Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, during an appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Friday morning, said he's confident the team can turn its fortunes around and make the playoffs without mortgaging the future.
Cherington said the baseball operations staff has been active and will continue to be so leading up to Tuesday's trade deadline. The Sox play the first-place Yankees in New York this weekend.
"We spend more time in the room talking with each other about deals, and maybe have 30 or 40 phone calls with other teams throughout the course of the day," he said. "I assume that will continue, and the subject matter of those phone calls will depend some on what other teams do and some on what we do this weekend."
Cherington stressed that the Sox are well within contention for the playoffs.
"When we look at where we are in the standings, I guess particularly the teams that are right ahead of us in the wild card chase, we don't believe that any of those teams are better than us, or necessarily more talented than us. So in that sense we're not of the mindset of giving in on anything. We want to try to win, and if there's ways to improve our chances of winning and catching those teams, we want to do that. You have to be smart about it. You have to gauge the potential return you're getting on a deal relative to where you are.
"Like I said, we are where we are. We're 49-50. We feel this is as good a team as the other teams that are sort of clustered right ahead of us. We also have to be mindful that you have two months left and we've dug ourselves a little bit of a hole, and we've got to be smart about giving up too many long-term assets to try to get a little better the next two months. That doesn't mean there aren't ways to improve the team, and do it in a wise manner and a prudent manner. We'll definitely work to do that."
Added Cherington: "It's an unusual position for us to be in. That's the truth. Our approach at the deadline most every year that I've been here in the front office has been pretty clear. We're trying to improve the team. This deadline is going to take more of a nuanced approach, but we're certainly still focused on 2012 and doing everything we can to win as many games as we can this year."
Josh Beckett has become a focal point of fans' frustration with the underachieving Sox, but Cherington said the team is more focused on adding players.
"Taking Josh Beckett off this team is not necessarily improving things," he said. "We need to add, we need to improve the rotation, if anything -- improve internally or add to the rotation. I think we're sort of stuck in neutral if we start taking guys out of the rotation who are good major league pitchers."
Cherington said that the team has not discussed with the pitcher whether he would waive his 10-5 rights (10 years of major league service, five with one team) to permit a trade.
"We haven't had the conversation [with Beckett] and we haven't engaged other teams on it," said Cherington.
In fact, Cherington said, the team was exploring the market to see about adding starting pitching. However, he expressed doubt about whether the Sox would be able to do anything to bolster the rotation.
"We'll continue to talk to teams about [starters]," said Cherington. "It's clearly a seller's market when it comes to starting pitching, so there's no certainty we'll be able to do anything, but we're certainly working at it, to find ways to improve ourselves in that area."
It was revealed last week that the Red Sox had discussed a trade with the Marlins that would have sent Carl Crawford to Miami for Hanley Ramirez, but Cherington downplayed it.
"The truth is that we had one conversation where a concept was discussed. It didn't work for us, so it didn't go anywhere," Cherington said. "Unfortunately, as is the case sometimes with these things this time of year, it somehow got out that we had a conversation. But there was never any teeth to it. And we haven't had any conversations with them since."
Cherington also said he has not had discussions with Jacoby Ellsbury about a long-term deal, as the outfielder appears destined for free agency after next season.
"We haven't gotten into any discussions with him," Cherington said. "We've taken it year-to-year with him so far, and the offseason conversations we've had about Jacoby have been good-spirited and amicable. I expect that to continue. We'll see if it makes sense to talk about anything other than a one-year deal going into next year.
"The worst-case scenario for the Red Sox is that we have one of the best players in baseball for the next year and a half and he can help us win a lot of games in that time. If there is a way to add to that, to add to the value that Jacoby brings, either through an extension or doing something else, then those are things we'll look into that. But we're just fortunate to have him on our team right now. We'll continue to talk to him and at the appropriate time -- usually the offseason is the appropriate time -- talk to him about contract stuff."
Following are more highlights from the interview.
On trade interest in Ellsbury: "We've had calls on a number of guys. We have a lot of good players. We're not of the mindset to remove good players from our team, because we're at best stuck in neutral or going backwards more likely if we do that. We're focused on adding to the team, not taking away. He's a great player who certainly teams would have a lot of interest in. That's why we want him on our team."
On waiting until the offseason to deal guys who are underperforming, hoping that they re-establish value: "I agree with most of it. When you have guys that aren't performing at their sort of historic level and are still young enough where they should get back to that level, absolutely, our focus needs to be on giving them every chance to perform again. In our case, it's not necessarily to shine them up for a trade. That is the case in some places. In our case, it's first and foremost because we're focused on winning here in the present day.
"The secondary point, the last thing a GM ever wants to do is sell low. If we are ever going to consider trading a player, doing it at a time when a guy isn't performing doesn't help your cause. We've had to do that on a couple of occasions in the past."
On interest in players such as Kelly Shoppach, Mike Aviles and Ryan Sweeney: "We've gotten a bunch of calls. We've talked to every team in baseball the last couple of weeks. We've had a lot of conversations with a few teams about certain ideas. There are certainly plenty of guys on our team other teams would like to have. Right now, we're looking to improve, not take away. That's our mindset going into this weekend."
On if Crawford should be more of a platoon player because of his struggles against left-handed pitching: "That's up to Bobby [Valentine]. I can't rule out Carl getting a day off now and then against a lefty, but I don't foresee a straight platoon happening. Part of the uniqueness about Carl and the reason why we pursued him in the first place, even on those days when he was in Tampa, those days where maybe he struggled against a lefty -- and he actually usually hit lefties pretty well -- but those days where he struggled against a lefty he could do so many other things to help you win the game. The best defensive left fielder in baseball for many years, on the bases, all those things that people have talked about. He could still help you win, even against a tough lefty, even if on that day he went 0-for-4. ...
Unfortunately, it's not by any lack of effort on his part, but unfortunately Red Sox fans haven't seen that nearly as much since he came to Boston. It is what it is. Carl knows it more than anyone. ... But this story's not over. There's a long time to show people what he's all about."
On the likelihood of other teams pulling away: "I'm not sure that any of those other teams have any better chance of going on the kind of run you're talking about than we do. We believe we're as talented or more talented than any of those teams and that we're capable of going on that kind of run just as much if not more than those other teams."