Buy or sell? Red Sox could go either way

Buy or sell? Red Sox could go either way

Buy or sell? Red Sox could go either way
NEW YORK -- A team is best positioned on July 31 when it can clearly identify itself as a buyer or a seller. That's why Ben Cherington is in such murky waters leading up to his first non-waiver Trade Deadline as a general manager.

As the Red Sox spend an off-day in New York leading into this weekend's pivotal three-game series with the Yankees, it is almost as if they have one foot in the postseason race and one foot out.

The master plan for Boston was to come steaming out of the gate after the All-Star break -- fueled by the returns of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Carl Crawford from injuries -- and make it clear to Cherington what he should do.

And just like that, Boston won five out of seven and looked good doing so. But since then, there's been the familiar lull that has repeatedly found the 2012 Red Sox.

With five losses in the past six games, the 49-50 Red Sox are 10 1/2 games back in the American League East and 4 1/2 games out in the AL Wild Card standings.

The hope within the clubhouse is that Cherington will keep the faith and add rather than subtract.

"I mean, we hope not," said Pedroia, when asked if the Red Sox could become sellers. "That second Wild Card, it could come down to the last week of the season. I was talking to [bullpen coach] Gary Tuck on the bus. He tells me every year, 'Look at the standings Sept. 15 and see where you're at.' I remember 2010, we had half of our starters hurt, and we look up Sept. 15 and we're still there. We've got to keep fighting. That's our mindset."

That said, Pedroia knows that the players are the ones who have to step up more than the general manager.

"I don't think Ben's going to get any hits," said Pedroia. "I don't know if we're going to make any trades. They don't tell us anything. It's above our pay grade. We've got our team. We feel like we've got a great group. We've just got to go out there and win."

Though 99 games, the Red Sox have been the definition of mediocrity, thanks to underperformance, inconsistency and a barrage of injuries.

The quickest cure-all would be if the Red Sox could get consistent starting pitching for a prolonged period. That hasn't happened all season. The club is 13-24 in games started by Jon Lester and Josh Beckett.

If the Red Sox were in control of a postseason spot, or even knocking on the door, Cherington would probably be on a full-court press for an available starting pitcher.

But now he has to think about whether it is prudent to trade away possible future chips for a team that might need more than a quick fix to get back into contention.

One of the most intriguing pitchers left on the trade market is Marlins righty Josh Johnson, who, like Beckett and Lester, hasn't pitched up to par this season. There's also the question of how compelled Miami to trade Johnson, given that the Marlins have dealt Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez in recent days.

"I mean, he definitely would help any team," Red Sox outfielder Cody Ross said of Johnson, his former teammate with the Marlins. "He's a bulldog. He's one of the premier pitchers, an ace. I've always said that he is one of the most competitive players I've ever played with."

The one thing Johnson has going for him that makes him more attractive to the Red Sox than some other pitchers on the market is the fact that he has another year left on his contract.

Could Johnson handle a market adjustment from Miami to Boston?

"Yeah, absolutely," Ross said. "He could definitely handle it. He's so mentally strong that he wouldn't let a big market affect him. He's a professional. I can't say enough good things about him. He's special."

Among the other pitchers who might be had in a trade are Zack Greinke, Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster.

The weekend series in New York is bigger than most in July. If disaster strikes -- meaning a sweep at the hands of the Yankees -- Cherington's strategy could become all too clear. In that case, he might try to unload a veteran like Beckett.

The Red Sox know the urgency that surrounds them.

"We definitely need to win the series," said Adrian Gonzalez. "That goes without saying. We need to win two out of three, if not try and sweep them. Game 1 is the most important one, and we'll go from there."

The Red Sox look down, according to the standings. But they continue to say they will claw their way back.

"Yeah, hopefully," Pedroia said. "We're going to play as hard as we can the rest of the way. It's not like we're quitting. We're going to go out and play our tails off."

Ian Browne is a reporter for Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.