Paths of Least Resistance

A team of 25 Pedro Ciriacos would currently be seven games ahead of New York in the AL East. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

There's an older fellow who comes into work on a pretty regular basis. Friendly enough gent, always good for a "how's things" or a "have any weekend plans?" In the couple of months since I mentioned to him that I write about baseball on the side, though, he's become much more engaging. He'll always want to chat about the previous night's game, or how Jon Lester looked last week, or which prospect's doing best lately.Yesterday was no different, with the Sox in New York and the trade deadline on the horizon. We talked about the late win, and the opening game loss, and what exactly it meant for this team.

The conversation turned to roster moves and trading options. "I think it's time to sell a few of those contracts," he said, adding in a swift verbal kick or three against the ownership for pushing Theo out. "Just don't know if this team's got it. What would you do?" I put on my best "I'm a blogger on a halfway decent blog, let me lay some serious analytical wisdom on you" voice.

"What would I do? Well, I'd... Well, I mean... It's tough, you know, because with that talent, I mean the guys they've got certainly could make a run, but... Sure, maybe see if someone would take a big contract. Or trade a spare reliever. Or... But I mean, with those guys, and the new wild card... Prospects look good, but then the best are at least a year off... I... Hoo. What would I do?" It went on like that for a good two minutes. Hemming, hawing, the occasional exasperated whistle or head-scratch. I fear I took a year off my fellow fan's life with my indecision, and he's got fewer to spare than I do.

Not a proud moment in baseball analysis, but I did learn something. Running a team is not something I would ever be able to do, nor, upon really thinking about it, is it something I'd even want to try.

Ever play any adventure or role-playing games where it becomes clear about thirty minutes in that there's going to be a fork in the road, some decision or series of decisions that locks you in to the path of good or evil? I hate that. Hate it with a fiery passion, can't stand it, and once I'm in a game like that, I do everything I possibly can to delay the moment of reckoning. I will skip simple low-level quests and die repeatedly rather than click the "Why yes, I think you're right, the king IS a tyrant" conversation option that commits you to the rebels. And once I am finally shamed by the game into choosing a side so that the final fun can begin, I do so only after saving so that I can play both plotlines.

Now it's July 30th, and for the Red Sox, there aren't any more side quests, there's just that big flashing decision marker. And we can talk about it like crazy here, and it's fun as all hell, but that's because for us, it's consequence-free. When we talk about whether Boston should buy, sell, or neither at the deadline, we're talking about what are literal million-dollar decisions.

Maybe they should buy. Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels are both off the market, but Josh Johnson might be available, and there's been some sniffing around Roy Halladay. Either of those would certainly be a big improvement to the rotation, and Boston's not that far from a wild-card spot. Just get in, and a rotation topped by Johnson or Halladay, with that offense and that bullpen, could take anyone. Sure, it'll cost some prospects, and they can kiss that luxury tax dodge goodbye, but flags fly forever, and Sox fans have grown accustomed to a certain standard of living pennant-wise. Then again...

Maybe they should sell. Would anyone really take Carl Crawford or Josh Beckett? Sure, Tony "I Always Loved Vernon Wells" Reagins is gone, but certainly someone would be willing to take a flier on Crawford. Beckett's as good or better as any other pitcher that's been rumored out there. Hey, can anyone else offer a year and a half of Jacoby Ellsbury? Boston's got players other teams should be interested in. Better to get rid of them, maybe even clear some payroll, then to watch this sad, underachieving wreck limp along to an 86-win finish. But still...

Maybe they should just stand pat. Honestly, most of the guys Boston might be willing to trade are guys unlikely to get traded. More importantly, given the giant contracts on a lot of them, a big prospect haul isn't too likely. And the team's finally gotten healthy, isn't it worth seeing what this roster can do when it's all together? There's always the offseason for big trades, if it comes to that.

It's enough to drive you nuts. Hell, just thinking it over for this post has me rocking back and forth in my chair, and I'm only writing about it. The idea of being the person actually deciding which path to take, having the responsibility for millions in contracts and revenue: it's terrifying. Ben Cherington and the rest of the Boston front office are going to make a decision about the fate of the 2012 (and 2013, and 2014...) Red Sox in the next thirty or so hours. It might be a good one, might be a bad one. Might be the difference between an unexpected playoff drive and a painful descent into rebuilding. Whatever happens, we'll all have an opinion, and I'll certainly be voicing mine. But I sure as hell won't mistake my ability to critique a decision for an ability to make one. It's much safer over here near the save point.

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