The Oakland Athletics are on the verge of trading prized left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez, a baseball source told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney, and are expected to make a decision Thursday between offers from the Washington Nationals and another team.
That second team is apparently the Boston Red Sox.
Despite earlier reports suggesting that the Red Sox had decided the cost in talent would be too high, the 26-year-old Gonzalez remains the team's top target, multiple Sox sources told ESPNBoston.com on Thursday.
Is a deal to Boston imminent? It doesn't appear so, but at the same time, a Sox source said, that could change with a phone call. "There isn't anything front-burner there,'' the source said.
Gonzalez, who went 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA in 2011, is in his first year of arbitration eligibility and is expected to command a salary in the $4 million range for 2012. That makes Gonzalez a terrific bargain, in addition to the type of the arm that the Red Sox feel, according to a source, would give them one of the top rotations in the American League, top to bottom: Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Gonzalez and Daniel Bard, who is being converted from reliever.
One knock on Gonzalez is the difference in his performance on the road as compared to at home, where he pitches in the most pitcher-friendly park in baseball. He has a career 3.56 ERA at home and a 4.32 mark on the road. Last season, he had a 2.70 ERA in Oakland and a 3.62 mark elsewhere. He has a 5.63 ERA in three career starts at Fenway Park.
The Sox would expect they'd have to part with top third base prospect Will Middlebrooks in the deal, but with Xander Bogaerts in the pipeline -- he played short at Class A Greenville but could move to third -- they probably believe they can absorb Middlebrooks' loss. Middlebrooks, who is coming off a terrific season, is unlikely to have more value than he has now. He's currently rated by Baseball America as the top prospect in the Red Sox system.
The Red Sox also feel they have sufficient depth and talent in their system to compete with the other bidders for Gonzalez, though one player who is not going anywhere is catcher Ryan Lavarnway, even though the Sox signing Kelly Shoppach means Lavarnway will spend another season in Triple-A. The Red Sox see Lavarnway as a key piece in 2013, as a backup catcher and right-handed DH.
Fallback plans if the Sox fail to acquire Gonzalez? They are still engaged with the White Sox in talks for Gavin Floyd, who is signed for $7 million next season (Team option of $9.5 million in 2013), according to a team source. They also are in on Roy Oswalt, whose agent this week signaled his willingness to take a one-year deal.
The thinking at this stage is they will acquire at least two pitchers, perhaps more. While closer Ryan Madson would be an attractive fit, the price remains higher than what the Sox are willing to pay, and the team has only limited interest in the next best free-agent option, Francisco Cordero, according to the source. As has been reported, they have inquired on a number of trade options for a closer, including Oakland's Andrew Bailey, Seattle's Brandon League, and Kansas City's Joakim Soria.
But one option that is being discussed internally is looking at holdover Alfredo Aceves as a potential closer. For now, the plan is for Aceves to come to camp as a starter, but that could change depending upon the caliber of starter the Sox are able to acquire.
"We're actively engaged in trying to acquire pitching of all shapes and sizes,'' one source said. "We expect that to continue into January.''
At this stage, as one team source said, "anything that would cost a lot of money is a bad option." That would increase the chances of the Sox being outbid for outfielder Carlos Beltran. Whether they try to add a complementary outfielder like Cody Ross could depend on whether the Sox can induce David Ortiz to sign a two-year deal for a smaller average annual value than the $14-15 million they would have to pay him in arbitration.
The Red Sox have interest in Cuban defector Yeonis Cespedes, but may have even more in another Cuban outfielder, 19-year-old Jorge Soler, who also has a very high ceiling, the difference being Cespedes may be major-league ready and Soler will need several years.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.