BOSTON -- It's not all wishful thinking. The Boston Red Sox have talked about it in-house, too, which probably is no different than 28 other major league teams.
But after three major moves in the past 23 days -- the trade for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, the trade for outfielder Allen Craig and pitcher Joe Kelly, and the signing of Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo -- the Sox may be better-positioned than most to match up with the Miami Marlins should they elect to trade 24-year-old slugger Giancarlo Stanton this winter.
Or, should Boston choose, put together a package for White Sox left-hander Chris Sale. Or -- don't laugh -- perhaps both.
"We didn't get Rusney Castillo just so we could turn around and trade him," one club source said Friday.
The vision is for Castillo to be the team's center fielder or right fielder for the next five or six seasons beginning in 2015. Craig is signed through the 2017 season for a modest $25.5 million, plus a club option of $13.5 million in 2018. He also can play first base. Cespedes has an opt-out clause in his contract that makes him a free agent after the 2015 season; even though Castillo's $72.5 million ranks as the most money given to an international amateur, agent Adam Katz may have negotiated an even better deal for Cespedes: four years for $36 million, with the chance to become a free agent at age 30, when he is virtually certain to become a $20 million-a-year player. Or maybe you missed his home run over the light tower Friday.
Cespedes has made a favorable impression on the Sox in every way possible to date, and they could well decide to make every effort to sign him to a long-term extension before he hits free agency.
But just as the Sox positioned themselves to upgrade their team after the 2012 season by unloading the contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett and entering the winter flush with cash, general manager Ben Cherington will soon enter this offseason empowered unlike any Red Sox GM in memory to use his current roster to acquire a superstar of Stanton's pedigree.
Imagine this scenario with Miami GM Dan Jennings: He has just been informed by Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria that as usual, Loria is not going to come up with the cash to keep Stanton, just as he failed to do so for Miguel Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez before him. Get the best deal you can, Loria instructs Jennings, and soon the word goes out that the Marlins will entertain offers for their gifted slugger.
Jennings and Cherington talked plenty this summer: Before the Sox traded Jon Lester to Oakland for Cespedes, a source said, the Sox were seriously considering dealing Lester to the Marlins for two top prospects. Jennings now calls Cherington, who proposes the following package:
1. Switch-hitting catcher Blake Swihart, an offensive force and much-improved defensively.
4. One year of Cespedes, playing in front of the biggest Cuban-American audience in the country, a power bat who keeps you in contention in 2015 and may incline Marlins fans to be a bit more forgiving about losing Stanton. Or, if you want a proven bat who is cheaper and signed for longer, you can have Craig.
All for Stanton, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound specimen who already has hit 149 home runs before his 25th birthday and has five more weeks to add to that total, and is flirting with the first 40-home run and first .300 season of his career.
Think the Sox would be giving up too much? Swihart has a very high ceiling, but in Christian Vazquez, the Sox may have the next Yadier Molina, capable of locking down an opponent's running game in a fashion not seen in Boston since, who, Carlton Fisk? Vazquez has been timed in the 1.7s with his throws to second base, an unheard-of number, and his impact goes beyond just throwing out baserunners attempting to steal. Opposition players have to take smaller secondary leads, knowing that they could be picked off at any time by Vazquez, which limits the number of times a runner can go first to third or second to home on a base hit.
Owens is a terrific prospect, and because he is left-handed maybe the pitcher the Sox would least like to trade, but they have built up a strong inventory of young pitching, and if the return is Stanton, you swallow hard and let him go.
Bradley is the best defensive center fielder the Sox have had since at least Fred Lynn, and surrounded by enough firepower, maybe his glove alone makes him worth keeping, if he can become even a mediocre big league hitter, instead of abysmal. Betts looks as though he can hit, and while he is showing an aptitude for playing the outfield, he can always slide back to his natural position of second. Dealer's choice.
And while it may be hard to part with Cespedes, there is no guarantee you can keep him past next season, and Stanton has even more power.
And Cherington has other pieces he could substitute into a Stanton package. Want a third baseman? Will Middlebrooks or Garin Cecchini. Shortstop? Deven Marrero, the defensive whiz. Utilityman who can hit? Brock Holt. Would he draw the line at Xander Bogaerts? Cherington would try to make the deal without including Bogaerts, but in the end, he would decide no one is untouchable.
It all sounds like it comes straight out of a fantasy player's imagination, but it's real. And if the Marlins elect to hold on to Stanton for at least another year? The Sox still have a strong outfield, and Cherington can use those pieces in other big deals. Pitching staff needs upgrading? They'll make an offer for Jon Lester, but they are prepared to be blown out of the water by another club. What do they do instead? How about signing James Shields as a free agent and use Swihart as the centerpiece in a trade to acquire Cole Hamels from the Phillies? Or, better yet, strike a deal with the White Sox for 25-year-old left-hander Sale, who is signed for a modest $32.5 million through 2017, with club options for 2018 and '19. A major league source indicated that the White Sox have so many needs -- catcher at the top of the list -- that they would consider moving Sale.
Worst to first to worst is no one's idea of a blueprint. But it should be obvious that the Red Sox won't be staying down for long.