BOSTON -- Hours after Larry Lucchino told a radio station that General Manager Ben Cherington was “empowered” to be bold in his pursuit of an upgrade, and amid persistent rumors that Chicago’s Theo Epstein intends to trade both Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster before the July 31 deadline, the Red Sox and Cubs agreed to a deal on Thursday night. It even involved a starting pitcher.
Yes, Justin Germano was sent from Fenway Park to Wrigley Field in exchange for cash considerations. That’s not quite the blockbuster some around here have been hoping for, and by no means was it bold maneuvering — but unless the right offer presents itself, Bobby Valentine may be comfortable if it stays that way.
“I like my team,” the manager said. “I like my pitching. I like our offense, our defense. If Ben feels that there’s a way of improving on what we have, I’ll be all for that, too. But I don’t see any gaping holes.”
Valentine made those comments before Thursday night’s game — when the holes that have punctured his roster may have been as small as they’d been since the early days of April. After missing 186 games between them, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford and Dustin Pedroia filled the top three spots in the Boston lineup. The top three Red Sox starters are all healthy, while Nos. 4 and 5 have actually been the best on the staff lately. And the bullpen at the manager’s beck and call had a 2.99 earned run average, which ranked second in the American League.
The only hole, really, was the one left by David Ortiz, and he said Thursday that after getting a second opinion on his aching heel he expects to be off the disabled list after the minimum of 15 days.
Finally, after months of bumps, bruises and mediocre baseball, the Sox appear to be approaching the point where they’re no longer held back by injuries. Finally, the talent that’s been teasing him by moving in and out of uniform is almost entirely useful. And finally, this team is on the cusp of being able to show its true capability.
It would also give Valentine a chance to finally show what he can do with these players, but as Lucchino reminded during his interview with WEEI, being in Boston means being actively engaged in trade discussions. And with so many teams still bunched in the battle for the AL’s second wild-card spot, the Sox baseball operations staff could be under some pressure to try and separate their team from the pack.
“This is a club has been built on bold moves over the years, going way back to the Nomar Garciaparra trade in ’04 as one example,” said the team president. “There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Ben Cherington and the entire baseball operations department — and to some extent John (Henry), Tom (Werner) and I — are all pointed toward working hard to July 31.”
If bold is what’s asked of his GM, Valentine expressed confidence that Meriden’s Cherington will be up to the task. “Ben works as hard, as much, as diligently as anybody I’ve ever been around,” the manager said. “If there’s something he can do to improve our team, I’m sure he’s going to do it.”
And if there isn’t, the Sox may finally be in a position where that could work out, too.
- - - - - - -
PEDROIA returned to the lineup on the first day he was eligible to be activated, and after batting second in 47 straight games before injuring his right thumb, he came back to find Crawford slotted in that spot. Instead, Pedroia batted third; his recent replacement Pedro Ciriaco, took over as the latest to take a turn in the DH by committee, and tripled in his first at-bat.
Meanwhile, Kevin Youkilis didn’t start for Chicago because of a tight hamstring — so after reminding Boston what they’re missing earlier in the series, he left with a reminder of why it may have been time for his old team to move on.
- - - - - - -
FOR the fourth time this season, and just the second since May 9, Kelly Shoppach started consecutive games at catcher, a decision motivated by the lefty throwing for Chicago — but which also offered a convenient excuse to give Jarrod Saltalamacchia a longer chance to clear his head.
Saltalamacchia was 1 for his last 24 when Shoppach hit for him in the late innings Tuesday night, and, since being passed over as a potential choice for the AL All-Star team, he was batting .100 with a .432 on-base plus slugging as of Wednesday. Those July-long struggles include 21 strikeouts in 44 plate appearances.
Dave D’Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is email@example.com.