ARLINGTON, Texas -- The non-waiver trading deadline is just days away -- Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m. EST -- but still, the Red Sox, according to multiple industry sources, are still uncertain as how aggressive they're going to be.
The Sox, say those sources, are waiting to see where they stand in the playoff race early next week before determining whether to buy or sell. Between Wednesday afternoon and next Tuesday, the Sox play five games against three of the better teams in the American League (Texas, New York, Detroit) and how they fare -- and how others in the race with them also fare -- will be a key factor in the approach.
In preparation, the Sox are already engaged in a number of ongoing trade discussions. This is Ben Cherington's first trade deadline as GM of the Red Sox, but he's apparently conducting himself much like his predecessor, Theo Epstein, who often engaged teams in multiple scenarios at once, preparing for various outcomes.
The Sox, said a baseball executive, "have lots of different balls in the air at once.''
Boston did indeed have some discussions with the Miami Marlins regarding Hanley Ramirez, who was dealt late Tuesday night to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
A source familiar with the talks emphasized that the Sox and Marlins never got close to working out a deal for the former Sox prospect. And had they made a deal for Ramirez, it's likely the Sox would have turned around and moved him to either the Dodgers, or Oakland A's, who were also in pursuit.
Keeping Ramirez for themselves, a source said, would have been "awkward,'' since the team has settled on Will Middlebrooks as its third baseman and Mike Aviles has done a credible job as the team's shortstop.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox continue to place much of their focus on acquiring a starting pitcher of impact, preferably one whom they could control past this season.
The Sox had a scout in Philadelphia Tuesday night to watch Milwaukee starter Zach Greinke, who may be dealt.
Greinke is a free agent this fall and also has a social anxiety disorder which could make him ill-suited for a market such as Boston. But because Greinke is well acquainted with pitching coach Bob McClure and special assistant Allard Baird from their time together in Kansas City, the feeling is that Greinke would be comfortable in Boston.
The fact that he is merely a rental and headed for free agency, said a source, is more of an impediment than his suitability for Boston.
As reported by ESPNBoston.com earlier this week, the Red Sox indeed have an interest in Marlins' starter Josh Johnson, who fits the profile of someone whom the Sox could control into the future (through 2013).
But after dealing Anibal Sanchez to Detroit Monday and Ramirez to the Dodgers Tuesday night, the Marlins might be less apt to deal Johnson, too, unless they get "a blow-away offer,'' one baseball source said.
Meanwhile, a team like Texas -- with a deeper inventory of prospects and a mandate to win now -- might be more motivated to meet the Marlins' asking price.
While not aggressively shopping Jon Lester or Josh Beckett, the Sox have fieldeded interest from teams on each pitcher.
A source indicated that the Sox almost certainly wouldn't make Lester available, as disappointing as he's been. The same cannot be said of Beckett, but there are complications.
For one thing, Beckett has 10-5 rights, meaning he can veto any potential deal. For another, Beckett's involvement in the chicken-and-beer issues last September and subsequent off-field issues have limited his value to others.
At least one American League contender in the market for pitching, for example, has categorically ruled out making a deal for Beckett out of fear that he could adversely affect that team's clubhouse chemistry.
Teams have called the Sox on Jacoby Ellsbury, meanwhile, have come away with the impression that while the outfielder, eligible for free agency after 2013 is not currently available, he might be this offseason.
A number of depth players, including backup catcher Kelly Shoppach and outfielder Ryan Sweeney, are drawing interest, but their fate, too, may be tied to how well the Sox perform in the next six days.
If the Sox believe that they have a legitimate chance at a playoff spot by Tuesday, those players will be retained, since the organization doesn't want to do anything that could compromise its chances of winning this season.
A source said that there's enough interest in Shoppach and Sweeney, along with bullpen pieces such as Matt Albers, that, should the Sox drop back in the standings, deals could be put together at the last minute if that's the route management takes.
The five most sought-after Red Sox prospects, a league source said, are pitcher Matt Barnes; shortstop Jose Iglesias; outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.; infielder Xander Bogaerts, and catcher Ryan Lavarnway.
However, to date the Red Sox have not internally discussed making any of those five available in deals, which makes the club's chances of landing a pitcher the caliber of Johnson or Greinke slim.