Red Sox Could Probably Land Cliff Lee, But That Doesn’t Mean Boston Is Willing to Pay King’s Ransom

Cliff LeeMonths and weeks have been replaced by days and hours.

The trade deadline is fast approaching, which means that the Red Sox and everyone else will be working the phones to see how they can improve now and/or for the future. This year is particularly interesting in Boston because it’s a stark contrast from 2012 as the 2013 Sox are seen as legitimate contenders.

But does that mean that the Red Sox will be legitimate buyers at the deadline? General manager Ben Cherington made it clear last week that he’ll be “aggressive” leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline — meaning that he’ll be on his phone a whole lot in the coming days — but will that aggressiveness lead to any major deals?

The Red Sox find themselves in a good, yet tricky situation. They have exceeded expectations this season and have become contenders sooner than expected, so there are plenty of folks out there who would like to see them go all-in to bolster the club for a deep playoff run. Others, however, would prefer more minor tweaks, understanding that the future might be brighter with some of the team’s prospects in the mix.

For this week’s mailbag — the last before the trade deadline — you asked about the Red Sox’ direction, inquired about certain players and even tossed around some hypothetical trades. Let’s get into it.

What are the Red Sox going to do about getting a legitimate No. 3 hitter in the lineup?
— Michael Cotter

That’s an interesting question considering the guy who has hit third in 105 of Boston’s 106 games this season just signed an eight-year contract extension. But I get your point.

Dustin Pedroia is not your prototypical No. 3 hitter. In many ways, he fits the mold a perfect No. 2 hitter — although I do like what Shane Victorino has done out of the No. 2 spot when healthy. As far as whether the Red Sox will consider adding a more conventional No. 3 hitter, I wouldn’t count on it this season.

I thought coming into this year that Will Middlebrooks had the potential to become a No. 3 hitter. It obviously would have disrupted the lefty-righty nature of a typical John Farrell lineup — as Pedroia probably would have moved up into the two hole — but I really felt that Middlebrooks’ power from the right side would end up being an asset in front of David Ortiz. Of course, I was wrong.

Looking beyond this season, Middlebrooks still has a chance to become the guy, but I would say that Xander Bogaerts has the best chance of becoming the “legitimate” No. 3 hitter that you speak of. I really don’t think it’s too much of an issue right now given how the offense has performed this season, but Bogaerts’ power will eventually make him a future middle-of-the-order force.

The Red Sox could look to address the “issue” externally in the offseason, but my guess is that Pedroia will hold down the spot until Bogaerts emerges.

Will the Red Sox make a trade to bring in a nice bat like Michael Young, Aramis Ramirez or someone stronger to shore up third base? I hope so!
— John Mears Jr.

Michael Young’s name has been linked to the Red Sox for a while now, and I have a feeling that he will get dealt before the trade deadline, mainly because the Phillies don’t have much incentive to keep him. He’s a free agent after this season, and my guess is that he’ll sign elsewhere, so Philadelphia might as well get something for him.

I’d be surprised if Young lands in Boston, though. It’s not far-fetched — seeing as how the rumors haven’t gone anywhere — but I don’t think that the Red Sox are as concerned about the left side of their infield as some others are.

While the overall production out of the left side has admittedly been inconsistent, the Red Sox like what both Stephen Drew and Jose Iglesias bring to the table. I think that the Red Sox will focus on pitching leading up to Wednesday’s deadline, ride out the Drew/Iglesias combo until it’s clear that a change is necessary and then, if and when that point comes, either try out Middlebrooks again or hope to catch lightning in a bottle with Bogaerts.

Acquiring Aramis Ramirez — unlike Young — requires a pretty sizable financial commitment, in addition to whatever Milwaukee is asking for in terms of talent. Ramirez is owed $16 million next season and possesses a mutual option for 2015 that comes with a $4 million buyout. I’m not sure how appealing that would be to the Red Sox.

If the Red Sox add a third baseman, Young seems like the best bet. I think that they’ll stand pat, though, even if that’s an unpopular decision among some outside critics.

Are the Red Sox considering the possibility of packaging Will Middlebrooks and/or Xander Bogaerts for another powerful arm to solidify their rotation, especially with Clay Buchholz ailing?
— John Gingras

The Red Sox will probably see what’s out there, but the prices will need to come down. I think Jake Peavy is a realistic option, but I wouldn’t break the bank for him and I don’t think that the Red Sox will, either.

When it comes to dealing Middlebrooks and/or Bogaerts, I think both have very bright futures. I wouldn’t even entertain the idea of trading Bogaerts, and I would only deal Middlebrooks if he was part of a bigger deal that landed Boston a front-line starter.

That’s just me, though.

Will the Red Sox get another front-line starter to cover for Clay Buchholz? Will the Red Sox try to go for a veteran Pitcher? Cliff Lee comes to mind.
— Anthony Stepanik

Cliff Lee is the crown jewel of the trade market. But honestly, I don’t see him going anywhere.

The price for Lee is astronomical when you consider both the package of prospects and the amount of money involved — Lee is owed $25 million in both 2014 and 2015, and has a $27.5 million club option (with a $12.5 million buyout) for 2016. I can’t see anyone coming close to offering what the Phillies likely want in exchange for the veteran left-hander, and for good reason: He’s a legitimate ace, and the Phillies view him as such.

Would the Red Sox benefit greatly from adding Lee? Hell yeah, they would. A deal just seems unlikely given how much Cherington covets his prospects and how adamant the Red Sox have been about focusing on player development over high-cost, external options.

I will say this, though: If the Red Sox really wanted to get Lee, they probably could, as they have both the prospects and the financial flexibility to get a deal done.

Let’s also keep in mind that Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said that he’d listen to offers for Lee, among others. He is, by no means, “shopping” Lee. There’s a big difference.

