A legion of Sox fans were likely stunned by the lack of a big-time trade at Sunday's deadline. For a month there'd been an unrelenting buzz about a pending upgrade to the pitching staff. Then when Trot Nixon went down with an oblique strain that could keep him out for an indefinite period, the sentiment was that something big was surely in the works. It was just a matter of time. Seemingly everyone wanted Kevin Millar and Mark Belhorn traded. But with their sub-par performance this season, neither had much trade value. Third baseman Bill Mueller seemed like one of the most tradable assets. Mueller, a batting champion just two years ago, is still a clutch hitter and has great defensive skills. But, at age 34, he's been plagued by knee injuries and is a free agent a season's end. With the young and talented Kevin Youkilis waiting in the wings, most believe that Mueller won't won't be back with the team next year anyway. There was a line of thinking that reasoned that the Sox should trade Mueller now and get something in return while they still can.
People feverishly checked the Globe, Herald, ESPN and numerous internet sites for a preview of what to expect. The consensus was that the Sox would make a play for a starting pitcher like AJ Burnett, or Jason Schmidt and, in the absence of Keith Foulke, would most certainly try to obtain a frontline closer like Billy Wagner. Boston likes stars, and the fans expected a big name. At the least, the Twins were rumored to be sending reliever JC Romero to the Sox for Mueller. And when Red Sox Nation awoke on Sunday morning, they found to their great surprise that the team had acquired the great....Jose Cruz Jr.? What? That's it? No superstar? Many Sox fans likely felt gipped or, at the least, let down.
Many may be asking how this could have happened. How could the team not address its most pressing needs? But on closer inspection, just because the Sox didn't acquire an acclaimed starter to bolster the rotation, a big name reliever to aid the pen, or even a stud outfielder, doesn't mean that Theo and company stood pat. In fact, they were busy and they were active.
Truth be told, as far as transactions go, July was a very busy month for the Red Sox. There are quite a few players now with the club who weren't on the 25-man roster just a month ago. To start with, the Sox acquired utility infielder Alex Cora from the Indians for the ineffective Ramon Vazquez. That move was clearly a defensive upgrade for the team. They traded a dissatisfied Jay Payton for a much needed righty set-up man, Chad Bradford, complementing lefty set-up man, Mike Myers. The club then replaced Payton's backup outfield spot with speedy Rule V pick up, Adam Stern. Next the team re-signed popular outfielder Gabe Kapler, an important role player on last year's championship team. Then, as an insurance move, they acquired the versatile infielder Tony Graffanino from Kansas City to fill in for an injured Mark Belhorn. And on the evening of the deadline, they sent two minor league prospects to the Diamondbacks for former Gold Glove winning outfielder, Jose Cruz Jr. Cruz has had 20 or more home runs in four of the last five seasons, and has 12 so far this year. And the 31-year-old was a 30/30 man for the Blue Jays as recently as 2001.
But that wasn't all. The Sox made use of their deep farm system by calling up promising pitchers Manny Delcarmen and Jon Papelbon, as well as journeyman, Jeremi Gonzalez. Perhaps most important of all, the team got top pitcher Curt Schilling back from the disabled list, and even if he's only 90% effective, he's better than any available player on the trade market. Best of all, it didn't cost the team anything to get him. When all was said and done, the Red Sox vaunted farm system remained largely intact, and the team added a total of 10 new players to the 25 man roster in the span of month.
The club also signed a much-heralded draft pick, pitcher Craig Hansen. Though it's clearly a long shot, some see Hansen as being big league ready now, and possibly joining the other newcomers in Boston as soon as next month.
July was a time for change, and the Sox didn't just acquire new players, but they also said farewell to others. Matt Mantai was lost to the DL, and has likely pitched his last game for the Red Sox. And aside from Vazquez, Payton, and Adam Hyzdu (once again), gone are relief pitchers Alan Embree and John Halama.
So in review, the Sox didn't exactly stand pat. They made changes that they hope will strengthen the club, while protecting the valuable minor league assets that they hope will help them in the near future. Furthermore, they didn't disrupt the vital chemistry of the club, and still have many of the core players from last year's squad. Manny Ramirez will finish this season, and perhaps his career, with the Sox. But the players who started the season at first (Millar), second (Belhorn), and third (Mueller) will likely be gone next year, and center fielder Johnny Damon could be lost to free agency as well. So the team could have a very different look come April, but this year's squad appears to be set, barring a waiver pick-up later this month.
Let's enjoy this team while we still can. It could be a very different looking squad next spring. Just two more months until the playoffs begin again. Go Sox!
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