It has become painfully obvious in the last two weeks that the Red Sox are going nowhere in 2014. The club’s offense has scuffled all season long, and with summer no longer a novelty, these struggles have quickly grown from what appeared to be a passing fluke to cold, hard reality.
These are not the early days of May, or even June, and the 3.75 runs per game that Boston is averaging can no longer be chalked up to the consequences of small sample size.
This Red Sox team is flawed and going nowhere fast; they own baseball’s fifth-worst run differential and sit 10 games out of the second Wild Card spot with seven teams above them in the AL playoff standings. This isn’t what anyone wanted or expected, but that doesn’t mean Ben Cherington can’t start planning for 2015 and the future beyond that.
After 2013’s magical run, Red Sox fans and Cherington himself are well aware how quickly a turnaround can come, especially when a club still possesses a solid core and loads of young talent in the upper minors.
There is little incentive, then, for the Red Sox to hold onto the likes of Jake Peavy, A.J. Pierzynski, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes and (it pains me to say) Koji Uehara. Others like Felix Doubront, Burke Badenhop, and the rest of the bullpen shouldn’t be spared either if they can net anything in return, even if it’s just cash or a player to be named later.
It’s time to tear down the walls, and trust that something can be rectified from a core of Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, John Lackey, Clay Bucholz, and Mike Napoli. Those five, buttressed by youngsters already on the major league roster and down in Pawtucket, along with additions at the deadline and in the upcoming offseason give the Red Sox hope for next year.
The status of Jon Lester sticks out like a sore thumb, of course, and only the Red Sox front office knows how far they are willing to commit themselves to bringing Lester back. It’s a puzzling situation, especially when the organization and its fan base could use any type of good publicity and stability as the team continues to scuffle on the field.
Even more important, however, will be what Boston’s brass can learn about its young players in the season’s final couple months. Jackie Bradley Jr. is starting to look better at the plate, but how can the Red Sox be sure about what they have in their young center fielder without allowing him to play on a daily basis?
In the similar vein, if the Red Sox are truly committed to Xander Bogaerts at shortstop in the long-term, they need to let him get as many reps at shortstop—to make mistakes but improve in the process—as possible. Christian Vasquez should also be given the chance to get his feet wet in the majors as the calendar shifts towards August and September.
The same goes for Mookie Betts, who might as well play every day now that he is in the majors, and Boston’s plethora of young pitchers. The Red Sox need to know if Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa can be part of a future rotation, and a similar statement can be made for others down in Pawtucket such as Anthony Ranaudo and Allen Webster, who is beginning to show flashes of improved command along with his high-level stuff.
The Red Sox will also need to address what to do with the rest of their talent in the upper levels of the minors. It’s a good problem to have so many able youngsters, but the time has come for the organization to figure out just who is staying and who will be packaged off for players of need at the major league level.
I suspect we will get our answer this offseason, one way or another.
This situation can’t quite be compared to Boston’s crossroads in 2012, when the Red Sox packaged all those debilitating contracts to the Dodgers for prospects and cap relief. The Red Sox have hardly stuck their foot in any type of long-term commitment since then (as Lester’s situation repeatedly reminds us), and they don’t need any more prospects promising a brighter future a few years over the horizon.
What Boston needs is talent in the majors, a bat (or three in the outfield), and the type of depth that served them so well in 2013.
That will be Cherington’s challenge once again as the trade deadline approaches and the hot stove season arrives this winter. The Red Sox aren’t in a terrible spot; they aren’t the Diamondbacks, the Astros or the Phillies.
But they do need to figure out just who will be part of this Next Great Red Sox Team that Cherington envisioned back in 2012. Last season was a surprise—a wonderful, memorable, unforgettable surprise—but it didn’t provide the organization with any kind of stable path into the future.
It’s time the Red Sox find that solidity and build a squad that doesn’t just suddenly take the league by storm, but rather competes for division titles and pennants and that World Series trophy year after year.