BOSTON (CBS) — As we all know, the second half of the baseball season isn’t really a “half” at all. It’s more like 45 percent. The Red Sox have just 73 games remaining of their scheduled 162, beginning Friday night on the West Coast against the Los Angeles of Anaheim. And truth be told, with the trade deadline looming, the Red Sox essentially have two weeks to make up some ground in the American League playoff structure.
But here’s the thing: In the woebegone American League, two weeks might actually be enough.
As baseball resumes Friday night, do yourself a favor: take a good look at the overall standings in the AL. Outside of the five playoff teams – Kansas City, New York, Los Angeles, Minnesota and Houston – nobody is more than a game over .500. Nobody. And so while the Red Sox sit with the third worst-record in the league, they are just three games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for top spot among the also-rans.
And as for the playoff teams: If you think anyone other than the Royals are safe, you’ve been sniffing too much cowhide.
Look, we all know what the Red Sox are. In baseball, 60 games is a reasonably good sample, let alone 89. Nobody is suggesting this team is a World Series threat – and nobody ever really did. What you should have wanted from this Red Sox season was for the Sox to make a run, which they can still do. Beyond that, you needed some indication that they were again building something around a new nucleus of young players – this means Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Co. – and they are.
Ideally, you want the Sox to contend because they are deserving. In the end, at least settle for the reality that most everyone else is not.
Thursday, Sox president (in name only?) Larry Lucchino was interviewed on WEEI, the team’s radio rightsholder. He covered a number of topics. Lucchino spelled out a handful of options at the trade deadline, from adding to subtracting to simply doing nothing. At this stage, only adding seems to make little sense. Lucchino indicated – thankfully – that the Sox are not inclined to make a decision until the hours leading up to the July 31 deadline.
In the interim, here’s a look at all three possibilities and the advantages of each:
This only makes sense if the Sox are looking beyond 2015. No matter what happens in the next two weeks, these Sox are not worthy of a short-term investment that might increase their chances at the playoffs. This team simply isn’t worth it. The Red Sox might be able to pick up a cheap bullpen piece or reclamation project on the cheap, but there is hardly any point in giving up anything significant from the future.
The one exception? If the Sox can make a deal for a frontline pitcher under contract beyond 2016 – ideally, well beyond – they should consider, depending on the cost. Eduardo Rodriguez looks like a good young pitcher. But if this season has taught us anything, it’s that the ace-by-committee approach was as effective as the closer-by-committee experiment of 2003. When you ask guys like Clay Buchholz or Rick Porcello to take on more than they are capable of, they break down – physically, mentally or both. Having a horse at the front end of the staff makes the ponies better.
If the Sox don’t regard this as an appealing option, they should. Mike Napoli’s contract is up at the end of the year and the Sox are far too plodding with a lineup that includes Napoli, David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez at the same time. Ramirez and Ortiz together is bad enough. No matter what happens in the next two weeks, the Sox should get what they can for Napoli, even if it’s a bullpen piece that could help them next year and beyond.
With Dustin Pedroia coming back, Brock Holt can play first base in the interim and the Sox won’t merely be as good, they’ll be better.
Buchholz would have been a candidate for discussion here, but that went out the window when he suffered his annual midseason breakdown. Short of dealing away Bogaerts, Betts, Blake Swihart, Roriguez or maybe Brian Johnson, most everyone else on the big-league roster should be in play, save for maybe Junichi Tazawa. Sizable contracts make the trading of most players unlikely, but you get the idea.
In the end, there is no way Napoli, at least, should be here on Aug. 1.
Take a good look at the Red Sox’ history under this ownership and management group. Trading deadlines rarely come and go without the Sox doing something to tweak their roster. Sometimes they add. Sometimes they subtract. But the Sox rarely let the opportunity go by without making ad adjustment.
The one glaring exception: 2006, a “bridge year” before anyone called it that.
With this team, doing nothing is, incredibly, a very appealing option. If Napoli hits and they have a good two weeks, keeping him might actually enter their minds. (Again, it would be wrong, but understandable.) The Sox certainly don’t need the payroll relief by moving Napoli and if no one offers anything, well, they can always release him or trade him – he would almost certainly clear waivers – in August.
Should that be the case, the Sox will have resurrected a team motto that once defined their existence and has effectively defined this season.
Don’t just do something.