CRISP/RAMIREZ DEAL IS THE LYNCHPIN FOR NEXT DEAL

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CRISP/RAMIREZ DEAL IS THE LYNCHPIN FOR NEXT DEAL

In a perfect world, Theo Epstein would have preferred to see where Mark Texiera lands in the free agency process before trading Coco Crisp. But, knowing Scott Boras' tactics and game-plan, the final outcome may not be decided until after the new year.

That would leave the Sox little time to address other issues. And the 25-or-so other teams not involved in the Texiera bidding won't be waiting around to act; they'll be busy addressing their own needs. As a result, critical pieces will be coming off the table in short order. So, Epstein felt compelled to act.

The conventional wisdom says that the acquisition of Ramon Ramirez means that Justin Masterson is headed into the Red Sox rotation. The speculation is that Ramirez will fill the spot otherwise held by Masterson in the bullpen. But, there is another possibility.

The acquisition of Ramirez may well be a precursor to a trade with Texas for a catcher. In any such deal, the Sox will likely be compelled to trade a young pitcher, generally anticipated to be either Clay Buchholz or Michael Bowden.

But it shouldn't be the least bit surprising if Masterson is the pitcher involved in any such deal. In that event, the Ramirez/Crisp deal takes on a different significance. After showing that he can start or come out of the pen, and showing a steely confidence as a rookie in high pressure playoff situations, Masterson's value has skyrocketed. Lots of teams would like to have him on their roster right now.

It all comes down to which young pitcher the Sox value more -- Buchholz or Masterson -- and who they think has greater Major League potential and value -- as a starter. Some scouts have said that they don't think that Masterson's arm angle makes him an ideal starter; they believe he'll eventually begin to break down.

Bowden has just one Major League start, so he's a completely unproven commodity. It's hard to imagine Texas agreeing to take him over Buchholz, who's already thrown a no-hitter in the Bigs, or Masterson. Yet, scouts say Bowden, who is presently projecting as a solid third starter at the Major League level, has a "top of the rotation ceiling."

It's said that pitching wins championships, but right now quality catching is much harder to find. To land either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Taylor Teagarden, the Sox will have to part with a promising young pitcher. Thank goodness they've got three of them on hand.

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