NEW YORK -- First, a word about Larry Lucchino saying general manager Ben Cherington was empowered to make a "bold" move at the trading deadline: The Red Sox CEO says a variation of the same thing every year. Last year at the deadline, he spoke about "an aggressiveness that I think is part and parcel of the Red Sox operating philosophy.''
The previous general manager, Theo Epstein, wasn't always enchanted with Lucchino making such pronouncements, believing that his words tended to raise expectations to an unrealistic level.
Now, a word about the Red Sox trading for an impact starting pitcher before Tuesday's deadline: The Sox have always been in the middle of talks for a starter. The Sox came close to a deal for Hiroki Kuroda last season. Over the years, they have engaged in talks for Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, Mark Buehrle and Roy Oswalt (2006), among others. And for all their efforts, how many starting pitchers have they acquired at the deadline in the past 10 years?
Try two: One of them was Erik Bedard, and we all know how that worked out. The left-hander, acquired from the Mariners, pitched a total of six innings in the last four weeks of last season, when he was needed most. The other was Jeff Suppan, who was acquired from the Pirates in 2003 but had less than a triumphant return to the Red Sox, going 3-4 with a 5.57 ERA. Suppan wound up pitching in the World Series the next year for the Cardinals.
Epstein always felt it was easier to deal for a starting pitcher in the offseason, when the price might be more negotiable, than at the deadline, when teams tend to overpay. "The few guys who can really make an impact, it would take half your farm system or your whole farm system,'' Epstein once said.
Cherington and the current baseball operations staff tend to share that outlook and are excited about the prospects they are developing. "We feel like that next generation of Red Sox players is coming,'' he said.
So, with the Red Sox still floundering a game under .500 (after losing five of their last six) and headed into New York for their first series this season in Yankee Stadium against the Bombers, who have won five of six in Fenway, it might be a good time to tamp down expectations of what Cherington will do by Tuesday's trade deadline.
The Red Sox have scouted and discussed Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez, Zack Greinke and Matt Garza, the front-line starters who project to be difference-makers for a contending team. With Sanchez dealt to the Tigers, the Marlins will need to be overwhelmed to deal Johnson. Garza's recent injury may have made moving him problematic for Epstein and the Cubs. Greinke is the prize now, but there are legitimate concerns that he is not wired to pitch in a place like Boston.
The Sox could perhaps deal for a lesser arm, but the problem with their rotation is at the top -- they've got plenty of guys who can fill out the back end. And the notion that even an ace could transform a sub-.500 team into a force in October is debatable.
So, can we expect Cherington to be active come Tuesday? Sure. A year hasn't gone by in the John Henry era that the Sox haven't made a move at the deadline. But what makes this year different from its predecessors is whether the Sox will part with players who still have value to their own postseason run but might bring back a decent return in a deal. Players such as outfielders Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney, catcher Kelly Shoppach and relievers Matt Albers and Vicente Padilla all fall into that category. If the Sox traded Ross or Sweeney, Ryan Kalish could return from Pawtucket. Junichi Tazawa, Alex Wilson, Chris Carpenter, and, yes, Daniel Bard, are potential bullpen replacements, and Andrew Bailey is about to embark on a rehab assignment. Ryan Lavarnway could be called up to take Shoppach's place.
The Sox could also use this deadline to target a player who could help down the road, like Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who came at the 2010 deadline, played little that season, but has become a regular since.
The last "blockbuster" deal the Sox made at the deadline was in 2009, when they acquired Victor Martinez from the Indians. The previous year, they dealt Manny Ramirez and got Jason Bay in return. The boldest play of all, of course, was in 2004, when Epstein traded away icon Nomar Garciaparra.
The Sox already have signaled that they will not trade struggling left-hander Jon Lester and have no illusions about finding a market for Josh Beckett. Some teams have asked about Jacoby Ellsbury, who is a year away from free agency. "I would never say never,'' one major league source said, "but I think it's highly unlikely.''
So "bold" may be in the eye of the beholder this Tuesday. "Realistic" may be more like it.