Theo Epstein, general manager of the Boston Red Sox, answers questions about Carl Crawford during a press conference on December 11, 2010 at the Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.

With the MLB July 31 non-waiver trade deadline fast approaching you have to wonder what Red Sox Vice President and General Manager Theo Epstein and his staff are working on.

Early in the season everyone felt the pitching and hitting were good it was the catching that was going to kill this team. Catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek got off to horrible starts both at the dish and defensively slowly over time the duo began to break out of it. Manager Terry Francona has found a good balance for the two backstops and they both simultaneously turned around their slow starts.

Mind you they are not hitting .300 with great power numbers but with the lineup Francona puts on the diamond each and everyday you can afford to have the backstops hitting in the .250 range.  Now that they appear settled behind the plate, Colorado seems willing to trade Connecticut-native Chris Iannetta.  While down in Pawtucket Ryan Lavarnway has exploded since his promotion to Triple A and looks to be making the leap that may find him paired with Saltalamacchia in the not so distant future.

So with catching not a priority as we thought it might be where does Epstein look to improve the club?  Let’s start with right field.  Current starter J.D. Drew is having an abysmal season.  The former two-time first round draft pick is hitting just .228 with 4 HR and 18 RBI in 74 games.  His numbers have consistently started to drop off since he signed with Boston prior to the 2007 World Championship season.  In fact at times he looks totally disinterested in playing, much more than he does on a regular day. Since he came to Boston he has never hit higher than .280 topped out at 24 HR’s in one season and has never driven in more than 68 runs.  But here’s where the sabermetricians goo all over themselves, he’s had a season OBP of .408 and another of .392 while his slugging percentage those years were .519 and .522 in 2008 and 2009.  This year his OBP is .326 and his slugging percentage is a lowly .317.

So who is available in right field? 

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Well they could go with prospect Josh Reddick who has played very well since his Triple A recall and use journeyman outfielder Darnell McDonald as the right-handed option.  But it makes more since to go get a bat.  Some of the outfielders rumored to be potential trade candidates include Los Angeles Dodgers Andre Ethier, New York Mets Carlos Beltran, San Diego’s Ryan Ludwick and the Chicago Cubs Jeff Baker.

From what I’ve heard Chicago doesn’t want to deal Baker, while Ethier and Beltran are going to cost you some and both are impending free agents at the end of the season.  That leaves Ludwick, who happens to play for the Red Sox West.  He would also be a short-term solution as he is on a one-year contract for $6.78M that in Boston is pocket change.  He wouldn’t cost you a boatload of prospects to get either as you could probably pry him away from the Friars for McDonald and a decent minor leaguer and/or some cash.  Epstein and his counterpart Jed Hoyer could do this over a day of surfing and Jamba Juice at Coronado.

Ludwick would be a good fit, good clubhouse guy, former Tony LaRussa player which means his head is on straight and a right handed bat who is hitting .238 with 11 HR 56 RBI .306 OBP and .376 SLG in a pure pitchers park, PETCO Field.  You could expect those numbers to increase some playing in hitter friendly Fenway Park.  In fact in 2008 with St. Louis the 33-year old had career highs of .299 with 37 HRs and 113 RBI a .375 OBP and SLG of .591.

So with the outfield hole potentially fixed you always need to look at pitching.  In going through some stuff for this article I didn’t really find anything in the way of bullpen help that mentioned the Red Sox in the last week to ten days.  I’d imagine Epstein would look at shoring up the pen a bit, as Bobby Jenks is back on the DL, Dan Wheeler has been awful and Alfredo Aceves may melt on the mound one day down the stretch.  And by melt I mean like ice you ever seen that dude sweat?  While the lefty reliever spot has been unsettled all year as we’ve seen Dennys Reyes, Hideki Okajima, Randy Williams and Franklin Morales fill that role at some point this year.  But as we all know lefty pitchers, especially situational relievers, are in short supply if you want a good one.  There are always several situational guys available at the deadline, expect the Sox to take a long hard look at a few of them.

I’ve seen some rumblings of the Sox, amongst a lot of teams, looking at Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez, who we all recall had an electric 2010 but has fallen off the map in 2011.  Jimenez is signed though 2012 with club options through 2014.  He isn’t that expensive contract wise but his deal says if he is traded the options for 2013 and 2014 become player options.  Plus Colorado is rumored to want the World and more for him.  According to reports they told the New York Yankees they wanted their top four prospects for him.  No one will give the Rockies that much for a pitcher you need to straighten out during the intensity of the pennant chase.

Also reportedly Epstein has kicked the tires on the Dodgers Hiroki Kuroda.  Kuroda is older, 36, a starter who has a full no-trade clause and has been known to say he will not waive it for an East Coast club.  He is a steady even performer and his numbers are always similar year in, year out.  He is currently on a one year $11.77 M deal with Los Angeles who let’s face it is looking to dump some payroll.

Whatever happens in the next two weeks will be done in the interest of making the team better and getting to playoffs with a chance to win it all.  I trust Epstein will make a move or two, how big they are will depend on the circumstances.  Keep this in mind though; the Red Sox will have a numbers crunch with the 40-man roster come this winter.  They will have too many players that, due to service time, are required to be placed on the 40-man roster.  With that said they do have some major room to make a big deal and add an impact player either prior to this season’s deadline or during the off season.

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