When are the Red Sox going to replace Jarrod Saltalamacchia? He strikes out way too much, and his bat isn’t good enough to make up for it.
— Anthony Frates

Jarrod Saltalamacchia definitely strikes out a lot, and he has cooled off in July, particularly in the power department (he hasn’t homered since June 9). Salty has earned the respect of the entire pitching staff, though, and he has really emerged as a clubhouse leader this season.

If Saltalamacchia ends up leaving, it’ll be after this season when he’s a free agent. Don’t expect to see him gone any sooner than that.

Will Mike Carp be a bench player for the rest of the season?
— Jamie Grantham

Probably.

Mike Carp has been tremendous this season when called upon, and it sounds like he might be given more opportunities in the coming weeks. But in the end, he’ll probably bounce around between the outfield and first base without any clear-cut spot in the starting lineup.

What is going on with Alfredo Aceves?
–Karl Peters, Thousand Oaks, Calif.

We could sit here and discuss this question all day without coming up with a definitive answer.

From a technical standpoint, Alfredo Aceves is pitching in Pawtucket and has been removed from the 40-man roster. There’s always a chance we could see him again at some point, though.

Either way, Aceves is pretty content, telling WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford recently that he’s willing to sign a 10-year deal to remain with the Red Sox.

No, seriously.

What’s the status of Daniel Bard? Does he still have potential? He could help solve some bullpen problems if he can just get back some confidence.
–Rob, Fort Mill

Daniel Bard hasn’t pitched in a game — at any level — in more than two months, as he suffered an abdominal strain at the beginning of June. It’s unclear at this point if and when he’ll pitch at the minor league level this season, never mind in the majors.

Will the Red Sox trade for a closer?
— Dan Russell

The Red Sox would probably like to add a closer, as it would allow Koji Uehara — who has been excellent as the closer, by the way — to pitch in his more natural setup role. There don’t appear to be many closers available, though, especially at a reasonable cost.

That being said, I suspect that the Red Sox will pick up the phone and inquire about a number of late-inning relievers before Wednesday’s trade deadline, even if nothing major comes of it.

I’m curious about Ryan Rowland-Smith. He was once a major league guy, and is now pitching for Pawtucket. He has a good stat line, yet he hasn’t been called up. Why?
–Chris Soule, Sanford

Ryan Rowland-Smith was having a tremendous season for Pawtucket, but he was sidelined because of an appendectomy in June.

Originally, Rowland-Smith could have opted out of his contract if he wasn’t on the major league roster by July 15. There have been reports that Rowland-Smith’s new opt-out date is Aug. 5, though, so we should know soon whether or not he fits into the Red Sox’ 2013 plans.

Why didn’t the Red Sox try harder to get Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez? He was a steal for the Phillies. The Red Sox could have added another arm for now and the future without giving anyone up. And look at how good Cubans have been in recent years! Jake Peavy is at best another No. 3 starter. We need another top of the rotation guy.
— Brian Young

You raise a few points in your question, the biggest of which involves Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, who just signed a six-year contract with the Phillies that could reach close to $60 million.

I agree with you in that the Red Sox might regret not signing Gonzalez. Reports indicate that the Sox were in on the Cuban pitcher until the very end, so you can’t fault them too much, but I agree with your overall logic. The biggest thing keeping the Red Sox from making a major deal before the trade deadline is their reluctance to part with prospects, and Gonzalez represented a potential upgrade for nothing more than financial compensation.

I should mention that Gonzalez doesn’t project as a top-of-the-rotation starter, but some talent evaluators reportedly view him as middle-of-the-rotation pitcher. While that type of pitcher might not upgrade the Red Sox’ pitching staff too much, it’s worth the gamble when prospects aren’t involved.

I actually wrote about both Gonzalez and Peavy in recent days. Feel free to check out the links below for a clearer picture of how I feel about both pitchers.

Click here for an opinion on Gonzalez >>

Click here for an opinion on Peavy >>

Moving along now, I was sent a number of hypothetical trades this week. Let’s make a game of it. I will try to respond to each proposal in one word, while also providing a brief reason for what is essentially the first word that popped into my head.

Jose Iglesias, Jacoby Ellsbury and a prospect to Philadelphia for Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon and Michael Young
— Donald Warfield

Dreamy.

Obviously, the term “prospect” is rather vague. But this deal is something that will only show up in Red Sox fans’ wildest dreams.

Stephen Drew and Mike Carp to Philadelphia for Cliff Lee and cash?
— Steven Tully

LOLz.

No explanation needed.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Blake Swihart to Texas for Jurickson Profar and Joe Nathan.
–Andrew Hennings

Cute.

Jacoby Ellsbury is playing at an All-Star level and Blake Swihart is a good prospect, but Jurickson Profar is a potential superstar and Joe Nathan would be the best reliever available on the trade market. The Red Sox would need to pony up more than that.

The only way that the Rangers are dealing Profar is if it’s part of a megadeal for an ace (Cliff Lee, anyone?). Nathan would require a good haul, too, given how thin the pitching market appears right now.

…And that was fun. Let’s shift gears and then head home, OK?

Ricky, I wrote into the mailbag last week asking about Dustin Pedroia and Jose Iglesias’ numbers being retired. First off, thanks for the response! You mentioned David Ortiz as a possible candidate, but doesn’t a player have to have played his entire career with the Red Sox to be eligible for that honor?
–Philip Heck, Houston, TX

Hey, Phil! Thanks for coming back!

While it certainly helps when a player spends his entire career with the Red Sox, it’s not a requirement.

Among those whose numbers are retired by the Red Sox: Joe Cronin played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Senators, Johnny Pesky played for the Detroit Tigers and Washington Senators, and Carlton Fisk played for the Chicago White Sox.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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