WOBURN -- John Henry makes you think.
First, the Red Sox principal owner took time at Jason Varitek's Celebrity Putt Putt fundraiser at Athletic Evolution to offer his perspective on what may transpire as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches.
"We like this team," he said, "so I don't anticipate many changes at all."
Then there was the explanation that budgetary concerns shouldn't be the roadblock for any potential deals coming the Sox' way.
"We have a tendency to spend pretty much everything we can in the offseason. And we were successful in doing so. I don't know if it's overly different this year. If something comes up, we'll make room," Henry said. "But the big deal isn't so much money as it is prospects. We can have Player X, but this is what it's going to cost [player-wise], and it usually costs something.
"I felt going into spring training this was as good a team as we've had, at least on paper, and we've been able to execute. After those first 12 games, we've been the best team in Major League Baseball. Since we watch every game, every day we're aware of every little weakness we have, and some of the weaknesses we had in the first half may not be weaknesses as much in the second half."
But within the newsworthy elements of Henry's offerings was another nugget that was cause for contemplation.
While saying that he "doesn't anticipate many changes at all," Henry added, "I think more so than in years past."
Henry indicated he believes this might be the best shape the Red Sox have been in heading into the end of July since his ownership group took over prior to the 2002 season.
And, you know what, Henry might just be right.
Through all the talk of needing Carlos Beltran, Ubaldo Jimenez, a right-handed bat or some sort of late-inning reliever, the reality is that between what they can currently march out on the major league field and what backup plans reside in Pawtucket, the Sox are in a good place. As Henry points out, it might just be the best position they've found themselves since this regime came to town.
(The ultimate caveat revolves around Clay Buchholz's back. But let's assume for a moment that the starter's return to the mound is around the corner.)
Here are where the Red Sox have resided on July 22 since '02:
2002: 57-39; 1/2 game back in the wild card
2003: 49-40; three games up in the wild card
2004: 52-43; 1/2 game up in the wild card
2005: 53-43; 1 1/2 games up in the American League East
2006: 59-37; 2 1/2 games up in the American League East
2007: 59-39; 7 1/2 games up in the American League East
2008: 59-43; 2 games up in the wild card
2009: 55-39; 2 games up in the wild card
2010: 54-42; 4 games back in the wild card
And now, the Red Sox are standing at 59-37, 7 1/2 games in front of the top wild card contenders and two games ahead of the second-place Yankees.
The starting pitching (again, assuming a Buchholz return) can match up with any team. And, just in case, viable short-term Plan B's still await in Triple-A in the form of Kevin Millwood and Felix Doubront (who is currently out for one start due to a hamstring ailment).
The end of the bullpen, with Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon, is about as solid as could be hoped. The relievers leading up to the bullpen's Big Two -- Matt Albers, Alfredo Aceves, Dan Wheeler, Franklin Morales, Randy Williams -- have done nothing to discourage. (In July, every reliever but Williams has held opponents to a batting average of .161 or less.)
While there is some anxiety about if Josh Reddick can continue his path to superstardom in the final two months, and if he doesn't if J.D. Drew and Darnell McDonald will be enough to adequately man right field, we're talking about a lineup that is the best in the majors in virtually every offensive category.
Again, seemingly the only fly in the ointment -- as Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein pointed out on the Dennis & Callahan show Thursday morning -- is the health of Buchholz.
"There’s nobody that we can go out and acquire that is going to take the place of Clay Buchholz," Epstein said. "If you asked me what player out there, if I could name one player to acquire for this team, it would be a healthy Clay Buchholz. I think we’re going to have that. It’s been a slower process than anyone wanted — especially Clay — but he is getting better.
"We’ve had three opinions on it now and it looks like it’s just a matter of time. Let’s say — and we don’t expect this at all — let’s say the news was different and it’s going to be a little longer I’m sure it would affect how we would look at things. But I don’t think there is anybody out there we could acquire that would come close to replacing Clay. And when it comes to depth options I think we have a lot of those internally and I’m sure we’ll look around. But I do believe that Clay will come back healthy and be that type of impact acquisition that we couldn’t make on the trade market."
Even with Buchholz's balky back, however, Henry's point is probably right on the money -- the Red Sox are in a better spot than they have been in years. It could be said that the good fortune should be expected considering the money they allocated to the Opening Day roster. But as we have been reminded with Bobby Jenks' physical woes, even the biggest offseason investments can't eliminate all uncertainties.
Perhaps the biggest competition this year's edition has in regard to claiming the title of most secure Red Sox team on July 22 is the '07 club.
With an identical playoff cushion as this year's team finds itself with, the eventual World Series champs were fairly solid heading toward the non-waiver trade deadline. In fact, on July 22 the '07 group's run-differential was one better than '11, having scored 500 while giving up a major league-low 391. This season the Red Sox have scored a big league-best 519 runs while allowing 401.
They also were banking on the return of a few starters, having to ride out the group of Julian Tavarez, Kason Gabbard, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield through July until Jon Lester (11 starts after July 22) and Curt Schilling (9 starts in the final two months) were dropped in.
The only true hole in the lineup could be found at shortstop, where, as of July 22, Julio Lugo was hitting .225 with a .624 OPS. But Lugo was in the first-year of a sizable contract, and for the first 22 days of July was hitting .381 with a .999 OPS, so adding an upgrade wasn't really in the cards.
The only piece of the puzzle the Red Sox did address at the deadline was in the form of a late-inning reliever, trading for Texas' Eric Gagne. But even then it wasn't as if the '07 bullpen was in dire straights.
Hideki Okajima, while still seemingly somewhat of an unknown commodity, had held down the eighth-inning fort as the final days of July approached. From July 1-22, the lefty pitched in 18 games, allowing just one run over 20 1/3 innings with an opponents batting average of .113. It is similar to what Bard has offered his most recent 18 appearances, not having given up a single run while holding opponents to a .113 batting average.
Like the current group of seventh-inning options, Mike Timlin (2.38 ERA in 22 2/3 innings from July 1-22) and Manny Delcarmen (1.80 ERA over 15 IP) were also solid options.
In fact, through July 22, the '07 Red Sox relievers were, in some ways, better than what they have now, having allowed a major league-best 19.5 percent of the runners they inherited to score. The '11 group's percentage is at 27.2.
Perhaps the difference in the late-July perception was how each team was playing. The Red Sox are 13-3 this month, while the record through July 22 for the month back in '07 was just 10-9.
All in all, it offers a good debate. Yet, as Henry pointed out, what most can agree on is things could be a whole lot worse for the Red Sox.