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Will Theo Make a Move?

As today's 4pm trade deadline approaches, the question on everyone's lips is this: will Theo do it? Will he pull of the trade of the decade, and grab us Adrian Gonzalez or Roy Halladay? OTM is covering it all.

The conventional wisdom among sports writers seems to be that Theo will / has to pull off a big trade. And many of us are excited about that possibility.

Unfortunately, the odds of a huge trade are very slim. You need to understand his history to get why:

Let's look at the major midseason trades Theo has done in his tenure here. Read on for more.

Mike Gonzalez, Freddy Sanchez and $$ for Brandon Lyon, Jeff Suppan and Anastazio Martinez (2003): Theo's first trade deadline exchange sent two prospects to Pittsburgh for reliever Lyon and starter Suppan. Suppan was a good back-end starter who Theo wanted to steady the rotation. Sanchez went on to win a batting title.

Nomar Garciaparra for Orlando Cabrera, Doug Mientkiewicz (2004): This trade worked on several levels. First, the unhappy Nomah, by that point a problem in the clubhouse, was removed. Second, the new guys significantly improved the Red Sox defense. OCab also hit well for Boston, but that was a side benefit rather than the goal of the deal.

Kason Gabbard, David Murphy, and Engel Beltre for Eric Gagne (2007): Ah Gagne. Expectations were high when he came in, but his role was that of set-up man / backup closer. He would help spell Okajima and Papelbon, keeping both rested for the postseason. For that luxury, we traded a decent 5th starter, a serviceable outfielder, and a young prospect with a high ceiling. None of these players were essential to the Sox long-term plans.

Manny Ramirez, Craig Hansen, and Brandon Moss for Jason Bay:(2008): Like the Nomar trade, in the Manny trade Theo changed the clubhouse dynamics by removing a source of tension. Two young players had to go out with Manny to sweeten the pot, but they got an extra year with Bay.

Of these, the only trade that screams blockbuster to me is the Nomar trade. Manny for Bay is almost a wash - sure they're big names, but they're also almost identical. Both are right-handed sluggers who play poor defense. The trade didn't really add anything to the team, at least on paper. The extra year of Bay and the absence of Manny in the clubhouse may have been benefits that motivated the trade. Gagne was not coming in to a big role, so I wouldn't call it a huge trade.

What is the take-away? Theo Epstein is reluctant to make big deals at the trading deadline. Most of his moves are minor. His goal is to shore up an area of weakness, such as defense (Nomar), bullpen depth (Gagne) or rotation depth (Suppan).

At the trade deadline, Epstein has NOT traded prospects for a superstar slugger, or an ace pitcher. There's a first time for everything, but all the talk of blockbusters strikes me as a misreading of his philosophy. Theo and co. talk about a $100 million player development machine, and that's the best way to think of the Sox. Boston develops prospects into players and supplements them with free agents and waiver / trade pickups. He doesn't make big moves just because, and especially not at the deadline.

Given this interpretation, let's consider the names discussed.

Victor Martinez: Hitting well, poor defensively. VMart has been connected repeatedly to the Sox. But where does he fit? Catcher is occupied, and first base is a bigger logjam with LaRoche. The only way I see this going down is if Varitek is traded. Putting Martinez at first isn't a big improvement over Youk / LaRoche, and putting him at catcher could be a defensive liability. Although Tek isn't lighting the world afire with his defense, he also knows the staff and they like him, which can't be dismissed (Theo did resign Tek, after all).

Roy Halladay: The Sox, despite their atrocious defense, have allowed the fewest runs in the AL. Beckett and Lester make a strong front rotation for October, and between Buchholz, Smoltz and Penny someone should be a fine #3. Halladay would be a very expensive luxury, both in terms of prospects and money. Also, none of Theo's major trades have been intra-divisional.

Adrian Gonzalez: This seems the most likely of the proposed trades, if only because AGon is a player in the Red Sox mold: young (27), cost-controlled, OBP-oriented, and plays great defense. Much like Jason Bay, he's a contender for Iron Man awards, playing in every game the past two years and 161 games in 2007. Acquiring AGon would also be a major improvement, as Youk moves to third, Lowell and his bad defense gets traded, and the Sox gain substantially in both OBP and defense. Unfortunately, AGon would probably require both a boatload of talent and another trading partner, which makes the whole thing complicated and the likelihood of a deal very slim.

If Theo makes a move at all, it'll almost certainly be a minor, lateral move. Don't expect the jewels of the farm to leave Boston, and don't expect a superstar to come in.