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Friday, July 30, 2010
Red Sox still mulling reliever options

By Gordon Edes

How buoyant were the Red Sox on their way home after sweeping the Angels at the end of their 10-game, three-city tour of the West Coast? There was some high-spirited singing on the plane, according to someone who was there, a measure of the general optimism that still pervades even as the club resumes play Friday with the Yankees and Rays holding healthy leads in the American League East.

The trade deadline is Saturday at 4 p.m., giving general manager Theo Epstein essentially another day and a half to consummate his quest for a reliever. The Sox were still considering four or five options, according to one major league source who predicted that it might take the deadline to prod teams into action. Another Sox source also underscored the possibility that the Sox may wait until the August waiver period before they act.

One reliever of note was traded Thursday, Washington Nationals closer Matt Capps going to the Minnesota Twins for two minor leaguers, including top catching prospect Wilson Ramos.

There are no real names added to the list of relievers the Sox are looking at, though there was one report that the Sox asked about 42-year-old Milwaukee reliever Trevor Hoffman. But his 6.82 ERA, 8 home runs in 33 innings and a career-worst WHIP (walks plus hits per inning) of 1.515 would hardly justify a contender’s interest, though he has pitched better since being replaced as the Brewers’ closer.

Toronto left-hander Scott Downs remains the most attractive reliever available, but with a number of clubs looking for a lefty reliever, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has felt no urgency to drop his asking price of one or two quality prospects.

The Red Sox did not use lefty Hideki Okajima in the Angels series, even without closer Jonathan Papelbon and setup man Daniel Bard available for Wednesday’s series finale. Okajima has not pitched since giving up five straight hits and taking the loss in a 4-2 defeat in Seattle on Sunday. The Sox had shut down Okajima early this month for a few days because of some back stiffness; it remains to be seen if that was a factor in the decision to not use him in Anaheim.

Last season, 10 trades were made on the last day of the trading deadline, compared to a total of 6 in the previous two days. On average, nine trades have been made on deadline day since 2003, so a late flurry cannot be ruled out.

Epstein has acquired relief help via a trade or waiver deal in every year that he has been Sox GM except one: 2008. Last season’s prize was Billy Wagner, who came from the Mets in a waiver deal. As more teams determine they are not in contention in August, more players are likely to become available.

The Sox have a decision to make regarding Mike Lowell, who made a convincing demonstration that he can still hit by batting .500 (11-for-22) with four home runs -- three in one game -- and 10 RBIs in a five-game rehab stint with Pawtucket. The Rangers and Tigers, teams that had scouted Lowell last week, said thanks but no thanks, quickly moving to add other players. The Tigers got Jhonny Peralta from the Indians and the Rangers acquired Jorge Cantu from the Florida Marlins.

Lowell’s usefulness to the Red Sox is extremely limited, given that he plays behind three of the most productive hitters in the lineup -- Adrian Beltre, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz. A team that could use a right-handed hitting DH would be an ideal fit for Lowell, but so far there have been no takers and the Sox have repeatedly said they will not grant him his release.

The Sox also are expected to announce Friday that outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who played a full nine innings Thursday in the Gulf Coast League, will continue his rehab in Pawtucket starting Saturday.