we like having our young guys come through."

This is what happens when you run an efficient organization. The Red Sox can trade Buchholz to fill a need because they have Casey Kelly coming behind him. They can trade Josh Reddick to fill a need because they have Ryan Kalish coming behind him. Heck, they can trade Jacoby Ellsbury to fill a need -- if it's a really glaring need -- because they have a whole slew of athletic center fielder-types coming behind him.

The Red Sox don't prefer to make any huge moves involving their prospects because they've really enjoyed watching Kevin Youkilis and Jon Lester and Dustin Pedroia and Jonathan Papelbon grow and flourish as major leaguers. If they can land an impact star -- preferably one under the age of 30 -- they will. But if they do nothing but work their young players gradually into their 25-man roster, they'll be perfectly happy with that.

Besides: The goal isn't just to win the World Series this year. They've won two World Series titles this decade. The goal is to be competitive every single year, and backing up the truck for Gonzalez isn't necessarily conducive to that goal.

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