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Conspiracy Theory

By Andrew C. Thomas

OPINION EDITOR

There haven’t been this many conspiracy theories surrounding a team named Sox since 1919.

Last week’s Major League Baseball trade deadline was largely a Yankees-Red Sox affair. The San Francisco Giants certainly didn’t come away losers in their short-term acquisition of Sidney Ponson, but many of the deals that came near last Thursday’s 4 p.m. deadline featured the Bronx Bombers or the Fenway faithful. Embroiled in a tight race for the American League East division, there are few doubts that the two teams are far more concerned with beating each other than any other potential competition.

Despite their deficit of World Series championships, the Sox have been gaining ground in this race. And it’s clear at the highest level. George Steinbrenner issued a public statement after the Sox took two of three from their latest jaunt to Yankee Stadium: “They haven’t won anything yet.” But the recent trading activity between the Red Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates has made many in baseball suspicious, especially conspiracy theorists in the New York area.

Let’s do the math.

The first deal: Sox get lefty specialist Scott Sauerbeck and minor-league lefty Mike Gonzalez, and give up ex-closer Brandon Lyon and AA righty Anastacio Martinez. So far so good, until the Pirates cry foul. Lyon was injured, unbeknownst to the Sox. The two GMs, Theo Epstein and Dave Littlefield, are both men of honor, and they agreed to find an amicable solution.

That happened on Thursday, when just before the deadline Epstein dropped another bombshell and acquired highly valued starter Jeff Suppan. In the process, the Sox reacquired Lyon and Martinez. They gave up infielder Freddy Sanchez and pitcher Gonzalez, along with “cash considerations.”

(Aside: Boston fans had a soft spot for Freddy; he won the hearts of many during his short stint. In June he fell one short of the single game record with 10 assists by a third baseman. Yes, he went 0 for 5 in the game, and yes, it was sinkerballer Derek Lowe on the mound, but still, the boy can play. I fear it’ll be too long before the calls of "Freddy, Freddy" are heard again at Fenway.)

Back to the math: Add the trades up. In the end, Littlefield did Theo an incredible favor; Sauerbeck and Suppan are Sox, and Sanchez, a highly touted prospect not even on the 25-man roster, was the only apparent sacrifice. Which begs the question: Exactly what kind of "cash considerations" are we talking about here?

Now, according to league rules, it can’t be more than $1 million at this point in the season. Seeing as we’re trying to compare batters to pitchers, and seeing as the Pirates are poor, let’s think in money terms. Sauerbeck makes $1.6 million this season, Suppan $500 grand. Suppose the Sox forked over the max, and consider Freddy’s minor league status. This may have salary dump written all over it, but even so, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that the Pirates could have insisted on at least one more minor leaguer to help in the rebuilding process.

And so the conspiracy emerges. The Yankees, also known for their bullpen woes, wanted Sauerbeck, offering pitching prospect Brandon Claussen. The Pirates said Sauerbeck was “unavailable,” and days later, he’s unpacking his bags at Fenway.

Desperate to shore up the team at the big league level, the Yanks packaged Claussen into the Aaron Boone deal, sacrificing the top pancake on an already short stack of reserve pitching talent. All to try and stave off the charging Sox.

After all, it’s that kind of paranoid fear that often cradles conspiracy theories.