Lately, the question bouncing around Boston is whether the Red Sox should pack in the season and rebuild, or if they should go for it once more and try to make the playoffs. Given how the Sox have struggled to reach and stay over .500 and paired with the seeming lack of interest in the club perhaps stained by last year’s events, most people are ready to start over and bring up the younger players. Peter Abraham explored this topic the other day at Extra Bases and seems to lean toward blowing up the roster, but I don’t see any reason why that’s necessary.
Except the Red Sox aren’t in a position to rebuild because there is simply no need to rebuild. In fact, Boston is in a fairly enviable position of being able to retool the team while staying in contention, which is always a requirement of big-market teams with demanding fan bases. The Sox already did it once, transitioning from the aging, expensive World Champion 2004 team to one infused with new blood. And now, it’s time to do it again.
The fact is, the Red Sox have been fairly impressive in their ability to hang around .500 despite all their injuries and the uninspired play of several people (cough, cough, Adrian Gonzalez, I’m looking at you). There will be several key contributors to the club that will start rejoining the team over the coming weeks leading up to the trade deadline. With a sudden infusion of talent, it’s not outlandish to expect the Red Sox to play at a 90-win pace the rest of the way (currently, playing at an 80-82 win pace), which would give the Red Sox a chance at landing around 85-90 total victories at the end of the season. While not a win total that many would have expected prior to the year, it’s absolutely good enough to place the Sox in contention for a wild card spot. Given that other teams in the AL East have had their own troubles, the division remains wide open and could turn on a dime with just one more ill-timed injury to a crucial player on any of the other four East teams.
The fact is, the Red Sox have been able to hang on and remain a .500 squad with an alarming amount of expected contributors sidelined. And now, due to these injuries and the surprising play of those who have stepped up, the club has a solid amount of depth to draw from. The team also has a minor-league system that is slowly but surely getting prospects in place to restock the majors in the next couple of years, which allows the team to add reinforcements on the fly and keep the club competitive moving forward. Players like Ryan Kalish, Ryan Lavarnway, Matt Barnes and Bryce Brentz, to name a few, will add reinforcements to the club over the next two years, with Will Middlebrooks putting the Sox in a fantastic position by allowing them to trade Kevin Youkilis for a piece that better fits the club that will take shape over the next few years.
The Red Sox are staying competitive currently, struggling to stay at .500 long enough for reinforcements to send the team to a better quality of play. If Boston can stay at .500 up until the trade deadline and gain the services of Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Andrew Bailey and Cody Ross, it’s hard to imagine the caliber of play not improving significantly in the second half, especially if Youkilis could be parlayed into a player that can help the team both this season and in the next couple of seasons. (Random idea: Ryan Dempster to the Sox, Youkilis to a club to be named, with that club sending prospects to the Cubs.) With minor-league reinforcements on the way and a burgeoning core of players locked up in their primes (Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Dustin Pedroia, etc.), the Sox won’t have to rely as heavily on the free-agent market in the coming off seasons to make adjustments that will be needed to keep the team competitive.
Why would one blow up a team that can still make the postseason this year? Abraham says “Getting to the playoffs and losing in the wild-card game would not be an accomplishment for this franchise,” but I beg to differ. Making the playoffs is always a good thing, and it’s ludicrous to write off the Sox as losing in the wild-card game when the Cardinals have proved over the last five years that anything can happen in October. Making the playoffs would also do wonders not only for the fans’ psyche, but for the team’s as well — imagine fighting and clawing your way through injuries and an inability to get over the .500 hump through June, only to make the playoffs at the end. That’s an accomplishment. Plus, why would you willingly blow up a team when the club, moving forward, is still capable of making the playoffs in 2013 and onward, tapping into its current major-leaguers and drawing from a stable of a farm that’s finally ready to graduate some top prospects to either the majors or the upper levels of the minors?
Let’s flip the script a moment. Even if the Red Sox are a .500 club the rest of the way, why is this necessarily a bad thing? Does it still demand that the team blow itself up and start all over? Why would Boston be interested in trading an elite second baseman in Pedroia and a weak No. 1/strong No. 2 starter in Lester for Felix Hernandez, as Abraham suggests? The upgrade from Lester to Hernandez is not even close to justifying blowing up the team just for the sake of blowing up the team. The fact is, this team doesn’t need to be blown up. This is a team capable of contending which is also entering a transition phase, with Felix Doubront and Middlebrooks the opening salvo.