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Epstein: Trade no surrender

08.31.10 at 5:06 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — It’s not a white flag, the Red Sox insist.

Yes, the Red Sox have parted with a member of their big league club on the Aug. 31 deadline for waiver trades, and yes, they got a 21-year-old, Single-A prospect in return. The deal that came down featured veteran reliever Manny Delcarmen heading to the Rockies in exchange for right-hander Chris Balcom-Miller, a player who is years away from pitching at the big league level.

“This is not one of those moves that helps us tomorrow at the big league level,” Sox manager Terry Francona said of Balcom-Miller, “but we think down the road it could be great.’€

That said, GM Theo Epstein said this deal — made with the Sox seven games behind both the Rays and Yankees in both the AL East and wild card races — was not to be confused with the sign of surrender that was hoisted four years earlier, when the Sox (trailing in the division by eight games, and 6 1/2 games back in the wild card) traded David Wells to the Padres for George Kottaras.

The difference, Epstein suggested, is that whereas Wells was a key member of the rotation at the time of being dealt, Delcarmen had become “a diminishing asset,” someone whom the Sox were no longer using in the highest-leverage relief situations. Once he had been supplanted by Felix Doubront on the bullpen depth chart, the Sox made the decision — following his having been claimed off waivers by the Rockies — that they were willing to part with the former first-rounder, who had spent his career in the organization for which he’d rooted while growing up in Hyde Park.

“[The Wells trade] was a bright line, an example where our hopes for contention that season had completely dissipated based on the injuries and the talent we had left on the roster, whereas I think this club is capable of winning games,” explained Epstein. “Let’€™s be honest: We need to get really hot in order to make this thing interesting. Really hot. Hotter than we’€™ve gotten at any point in the year. We haven’€™t done that yet. It doesn’€™t mean we can’€™t do that. I don’€™t think moving what had become for us a lower-leverage reliever is going to make the difference one way or the other in that.”

Delcarmen had entered the year as a pitcher whom the Sox anticipated using in key late-inning situations. Indeed, over the early stretches of the season, he was one of the team’s most effective pitchers. But he endured mechanical inconsistencies that manager Terry Francona said made it difficult to know whether he was going to be a dominant reliever or one who was unable to retire opponents.

That, in turn, led to different usage patterns for the right-hander, who was 3-2 with a 4.70 ERA this year, a mark that included a 9.00 ERA since June 3.

“Manny wasn’€™t necessarily pitching in the highest leverage situations any more. We had a couple guys who had passed him on the depth chart, most recently Doubront,” said Epstein. We ran Manny through waivers, which we do as a matter of routine with all our players. “The Rockies were motivated to acquire him. We ended up getting a prospect we liked. Manny gets a change of scenery. It’€™s not a reflection of any grander plan than that.

“We’€™re constantly looking for guys we can lean on in high leverage situations,” Epstein continued. “The way the season evolved, at this point in time, Manny wasn’€™t one of those guys, so we thought it worthwhile to get an asset that can really help is in the future for what was now becoming a diminishing asset for us.

“Manny has been a pleasure to have around, a hometown kid originally drafted by the Red Sox who’€™s helped us win a lot of games over the years. We certainly wish him well and will be watching him pitch in the National League now.”

As for the player whom the Sox picked up for Delcarmen, Chris Balcom-Miller, the Sox had been interested in him in the 2009 draft before the Rockies snagged him with a sixth-round pick. In the minors, he has produced a 2.72 ERA and an outrageous 177:29 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 165 2/3 innings. Epstein said that the 21-year-old, who will move from one South Atlantic League affiliate to another, features a fastball with sink, as well as a plus-changeup and a recently developed plus-slider that gives him the chance for three average to above-average pitches.

“We pick up a nice future asset, a guy we liked in the draft a lot lost year and probably should have taken. We let him sit on the board a little too long,” said Epstein. “He’€™s gone out and really performed. We had some recent look from some scouts. We like his stuff and we like his projectability. We get that asset. I don’€™t think it necessarily takes away from the chances of us doing what we need to do, which is getting extremely hot to get back in this thing.”

For now, the Sox continue to place their priority on winning, rather than evaluating prospects such as Yamaico Navarro or Jarrod Saltalamacchia for their future roles on the club. That could change, if the team feels that it no longer has a shot. But that moment has not yet arrived.

“The priority right now is trying to catch lightning in a bottle, trying to get as hot as we need to get to get back into this thing,” said Epstein. “You don’€™t give up while you still have that opportunity. It’€™s not all about the math. We’€™re seven games back and we have a month to play ‘€“ we can get extremely hot.

“But if we’€™re not able to accomplish that and we reach a point where we’€™re no longer playing for this year and we’€™re eliminated, then obviously you take a look at some pieces for the future.”

As for when the Sox might change their focus from winning to player evaluation, Epstein did not identify a bright line of a certain number of games or mathematical elimination. Instead, he cited former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to explain how the team will approach the rest of the year.

“It’s kind of like the Supreme Court said about pornography: ‘You’ll know it when you see it,’” Epstein said. “Right now, we’re not eliminated. We’re trying to get really hot.”

OTHER PREGAME NOTES

–Two of the pitchers whom the Sox were counting on in their bullpen this year — Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez — have now been traded away. A third, Hideki Okajima, has had his worst big league season. As a result, Francona acknowledged that it has been a challenging task to manage the bullpen.

“Inconsistency makes it hard, because you don’€™t know what you’€™re getting, and that can make it a little bit difficult,” said Francona. “But we’€™re not the only team ‘€“ when you’€™ve got your bullpen, and everybody’€™s clicking, that’€™s when the manager looks smart, because you’€™re bringing guys in and they’€™re getting everybody out. That inconsistency makes decisions hard. That’€™s why it’€™s been hard with Oki this year ‘€“ if you look at Oki’€™s history with teams, it’€™s unbelievable. You look at Tampa, there were a bunch of 2-for-15′€™s, 2-for-12′€™s. But then you look up this year, and he’€™s giving up runs.”

–The Red Sox have called up reliever Robert Manuel from Triple-A Pawtucket to take Delcarmen’s place on the roster.

–Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and oufielder Eric Patterson have joined the Sox in Baltimore, and they will both be activated on Wednesday, when rosters expand from 25 to 40 players. The Sox may also call up one other player on Sept. 1, Epstein said.

–The Sox GM did not anticipate any other deals before the midnight deadline for August waiver deals. He did say that the club had been working on a couple of deals that now appear unlikely to yield any additions.

“We were working on some things that would’ve maybe made a more significant impact, that could’ve helped contribute to a real hot stretch, the type of hot stretch that would be necessary to get us back into this thing,” said Epstein. “It’s frustrating that we weren’t able to accomplish those deals, but there are still, those are significant deals that don’t usually take place in August.”

Read More: chris balcom-miller, colorado rockies, david wells, felix doubront
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