Should the Boston Red Sox throw in the towel, tank the rest of the 2014 season and try and get prospects for their veteran players? That was a question this Red Sox fan received via text message this week from a friend.
SIGN UP FOR THE FREE NEWSLETTER OF THESPORTSNOTEBOOK
ANALYSIS & HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE FROM AROUND THE SPORTS WORLD
It’s not an unreasonable question. Even in a world where one-third of the teams of the major leagues qualify for the postseason, the Red Sox are still 40-51, in last place in the American League East, and nine games off the pace for both the division title and a wild-card spot.
The offense is anemic and there are seven teams between them and the final playoff berth. That’s a tough climb and not a lot of time with which to do it.
Moreover, the Red Sox are a veteran team that is already working young players into the lineup. Young talent like outfielder Mookie Betts and starting pitcher Rubby de la Rosa are getting more opportunities. That’s added to a group that started the season with 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. as regulars and has seen early callup Brock Holt become arguably the team’s best player in the first half of the season.
In that light, the decision to release veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski and call up Christian Vazquez to get work in behind the plate seems to fit with a bigger commitment to youth. But that was a fairly easy call—Pierzynski was monumentally unproductive and there was no reason to expect anything different. With the veterans remaining, it’s not such an easy call.
The veterans a contender would likely have interest in, and the Red Sox might be willing to deal (meaning David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia are obviously off the table) would be the following…
- Shane Victorino
- Mike Napoli
- John Lackey
- Jonny Gomes
- David Ross
I don’t think Gomes and Ross really fit the parameters of this discussion that were outlined at the top. They could certainly be traded, but they aren’t going to net any significant return. If you’re contending, each is a player you like to have, but on the flip side, trading them doesn’t exactly qualify as unconditional surrender.
That leaves the trio of Victorino, Napoli and Lackey that would be the focal point of my friend’s query. My gut level response is that no, I am not ready to write off the season.
No, this is not a diehard belief that a playoff run is inevitable if only we give it a little more time. I haven’t viewed this edition of the Boston Red Sox as likely to make the postseason all year and obviously nothing has happened to change that. But that doesn’t mean that doing so is impossible—coming from nine back and jumping over several teams would be impressive, but hardly unprecedented.
Furthermore, there are things to play for besides reaching the postseason. I’d like to see this team rally and get back above .500. If they did that, there would at least be an outside chance of making the playoffs. I don’t live in a world where there’s no difference between an 84-78 non-playoff team and a 100-loss train wreck. I’m a subscriber to the MLB Extra Innings package and watch virtually all Red Sox games, and I don’t want to see a full two-plus months poured down the drain.
Now this doesn’t mean I’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. Look, if a desperate contender wows the Red Sox with a really great package of prospects, then yes, go ahead and make the trade. In 2012, I didn’t want to write off the last two months, but when the Los Angeles Dodgers called and offered to take every bad contract off the Boston books, it was, to borrow a famous movie phrase, an offer I couldn’t refuse.
But does anyone really see a contender with a good farm system deciding they simply had to have any of Victorino (who’s been hurt all year with a hamstring problem), Napoli or Lackey so badly that they’d part with a Grade A prospect and maybe a Grade B on top of it? I don’t see it.
If the Red Sox get inquiries, due diligence requires they take the call. But there’s a big distinction between listening to offers and hanging a sign that says “Fire Sale” on the front lawn.
I’m not sure where we got this notion that the minute a team deems themselves out of contention, they have to dump every veteran player they have. It’s not like this is the World Cup, where the next one doesn’t happen for another four years. We will actually start over again next April and all of those players mentioned can help.
A bigger question would be this—Jon Lester is coming up on free agency this winter and there’s no sign he’ll ink a contract extension during the season. If Boston can’t sign him, do they deal Lester now? That would be a deal that would net a significant package of prospects and it most certainly would result in this season going down the tubes. But there are no trade rumors in the wind, and the Lester issue is a dynamic unto itself, separate from the general “Should we deal off the veterans” question that I was posed at the top.
Unless the Red Sox get an unlikely knock-your-socks-off offer, they should hang on to their veterans—Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and John Lackey—and salvage as much as they can from the 2014 season.