FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With less than three weeks to the April 1 regular-season opener, the Boston Red Sox have let it be known that a number of players could be available in a trade, according to a major league source.
The Red Sox would move pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who has a full no-trade clause, if they could add to their young catching inventory, the source said. Veteran Tim Wakefield is on the bubble, according to the source, and might be available for left-handed relief help. The Sox would also consider moving one of their two veteran right-handed hitting outfielders, Mike Cameron or Darnell McDonald, with interest in Cameron expected to increase as he plays more. Cameron was starting in left field here Saturday. With young outfielders Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick still having options, the team's thinking is it could afford to lose one of the veterans, with Cameron obviously having the most value in a trade.
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein on Saturday night vigorously dismissed the accuracy of the ESPNBoston.com report, calling it "false."
The source said the Red Sox would also listen to any offers on veteran shortstop Marco Scutaro, who at the moment is projected as Opening Day shortstop. The Red Sox have options in Jed Lowrie and top prospect Jose Iglesias, who could play defensively on the big league level right now. Scutaro's versatility -- he can also play second and third -- might make him attractive to teams in need of infield help.
Matsuzaka's future may depend on whether the club decides it has enough starting depth in the rotation. They have Wakefield, promising left-hander Felix Doubront, former Yankee Alfredo Aceves, who will start Monday night against the Yanks, and Michael Bowden, described by the source as a "grinder.'' Bowden pitched two scoreless innings Friday in Kissimmee, striking out two. Andrew Miller could also start the season as a starter in Pawtucket, though the bullpen appears a more likely destination.
Matsuzaka is 0-1 with a 11.42 ERA in three spring starts, so teams aren't exactly falling all over themselves in pursuit of the Japanese right-hander. He gave up five runs on five hits in 3 2/3 innings, and averaged just a touch over 89 miles an hour on his fastball, well below the velocity he showed when he first came to the Red Sox four years ago.
"His rhythm was all out of whack,'' the source said. "I don't know if it's because that's what the team wants, but I think he's become too much of a conventional pitcher. He's got to go back to pitching 'left-handed' again, dropping down at times, throwing from all kinds of angles, turning the ball over. He's not doing that as much.''
Matsuzaka is due to be paid $10 million in 2011. His salary, no-trade clause and performance all would make a trade difficult. The Red Sox almost surely would have to eat a significant portion of that contract. Matsuzaka became the first Japanese pitcher to win a World Series game in 2007 after going 15-12 in his debut season. He went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA as an encore in 2008.
But the past two seasons have been a downward spiral in which Matsuzaka has been out of shape, hurt, ineffective or all of the above, the wins coming with infrequency -- four in 2009, nine last season.
Aceves is becoming an intriguing candidate. The Yankees nontendered him because of back issues, but Aceves insisted that he knew his back was OK at the end of last season, and he could have pitched in the playoffs. Another big league source said the Yankees also thought that Aceves would need more time to recover from a bicycle accident in which he fractured his collarbone and had concerns that his shoulder also was hurt in the fall, but the Red Sox pounced when they determined he was healthy.
The Red Sox are leaning toward having Aceves open the season as a starter in Triple-A. If he continues to progress, he would offer the Red Sox a viable alternative to Matsuzaka.
Wakefield's future could well depend on whether the Red Sox keep one or two left-handers in the bullpen. Manager Terry Francona has always expressed a preference for two, but usually qualifies that by saying it's not essential if he has a righty who is effective in getting lefties out.
Hideki Okajima would appear to have one job, and Dennys Reyes, signed by the Sox after he failed his physical with the Phillies, has been unscored upon in three spring outings. Reyes is in El Guapo-like shape, but he has a proven track record (4.18 ERA in 669 appearances for 10 big-league teams). More importantly, as WEEI's Rob Bradford was the first to report, he has a March 26 opt-out clause in his contract. If the Red Sox don't keep him, someone will grab him.
The only Red Sox players in camp who are out of options are Matt Albers, Bobby Jenks, and Darnell McDonald. Albers, the former Oriole, signed a one-year big league deal for $875,000, and has given up just one run in four spring appearances, allowing five hits in 5 1/3 innings while striking out five. Albers would have to clear waivers in order for the Red Sox to send him to Pawtucket.
The Sox are expected to keep 12 pitchers: five starters and seven pitchers in the pen. Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Jenks, and Dan Wheeler are locks in the pen. Wakefield, who has said he would not play for another team, would appear to be in line for a fifth spot. Two lefties would mean no spot for Albers and Scott Atchison, who has options left but is well regarded by Francona. Rich Hill and Randy Williams are two veterans along with Reyes competing for a left-handed spot; Hill is throwing sidearm now, which has added a good deal of deception, but his command still needs some work, the source said.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPN Boston.