Left fielder Carl Crawford to the Miami Marlins for either shortstop Jose Reyes or third baseman Hanley Ramirez, with other pieces and significant cash involved.
The Boston Red Sox are contacting teams to gauge their trade interest in Crawford, according to major-league sources.
No trade appears close. Such a deal would be difficult to accomplish, given the size of Crawford’s contract and his lingering elbow problems. But the first lesson of the July 31 non-waiver deadline is that nothing is impossible.
The Red Sox, sources said, reached out to both the Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers, though another source said that no discussions took place with the Dodgers. The Marlins, historically open to any possibility, would at least consider the idea, sources said.
USA Today reported that the Red Sox are discussing a deal that would send Crawford and a prospect to the Marlins for Ramirez and closer Heath Bell, but a source said the concept had no traction.
The Red Sox say that the Crawford talks were initiated by Miami, and that they did not contact other clubs.
“There’s nothing going on with Carl,” Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said. “He’s our left fielder and we’re glad to have him back in our lineup.”
Yet, while there are conflicting accounts about the nature of the Crawford talks, a trade could make sense for the Red Sox — if not now, then this offseason, assuming that Crawford plays well enough in the second half to restore his value.
The Sox could try to move Crawford to a variety of clubs; his contract allows him to block trades to only two teams, and states that any club that acquires him cannot trade him to the New York Yankees.
Crawford, who turns 31 on Aug. 5, is in the second year of a seven-year, $142 million deal. A trade with the Marlins for Reyes would be an almost equal swap of contracts. A deal for Ramirez, who is signed only through 2014, would require greater financial gymnastics.
The Red Sox, though, currently face a surplus of outfielders — Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Cody Ross, Daniel Nava and Ryan Sweeney in the majors, Ryan Kalish and Scott Podsednik at Triple A, top prospect Jackie Bradley at Double A.
A trade of one or more outfielders is almost certain before the deadline, and it might only involve a lesser player such as Sweeney. A deal involving Crawford obviously would carry far greater implications, for both the present and future.
Crawford is owed $102.5 million after this season. Reyes, whom the Marlins signed as a free agent last December, is owed $96 million. Both he and Ramirez can be traded without restriction; the Marlins do not issue no-trade clauses.
So, how would it all work?
The following is speculation only:
The Sox could include top shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias in a deal for Reyes and perhaps receive a starting pitcher as well — right-hander Anibal Sanchez, a potential free agent and former Red Sox prospect, would make sense.
The Marlins, however, probably would prefer to trade Ramirez, whom they acquired with Sanchez in the seven-player Josh Beckett trade in November 2005.
Some club officials are frustrated with Ramirez, who is batting .249 with a .763 OPS while on a 25-homer, 85-RBI pace. But Cherington is a longtime admirer of Ramirez, sources said, and the Sox could return him to shortstop, his original position.
Short-term, the Marlins could take back shortstop Mike Aviles and play him at third, trade Carlos Lee to open first base for left fielder Logan Morrison and go with an outfield of Crawford, Emilio Bonifacio and Giancarlo Stanton, once Stanton returns from knee surgery.
The Red Sox would need to include a ton of cash to account for the differences in Crawford’s and Ramirez’s contracts; Ramirez is earning $15 million this season, $15.5 million next season and $16 million in ’14. If the Sox somehow could save money, all the better — they could redirect those funds toward a push to keep Ellsbury, who is a free agent after next season.
Of course, there is a catch to all this.
Any talks would be complicated by the possibility that Crawford could require Tommy John surgery to repair a sprained ulnar collateral nerve in his left elbow.
Cherington said recently that surgery “is not something we’re looking at right now. A lot of position players play through UCL injuries without issue.”
If Crawford had surgery, he would not miss as much a time as a starting pitcher — 12 to 18 months. Aviles made it back in eight months, undergoing the surgery on July 8, 2009, and returned to play the following spring.
Crawford could follow a similar timetable for a team that acquired him, getting an elbow-ligament transplant immediately with the goal of being fully recovered by next spring. Or, he could continue playing with the injury, as Albert Pujols has done since 2003, and hope to avoid surgery.
The upside is that Crawford could re-emerge as the player he was for Tampa Bay — and the player he has been the past two nights, going 4-for-7 with three stolen bases after missing the Red Sox’s first 89 games due to surgery on his left wrist, his elbow injury and a groin problem.
It’s the deadline. Nothing is impossible. Every player has a price.