July 31 is one of baseball's most bizarre holidays. Marked by some portion of the teams celebrating their superiority by stocking up for the stretch run while most of the rest admit their defeat, all the whole knowing that as those victorious clubs race ahead with shiny new aces and sluggers that they've left behind the prospects that could unseat them in a few years time.
Or at least that's what it often is. This year most of the really interesting trades were completed before July 31, leaving deadline day a rather tame affair. And, for a Sox team that had spent a week linked to pricey rentals such and pricier purchases, that was just right.
We've been over, ad nauseam, the wisdom of investing heavily in a team that was 52-51 when the clock struck 4:00. With rentals like Maholm, Sanchez, and Greinke all costing their new teams premium prospects making appearances on many top-50 lists, the fear that the Red Sox would go out of their way to "make a splash" was prevalent, to say the least. With the farm system finally making its way back into the upper echelons with the advent of players like Xander Bogaerts, Matt Barnes, and Jackie Bradley, the Sox had the chips to make a move they could regret for a long time to come.
So, when all was said and done, the fact that the Red Sox roster was just about the same as it was when the day began was excellent news.
While Ben Cherington says he was not satisfied with the outcome of the day, his explanation (via Alex Speier) paint a very encouraging picture:
"I was hoping to do more and do other things to help the team, but in the end, we'd prefer to not do things rather than make decisions that end up hurting us in the long run,
There has been a feeling both around these parts and elsewhere that the Red Sox were more interested in preserving a constant illusion of contention even if it meant actually hurting the team's long-term prospects to win a World Series. This statement suggests a step away from that.
Of course, this could be a bit of PR in itself--a bone thrown to the more invested fans who are often ignored given how unlikely they are to jump ship, but have been the most frustrated by the team's struggles. But let's take the route less cynical and simply say it was the front office being smart.
The one real (which is to say, not involving Lars Anderson and a knuckleballer) move they did make was entirely positive, shifting two players without much in the way of value for Craig Breslow, who could be a solid bullpen piece in 2013. It's true that they did not sell, getting whatever they could out of players like Kelly Shoppach or Cody Ross, but is that such a giant concession to make to business? With two wild cards, the team can claim to be in things so long as they don't openly admit defeat, and with the trade deadline past, the danger of that--the possibility for a loud and expensive trade--has gone by the wayside while the benefit of a chance for a miracle and the support that brings from casual fans remains.
Walking the fence will always have its issues. It's not the best way to travel either road. They've not given themselves the absolute best chance to win this year, or the absolute best chance to win in 2013, 2014, and beyond. But when you look at all the possible pitfalls, the Sox did a pretty good job just to come out the other side unscathed.