If Cleveland's willing to trade Martinez, Boston's a likely suitor

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Indians higher-ups say they aren't likely to trade hitting star Victor Martinez. Not only is Martinez one of the better hitters in baseball, with 14 home runs, 57 RBIs and .313 batting average, but the Indians hold a bargain 2010 club option on Martinez for $7 million.

A trade for Martinez still has to be considered something of a long shot. Yet, within the past day or two the Indians dispatched a scout to check out the progress of Boston's best prospects, according to a league source. The Indians, a realistic early seller, may only be covering their bases. But of course, it could develop into something more, as Boston's interest in Martinez is well known.

Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell's recurrence of hip trouble has at least temporarily opened first base for Boston (since Kevin Youkilis has switched over to third base). The Red Sox have been seeking offensive aid for months with their protracted winter pursuit of Mark Teixeira and a much shorter try for Hanley Ramirez. Boston is also one of a couple teams that could match up nicely with Cleveland in a Martinez trade, what with three very hot young pitchers -- Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson and Michael Bowden -- who just happen to be exactly the sort Cleveland craves.

But while Indians people are realistic about their plight this year -- when just about everything that could go wrong already has -- they also say there is no reason to hinder their chances next year. Loosely translated, that means it would take quite a haul to pry either Martinez or star left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee away from Cleveland. (Lee's 2010 option for $9 million is an oft-cited reason to keep him.)

Beyond the Indians' well-known love of Martinez, a clubhouse leader, the Red Sox are said to be very reticent about trading their fine young pitchers, who are serving as insurance this year while also forming the foundation of a promising future. One competing executive said the Red Sox might favor taking on a big-salaried hitter rather than surrendering any of their impressive youth for a bargain star. Boston is a rare team with money to burn.

But if Martinez goes anywhere, Boston still looks like the most logical landing spot, two AL executives said. The Red Sox have renewed concerns about Lowell, who recently had to go on the disabled list with hip pain following his winter surgery. With Youkilis' versatility, Boston could look at either third base or first if Lowell doesn't return. Nick Johnson, a high on-base player Boston probably likes, would be an easier get (though so far Red Sox people don't like the asking price).

In the meantime, there is time to consider a Martinez blockbuster.

While Indians GM Mark Shapiro is said to love Martinez (CC Sabathia, last summer's big trade acquisition, said he doubts Shapiro would deal him), the Indians are fairly strong in the catching department, with solid Kelly Shoppach in the fold, and one of baseball's best all-around prospects, Carlos Santana -- though Santana's ETA is still realistically believed to be 2011, not 2010. If Shapiro is open to deal Martinez, Boston's probably the place. Besides all its fine young pitchers, Boston has a first base replacement ready in top power prospect Lars Anderson.

Not too many other teams could satisfy the Indians' request for Martinez, but another team with a bevy of top young pitching prospects and a need for immediate offense is the Giants. Giants scout Paul Turco was recently seen at an Indians game, fueling speculation they could become another potential suitor for Martinez.

Boston's the best fit, though -- if it's willing to give up a top pitching prospect or two. All the elements are there for a potential trade.

Well, perhaps everything but the Indians' heart.

Before the Pirates and Nationals agreed upon a four-player trade that swapped outfielders Nyjer Morgan and Lasting Milledge, Pittsburgh asked Washington to include promising young pitcher Craig Stammen with Milledge. When the Nats said no, Pittsburgh requested another good pitching prospect, Garrett Mock. The Nats held firm, eventually getting Pittsburgh to agree to the deal once they agreed to swap Joel Hanrahan (a talented but struggling hurler) for Sean Burnett.

So interim GM Mike Rizzo probably impressed his bosses with his dealing here. He held out for the right deal.

And though Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson ripped the trade from Pittsburgh's perspective, it actually made sense for both sides. The Nats, who possessed a bunch of defensively deficient corner outfielders, badly needed a center fielder who could catch. The Pirates saw Milledge as a player with more talent in need of new scenery.

The issue with Milledge, as it's been for a few years, is the character question. The Nats didn't necessarily see him as a bad person, just an immature guy who didn't understand his place. They appear to be purging themselves of some favorites of former GM Jim Bowden, who disregarded character in his quest for talent.

Pirates GM Neal Huntington acknowledged doing due diligence on Milledge but said they found nothing overly concerning. Milledge's issues have been far less worrisome than those of another Nationals outfielder, Elijah Dukes, whose temper problem is well-documented. However, Huntington conceded it was a gamble taking a player who had worn out his welcome in two prior stops. "It could blow up in our face,'' Huntington acknowledged. Although, Huntington stressed he felt Milledge is still worth the risk.

• Phillies people had internal discussions about Pedro Martinez, the Cooperstown-bound free agent, after investigating several possible trade options. The Phillies have enough decent prospects (pitchers Kyle Drabek and Carlos Carrasco, infielder Jason Donald, catcher Lou Marson and outfielder Dominic Brown are among the better ones) to make a deal for the pitcher they seek. But there just aren't too many good ones that fit Philly out on the market. For instance, there are concerns about whether Erik Bedard is a fit for Philly.

• The Indians wanted either Brad Holt or Bobby Parnell plus another piece from the Mets for Mark DeRosa before settling on hard-throwing Cardinals reliever Chris Perez. The Mets didn't appear to have been tempted in the least. While DeRosa would have helped, his best position is the one where the Mets are currently strongest, third base.

• Arizona left-hander Doug Davis is enhancing his trade value with a 0.86 ERA over his last three starts, though he hasn't won any of them (stat courtesy of Ed Price of AOL FanHouse). I still like the Brewers to re-acquire Davis, who is 3-8 with a 3.28 ERA overall.

• As to whether Diamondbacks star Dan Haren might go anywhere (FoxSports.com reported that the Angels called), one D-backs person said to me, succinctly, "Haren stays.''

• As about 50 e-mailers pointed out, Russell Branyan should have been on my list of best free-agent signings. For $1.4 million, he's been a true bargain. He also became the first to hit the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar in center field at new Yankee Stadium, doing so with is 20th home run in Seattle's 8-4 victory Thursday night.

• I am naming the Yankees as the early favorite for Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban pitching prodigy who defected. Chapman is said to be the best left-handed pitching prospect in the world. He is reputedly 21, but Jack Curry in the New York Times reminded us that it was reported during the WBC that he may be 26.

• Mannywood welcomes Manny back to the Dodgers, even if the return begins in San Diego tonight. The Dodgers, 21-8 when Manny was suspended for PED use, went 29-21 in his absence. They actually increased their NL West lead to 7 1/2 without the Man-child.

• Ian Kinsler (19 HRs, 51 RBIs, .263 average) deserves to make the AL team over his old Arizona State teammate Dustin Pedroia (2, 35, .291)..

• I'll take Kevin Youkilis over Mark Teixeira. When it's that close, I favor the guy in first place.

• The tweeting continues at http://twitter.com/SI_JonHeyman.