It’s been a long year watching the Boston Red Sox this season and this afternoon’s 14-6 loss in Miami was a punctuation mark on a lost season. With the Patriots beginning preseason games tomorrow, the Red Sox are no longer the only game in town and for the third time in four years are in the unfamiliar positon of having to fight for space in their own city come late summer and fall.
The question now is where the Red Sox go from here. This was a crucial year in evaluating where the franchise was really at. You could dismiss the 2012 last-place finish as being all about Bobby Valentine. You could dismiss last season’s cellar-dwelling as a year where everything went wrong, sort of a payback for everything having gone right in the magical 2013 World Series title run.
It would have taken rose-colored glasses to write off both last-place finishes, but you could have pulled it off with a good lawyer. But after this season not even the greatest defense lawyer that John Grisham could create is capable of defending the Red Sox from the reality that they are truly a last-place team. As Bill Parcells would say, you are what your record says you are, and the record is indisputable.
So now it’s about picking up the pieces and going forward. What does Boston have to build on? Fortunately, there are some good building blocks…
Xander Bogaerts: The shortstop was a September call-up in 2013 and the Red Sox would not have won the World Series without his contributions. He went through a lot of growing pains last season, both in the field and at the plate, but he’s playing at a very high level this season.
Bogaerts is hitting .314 and using the entire field in a way he didn’t in 2014. He still needs more plate discipline and to take more walks, but he’s already a good player and has the chance to be a consistent All-Star shortstop.
Brock Holt: A consistent and disciplined contact hitter, with an on-base percentage of .352. He was the team’s token All-Star this season and deserved it. Holt can play every position in the infield, and is right now playing solid defense at second base in place of the injured Dustin Pedroia.
A move to the outfield could be in the cards for next year, or he could play first base, or maybe even third base if the team cuts ties with Pablo Sandoval, presuming someone would take the last four years of his big contract.
Mookie Betts: The centerfielder is an electric young talent, a top-of-the-order hitter who can clean out the inside fastball and hit it for power. He’s got good range defensively, good speed and is getting more and more consistent with just hitting for average and getting on base.
Betts’ .316 on-base percentage is only slightly above league norms and that will need to improve if he’s going to continue to be a table-setter. But the slugging percentage of .437, fueled by 26 doubles and 10 home runs, tell you he can be something special.
Eduardo Rodriguez: Normally I’d have put the rookie starting pitcher at the top of the list, but since he’s the one who got shelled this afternoon in South Beach, the timing wasn’t exactly right. He’s 6-5 with a 4.83 ERA, but the latter stat is misleading. Rodriguez is in a boom-or-bust phase of his career right now and when a meltdown happens—like today—it gets really ugly. But when lefty is on, he’s someone special.
Rodriguez is just a fun pitcher to watch, a smooth motion and nasty stuff. He’s had shutdown outings in Yankee Stadium, against the great Toronto lineup and on the ESPN Sunday Night stage against Detroit. Rodriguez has the stuff and he’s got the intangibles—the ability to perform in big settings and he bounces back from bad starts.
There are other promising young pieces. Henry Owens, another lefthanded starter, has a live arm and has looked good in the first two starts of his career. We’ll see what shakes out with Travis Shaw at first base, along with outfielders Jackie Bradley and Rusney Castillo.
The young kids will be added to a veteran core that includes the still-productive David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Clay Bucholz in the rotation and Koji Uehara in the bullpen.
It’s not a bad way to build. And at least the Red Sox go into the offseason with a clear understanding of where they are. Last winter they acted like a team that was just a tweak away from returning to October. Now they know there’s serious work to be done.
But at the very least, at the absolute minimum, the Sox have a young Core Four—Bogaerts, Holt, Betts and Rodriguez—to move forward with.