BOSTON (CBS) — Can it be done? Can the Red Sox “shock the world” and rally from either 9.5 games down in the AL East or eight games behind in the Wild Card race?
You know me: Mr. Half-glass full. So, sure. Why not?
Is it realistic? Of course not.
The 2014 season feels like the baseball gods simply decided to pay back the Sox for all the fun and fortune they enjoyed in 2013. There have been very few rallies, lots of difficult one-run losses, and some great pitching with no hitting.
The cold reality also is that this team isn’t the same. Ellsbury and Saltalamacchia are gone, with Victorino, Middlebrooks and Drew all missing for large chunks of the season. Pedroia, Napoli, Nava, and Gomes have all struggled. The team that led all of baseball in runs scored last year is 25th this season.
Aside from the pitching, it just hasn’t been there.
Ben Cherington and John Farrell have dug in and allowed the likes of Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, and now, Christian Vazquez time to develop. So far it’s been a lot of downs and not enough ups — at least not yet.
The Sox closed out the first half by winning four of their last five games. Now we go forward starting Friday night at Fenway against the Kansas City Royals. Fenway hasn’t been too kind to the 2014 Sox as they are three games under .500 at home; this after finishing 15 games above .500 last season.
So what do the Red Sox do now?
It’s easy to just ride the kids out and let them grow, right? Just give them AB’s and experience. Take a look and see what you have, something Bobby Valentine wouldn’t let Cherington and the baseball ops guys do in 2012.
But the rest is the hard part. How do you balance winning, or at least trying to win? That’s the tough task.
What do the Red Sox do with veterans like Lester, Lackey, Peavy, Buchhholz, Breslow, Miller, Uehara, Drew, Gomes, Napoli, and Ross? How many do you trade?
Let’s begin with Lester, which has become almost laughable. What started out as amicable – and seemingly on the same page – doesn’t appear to be that way any more. Lester, who uttered the words “hometown discount” in January, appears set to hit the free agent market. And when he does – he’s gone. A four-year, $70-million first offer shouldn’t have derailed negotiations and Lester should not have been stunned by it. However, I have to believe that he is disappointed that talks never picked up the rest of the way and that’s surprising, since the Sox ownership group has lavished gifts and money on David Ortiz for years.
Lester’s postseason numbers have been superb and he was probably MVP #2 in the World Series last year behind Ortiz. He is also right there with Dustin Pedroia in what you want to represent your franchise. Lester also can lead the way into the future, and you don’t have to give up anything beyond money to keep him here (see the Cole Hamels rumor).
The price for Lester goes up every day, but I still think it can get done for five-years and $125 million. Maybe. If not, do you pull the trigger and trade him? That sounds easy, but you better be sure that there’s zero chance you can sign him at season’s end.
Trade Koji? No thanks. I ride him as long as I can. He’s 39-for-44 in saves in a Red Sox uniform and seven-for-seven in the postseason. You can make him a qualifying offer and keep him here in 2015. No-brainer.
And that leads me to 2015.
Yes, I love the fact that we’re seeing the future thrust upon us. They all have a chance to be very good players. However, keep in mind that Boston is a tough place to play and win. Veterans are crucial to your success. Guys like Pedroia, Ortiz, Napoli, Lackey — we’ve seen how important they are to this franchise and not only winning, but winning World Series titles.
Look at Kansas City and many other markets. You can have many talented young players, but you also need experience; guys who know how to win, play the game correctly and can lead.
So, what I like about this team are the glimpses of great talent; Bogaerts when his swing is right, the defense of Jackie Bradley Jr., the command and presence of Christian Vazquez behind the plate and the athleticism of Mookie Betts.
So what do you do? Here’s my wish list:
— Keep Will Middlebrooks. I know he’s struggled with inconsistency and injuries, but he’s still only 25. Also, the Sox sorely need power in the future. You look around and see Ortiz and Napoli, and that’s it. I would have Middlebrooks taking ground balls at first base and third base every day from here on out too just to give the team more options.
— I don’t mind Stephen Drew at shortstop. I would part with him if a team comes calling, but his defense has been superb and underrated. The future? That belongs to Deven Marrero. It sounds like he’ll be ready in 2015, or at least ready to come up and be a part of things in Boston.
— Who should play third base — Bogaerts or Middlebrooks? I would like to eventually see the Sox settle on Bogaerts at third, but it may take time. Keep in mind, Garin Cecchini may become part of the mix at third as well.
— Christian Vazquez and David Ross are my catchers. Remember, catching is the only position on the diamond where eight players are watching you. Vazquez looks like he has a strong presence. Pitchers already like him and Ross can tutor him. Blake Swihart can season his game in Pawtucket over the next year and in two years you determine who is your No. 1 backstop – then trade either Vazquez or Swihart.
— Jackie Bradley Jr. stays in center field with the hope that his offense keeps improving.
— Mookie Betts can play one of the corners in the outfield or become a super utility guy, depending upon injuries.
— From what you see above, there’s going to be a need for a trade or two. Cherington has chips to go for a sorely needed power bat or more arms. It’s a nice surplus to have.
On the pitching front:
— Lester leads my way. You need an ace, and again, the Red Sox know what they have in Lester. Overpay him if you must, but keep him. St. Louis has Wainwright, Seattle has King Felix, L.A. has Kershaw. Granted, Lester doesn’t match up with the last two, but he fits here as the No. 1 starter, period.
— I would also keep Lackey. He shows no signs of slowing down and seems to love being with Lester. I’d rip up the one-year, $500-thousand remaining on his contract and give him a two-year deal.
–Clay Buchholz is here for at least one more year (with club options after that for two more years). You can figure this out as Clay’s health goes and how the young pitchers coming up perform.
–The four and five rotation spots are wide open. The hope is Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Henry Owens, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, all get a shot — or they become part of a trade package.
–The bullpen is fine for now. Keep Koji and go from there with the likes of Tazawa, Miller, Breslow and others. However, if teams come calling looking for the set-up guys, you let them go.
There are lots of moving parts and lots of key decisions to be made. We haven’t even discussed what free agents you may want to bring in this winter (especially if Lester goes). Not to mention there are trades to be made. What we are seeing is that there should be a ton of talent to weed through. The key will be which pieces stay and which go.
I don’t look at all this in a bad way. It’s what John Henry, Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino and Ben Cherington, along with all the baseball ops folks, have been hoping and waiting for. I think it’s fun and should be fascinating to watch shake out.
Try to enjoy it.
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