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MLB Trade Rumors: Could Jonathan Papelbon End Up Back With the Red Sox?

Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon
Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon

Jul 4, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon (58) reacts after the final out against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the ninth inning at PNC Park. The Philadelphia Phillies won 6-4. Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Before the season, many thought the Red Sox would be active at the trade deadline at the end of July. Chances are those people will be right. Sort of.

There are very few who would have thought the Red Sox would be buyers, rather than sellers, in July. But, as the team with the American League’s best record more than halfway through the season, this is an organization that is thinking playoffs. And you can bet General Manager Ben Cherington will be looking to improve his club.

The glaring need for Boston at this point is in the bullpen. Heading in to the season the bullpen seemed to be the one area of strength, but that’s no longer the case. The Sox began the year with Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, Koji Uehara, and Junichi Tazawa at the back end of the pen.

It looked great on paper, but hasn’t quite worked out how Boston had hoped. Hanrahan is out for the year, Bailey has been completely ineffective as of late and was demoted from his closer’s job, and, while Uehara and Tazawa have been very good, they lead the team in appearances and could be at risk of overusage toward the end of the season. On top of that, Andrew Miller will probably miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury. So it would be a shock if Cherington doesn’t find a way to add a reliever or two.

One of the names that stands out is Jonathan Papelbon. Despite the consistent denials from Philadelphia General Manager Ruben Amaro, the former Red Sox closer is at the center of trade rumors. Sources have said the two sides have talked about Papelbon and it stands to reason they will continue to do so, unless the Phillies hit a hot streak over the next three weeks.

If Amaro is willing to deal Papelbon, the Red Sox would likely have to give up some significant young talent, which doesn’t seemingly fit in with Cherington’s plans. With his high price tag over the next couple of seasons and the fact his velocity is down, there would be a risk in bringing Papelbon back to Boston. But it’s something the Sox GM would surely consider if he didn’t have to give up high-value pieces.

There are other relievers that would make more sense for Boston. The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo reports the Sox are also looking at the Mets’ Bobby Parnell and the Marlins’ Steve Cishek, while the Astros’ Jose Veras and the Brewers’ Francisco Rodriguez could be other options if Cherington decides to bring in a closer from the outside. That could indicate he thinks Uehara would be best served in a set up role.

If he is content with Uehara as the closer, he could find another reliable set up man instead. Some of the players who could be moved are the White Sox’s Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton, the Cubs’ Kevin Gregg, and the Brewers’ John Axford and Mike Gonzalez.

Cherington could also look to bolster the starting rotation. While not as much of a need as the bullpen, another starter wouldn’t hurt. John Lackey has pitched like an ace, Ryan Dempster has been just as reliable as advertised, and Felix Doubront has been great over the last month-and-a-half, but there are question marks at the front of the rotation. Jon Lester has struggled since mid-May and Clay Buchholz has been injured for the last month.

Another solid starter down the stretch would be a nice commodity for Boston. The name that seems to keep popping up every year is Matt Garza. Most expect the Cubs don’t want to give him the big contract he’ll warrant after this season and, for the last couple of years, the speculation has been they will trade him. That hasn’t changed.

ESPN’s Buster Olney reports the Red Sox are in on Garza, which isn’t really a surprise. But, like with Papelbon, Cherington may balk at the asking price. Assuming Cliff Lee remains unavailable (or is he?), Garza is the best starter on the market this summer and the Cubs will hold out for the best deal they can get. And with Cubs’ President Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer very familiar with Boston’s system, they’d be sure to get what they want. Other names the Sox may consider could be Yovani Gallardo, Bud Norris, and Lee, if he is available and Cherington would pay to get him.

Despite the Red Sox being the highest-scoring team in baseball, there are reports they could be looking for more offense. Cafardo also writes that Cherington wants to add a right-handed power bat. There were already rumors that Boston was very interested in acquiring Michael Young, which would make sense. While not a big-time power threat, he is still hitting .288 this year and has six home runs with Philadelphia.

His addition would also work from a positional standpoint. The Red Sox have had trouble keeping the players on the left side of their infield healthy. It currently consists of an over-achieving rookie shortstop and a rotation of third basemen called up from the minors. It’s not an ideal situation. Young could play both positions, and even flip over to the right side of the infield if needed.

The outfield for Boston is a bit more crowded, but adding an outfielder wouldn’t be out of the question, either. Jacoby Ellsbury is banged up and Shane Victorino had injury problems earlier on this year, so adding a power bat there would not leave them so vulnerable. Alfonso Soriano has been crushing the ball over the last couple of weeks and is on the block yet again. The Michael Morse experiment hasn’t worked out as hoped in Seattle, so he could be on the move, too. He could also play multiple positions.

Whether the Red Sox do or don’t make a move at the deadline, the fact that the team is in a position to add to the roster, rather than subtract from it, is a return to normalcy for New England baseball fans. Last year’s big move came from the blockbuster with the Dodgers when they got rid of three all-stars. This year, they may be bringing some in.

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