It was a hairy weekend in Fenway Park, but it all worked out right in the end. The Red Sox’ bullpen continued its recent slump by nearly coughing up a 9-0 lead after five innings on Saturday night against Kansas City. This was on top of a rather ugly loss on Thursday in the series opener and then stealing a 1-0 win on Friday. But when the dust settled, Josh Beckett sent the Sox into the All-Star break with a complete-game shutout and a three-game win streak. In the meantime, the Yankees were swept in Anaheim and Boston is plus-3 in the AL East and up 5 ½ on Texas for the wild-card.
The big rumors on the trade market right now are for Roy Halladay. Toronto’s fading fast as it is, and Scott Richmond has joined the long list of Blue Jay pitchers on the DL. Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe asks who’s in the “the Halladay spirit.” Within the article Cafardo quotes soon-to-be Hall of Famer Jim Rice, who doubts the value of acquiring the 2003 Cy Young Award winner. Rice believes, with all due respect to the Toronto ace, that it’s more important to have a position player, who’s out there every day, rather then a starting pitcher for every fifth day.
I have to disagree with Rice. The comparison of every day to every fifth day makes for a nice soundbite, but it has no bearing on reality. The impact a starting pitcher makes on a game is incomparably more than that of a position player. A position player may bat 25 times in a five-game time span. In making one decent start, a starting pitcher will face that many hitters. Rice was a great player, but he was part of an era of Red Sox baseball that should understand that better than any other. The Boston teams of 1977-78 were powerful, but lacked the pitching depth the Yankees and Orioles had. That’s why the Sox lost close races to New York those two years and eventually gave way to Baltimore the following year. Not until Boston put Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling in the same rotation, did they have the arms to win it all.
This is not to say they should rush to acquire Halladay. Theo Epstein backed off trading for Johan Santana prior to last year, not wanting to give up Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester. And while Santana’s done very well for the Mets, it’s hard to quibble with Theo’s foresight. Santana was a lot surer bet than the 32-year old Halladay, whom Cafardo points out, is at the high end of the age the Sox want their prime contracts to be. And any trade would surely require a contract extension to go with it. It’s unlikely Boston could get him at a price that’s tolerable. The ideal is to see him dealt out of the American League, though given their injuries, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Angels get serious.
Checking on media coverage elsewhere, Joel Sherman on The New York Post continues the Halladay discussion by talking to several general managers who have been involved in big deadline-deal swaps before. One of the points out of there I thought was good, was not to wait if you know you need a star. Last season, Milwaukee picked up C.C. Sabbathia relatively early in the summer. The Brewers won the wild-card by one game. Had they waited until the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, they might still have gotten Sabbathia, but missed a playoff drive that meant an enormous amount to the city this writer used to call home. The difference Sabbathia made—virtually single-handedly, he put an otherwise collapsing Brewer team on his shoulders and carried them home—is another rebuke to Rice’s argument that starting pitchers aren’t difference-makers.
Sherman’s article also advises sellers not to be shy about trading within the division. This is also applicable to Baltimore and the market for first baseman Aubrey Huff. The Red Sox are not as likely to be active for Huff, now that Ortiz is back and hitting. But one point I thought was missed here, is that the contending team ought to be more wary than the trading team about dealing with a division rival. If Halladay or Huff found his way to Fenway, he might make a difference for a little while, but would either be gone or in decline by the time the trading team finished rebuilding. In the meantime, the contender has handed their rivals the prospects they need to get back on their feet.
Boston need only look at a 1988 trade that brought Mike Boddicker to the Fens and sent a couple unknown minor leaguers named Curt Schilling and Brady Anderson to Baltimore. Fortunately for Boston, Schilling didn’t find his form until a couple stops later in Philly. But Anderson haunted American League pitchers for years after. Boston did okay for themselves too—Boddicker was a key part of a rotation that won the AL East in ’88 and again in 1990. But consider how dangerous this was on a deal that actually worked for the contender. Then think about how ugly it might get if it went the way of most deadline deals, and ended up causing the contender more headaches and prospects than it was worth.
The bottom line for Boston? Move carefully in any trade prospects. And ideally, don’t move at all. We have a team right now that’s favored to get to the playoffs and in the eyes of many are the favorite to win it all. Even if we come up short on the latter goal, the season’s still a success by having been in the mix. The young talent we have ensures us that we can stay in the mix for years to come. Don’t screw that up for a quick fix.