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Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Updated: November 15, 9:02 AM ET
Red Sox wise to steer clear

By Jeremy Lundblad
ESPNBoston.com

At least for now, the Boston Red Sox are the least talented team in the AL East.

The Toronto Blue Jays made a huge statement by making a 12-player deal with the Miami Marlins that netted Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle among others.

No doubt, the Blue Jays significantly improve by adding a premier shortstop and two top-of-the-rotation starters.

The probable top four hitters in their batting order (Reyes, Brett Lawrie, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion) all are under team control through 2015. With a deeper rotation, Toronto leaves no doubt that the AL East has another contender going forward.

The Blue Jays haven't made the postseason since 1993, a drought exceeded only by the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates. This trade is Toronto's most aggressive move in years, and a clear sign of its intentions.

John Farrell's old club will certainly improve on its 73 wins, increasing the possibility that Boston could spend another season in the basement.

So did the Red Sox miss the boat?

Even facing the prospect of another last-place season, Boston was wise to avoid this kind of trade.

For Toronto, this signals a willingness to compete. For Boston, it would have been repeating the financial mistakes of the past.

Buehrle made only $6 million last season, meaning that the bulk of his money is still to come. He's owed $48 million over the next three seasons. That includes $19 million in 2015, when he will be 36.

For all his durability, Buehrle hasn't received a Cy Young vote since 2005.

In short, if Boston signed Buehrle to a three-year, $48 million contract this offseason, it would have been considered a vast overpayment.

That doesn't even factor in his questionable track record against the AL East. Buehrle is 1-8 with a 6.38 ERA against the Yankees and 6-8 with a 4.64 ERA against the Red Sox.

That includes a 5.60 ERA at Fenway Park. David Ortiz, with three home runs and a .400 career batting average against Buehrle, likely has no problem with his return to the American League.

Meanwhile, Reyes' contract similarly escalates over the years. From 2015 to 2017, he will make $22 million per year. Already, he's an injury-prone shortstop with questionable defense. According to defensive runs saved, only Derek Jeter cost his team more at shortstop.

Imagine owing $41 million to Reyes and Buehrle alone in 2015.

Surely, Boston could find a better way to spend approximately $165 million in salary, the amount taken on by the Blue Jays, while hanging on to its top prospects.

That total includes $45 million for 2013.

While Boston won't find a shortstop of Reyes' talent, there's no reason Ben Cherington can't find more attractive solutions.

In theory, Hiroki Kuroda, Dan Haren, Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli all could be added for about $45 million in 2013, all on shorter deals than Buehrle and Reyes have.

Why would the Red Sox make the slate-cleaning deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers only to bring in lesser talent on bad contracts?

Don't forget that the Blue Jays gave up their No. 2 (Jake Marisnick), No. 5 (Justin Nicolino) and No. 8 (Adeiny Hechavarria) prospects, according to Baseball America.

Boston's equivalently ranked prospects are Jackie Bradley Jr., Henry Owens and Bryce Brentz. Surely, MLB talent (Felix Doubront?) also would have been included.

There's no reason for Boston to empty the farm as free agency looms.

The Blue Jays will be lauded for ponying up the cash to compete. But it's unclear why this is better than just signing Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton.

Apart from raising the white flag as a franchise, the Marlins made a very shrewd deal. Much as the Red Sox did in August, the Marlins rid themselves of expensive, long-term contracts that would only get worse with each passing year.

Yet there are key differences between what Boston and Miami did. The Marlins eroded all trust with their players, potential free agents and their fans. Unlike the Red Sox, there's little reason to believe Miami plans to spend the money it saved.

With this deal, 12 of the 25 players from Miami's opening day roster will have been traded. Only Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison remain from that starting lineup.

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After a three-month commitment to competing, the Marlins have blown it all up again.

Perhaps this is the first time that a smart trade is actually indefensible.

So what does this trade really mean for Boston?

Nothing, apart from a test of patience with another team entering the fray.

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington should continue on a path of financial sanity, seeking out quality players on short-term contracts.

That said, the Marlins would be a good place to start.

Stanton is a pipe dream. Even if the Marlins opt to trade the budding star, it's nearly impossible to imagine Boston putting together the best offer.

Ricky Nolasco and Morrison are far more likely targets, depending on cost.

Nolasco -- owed $11.5 million in the final year of his contract -- is all but certain to be dealt. Approaching 30, he has never fulfilled his promise and his strikeouts were down alarmingly in 2012. Still, on a one-year tryout, the Red Sox could do worse.

With experience at first base and in the outfield, Morrison fits multiple needs for the Red Sox (and would immediately become the best tweeter among Boston professional athletes).

Cherington showed proper restraint in avoiding a blockbuster with the Marlins.

But Toronto's infusion of talent merely underscores Boston's deficiencies.

The Red Sox have significant holes to fill. But that's no reason to panic and abandon patience and sensibility.