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July 30. 2013 9:03PM

Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: We've learned to expect the unexpected

IF WE LEARNED anything from Ben Cherington last Aug. 25, it's that no prospective trade is too crazy to be dismissed absolutely.

Even hours before it actually happened, the idea that the Sox could unload the contracts of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett, while getting legitimate pitching prospects in return and paying just a fraction of the massive money still owed to those big-ticket veterans would've been disregarded by most and laughed off by the rest.

So, with baseball's non-waiver trade deadline set for 4 p.m. today, feel free to dream big as Red Sox fans. Salivate over the most exciting suggestions being flung from the rumor mill, and cross your fingers that a big name is coming to Boston. Maybe Cliff Lee. Or Jonathan Papelbon. Or Jake Peavy. Or Giancarlo Stanton.

Just be ready to be underwhelmed if those are your expectations for today. Because while it's not beyond the realm of possibilities that any of those players could be part of the Red Sox organization by nightfall, far more likely — and pragmatic — is that Cherington takes the more conservative route, and tries to plug his team's holes with more minor maneuvering. If he makes any move at all.

The general manager from Meriden should do something, not only because the team could stand to add a right-handed bat on the left side of the infield and another experienced option in the bullpen, but because this group of resilient players deserves acknowledgment from the front office that it is making every effort to give them what they need to win a World Series.

At the major league level, this is a team engineered to win now, and that's exactly what they're doing, so Boston's brass should provide them with whatever incalculable boost comes from knowing that the organization thinks enough of its talent to fortify the weaker parts of its roster.

But based on where the Red Sox are in their efforts to rebuild the brand, and restore themselves as perennial contenders, investing in the present shouldn't come with serious consequences for the future. And that's why today might be a letdown for those hoping to see the Sox land a big fish.

By virtually all accounts, and by virtue of the number of teams that still believe they've got a chance at the playoffs, the trade market is so thin this season that sellers are asking for the moon on any player who is perceived to be any sort of difference maker.

Take Peavy, for example. Several reports indicate that the White Sox are seeking a package similar to the loaded haul the Brewers received for Zack Greinke around this time last year — despite that Peavy is 32 years old, has a fairly extensive injury history, has an earned run average of 4.28. That's worse than the league average, and it's also worse than those of Jon Lester, John Lackey and Felix Doubront, which brings up the question: Would Peavy even crack the Red Sox playoff rotation, assuming Clay Buchholz returns?

If the answer is no, then there's no sense is giving up a prospect the Sox expect to be an impactful major leaguer. And unless Chicago significantly lowers its asking price today, that won't be enough to get him.

The one player who might be worth spending high-level prospects on is Lee, though the Phillies are said to be bullish on acquiring infielder Xander Bogaerts in return — and if that's the case, then the deal is a non-starter. Bogaerts should be untouchable, and Jackie Bradley Jr., Henry Owens, Rubby De La Rosa and Anthony Ranaudo should all be, too, perhaps with the exception of a trade for an ace like Lee. Perhaps.

The best thing about the position the Red Sox are operating from, however, is that their farm is stocked with highly regarded talent beyond that core, which means they can still make trades of significance without compromising their foundation, and which leaves them with the flexibility to go in any of three directions when also factoring in their financial flexibility.

The first direction is the go-for-it approach, which would mean departing from the "discipline" mantra Cherington has been preaching for the past year, and going aggressively after the player or two that the organization identifies as capable of putting it over the top. This would be the scenario in which they splurge for Lee or Stanton, or overpay for something else splashy.

The second direction is the do-nothing approach, in which the Sox signal an internal belief that they're not legitimate contenders — principal owner John Henry and CEO Larry Lucchino have both said in the past two weeks that the team has so far exceeded expectations — and therefore stand pat. In this case they'd use their prospects to fill needs, instead of as trade bait.

Then there's the third direction, which would be an amalgamation of the two that might look something like this: The Sox trade for a comparatively low-cost starter, maybe Houston's Bud Norris, and plug him into the rotation until Buchholz returns. In the meantime, they shuffle Brandon Workman to the bullpen and let him join the club's other young pitchers in the quest to win jobs and solidify roles. Once Buchholz gets back, depending how each piece of the staff is performing, the Sox could move Ryan Dempster (and his 225 career relief appearances) to the bullpen to add a veteran, playoff-ready presence there. And to fill the need on the left side of the middle infield, Bogaerts makes his much ballyhooed debut with the big club when it hits the road next week.

Don't forget, too, that no matter what happens today the Sox could still make a trade through the waiver process in August. Last year showed that big deals happen then, too.

And that nothing is ever really out of the question.

Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is ddonof13@gmail.com.


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