There are 39 games left in the season for the 2012 Boston Red Sox. As of this writing they are 13 games out of first place and eight games out of the Wild Card with three teams between them and a spot in the playoffs. Cool Standings gives the Sox a 2.8 percent chance to make the playoffs. Surprisingly Baseball Prospectus' playoff odds gives the same 2.8 percent number. In short, the Red Sox are cooked.
None of this is news to you if you follow the team, but I mention it in order to frame the scope of this article. What should the Red Sox do with those remaining 39 games? There are days when running up the white flag and hitting the Cask 'n Flagon might not seem like the worst option, but despite our dour mood, these games do represent an opportunity. I'm not talking about making the playoffs, although that is still mathematically possible, it's not realistic. The games left on the schedule represent an opportunity to learn about the players and coaches on hand, to make some progress towards what we all hope is the next great Red Sox team, the 2013 version.
This isn't how any of us would have written it up for publication before the season, but that doesn't mean the Sox can't make lemonade out of... well, you know. What follows are the five questions that, in this writer's opinion, the team needs to answer. The tattered remnants of this sad season can help find those answers.
The front office already took care of two issues, but in the interest of completeness I thought I'd highlight them anyway.
We already know Lavarnway can hit Triple-A pitching. It's time to get him some regular at-bats at the major league level to see what he can do. He's struggled in limited exposure against Major League pitching, but ignore that. It's small sample and at this point of the season the results don't much matter. Lavarnway needs to face major league breaking balls and fastballs. He needs a taste of what it takes to compete against big league hurlers. He can do that now without negatively impacting the team's playoff chances. How's that for a silver lining?
2. Get Carl Crawford prepped for surgery already
That Crawford needed Tommy John surgery wasn't exactly a secret, but it wasn't something the team was looking to talk about either. But now that the Red Sox have removed themselves from playoff contention they have inadvertently freed up Crawford to get the surgery he needs and start the rehabilitation process. Fortunately for position players, recovery from TJ surgery takes less time than it does for pitchers, so Crawford should be ready to go in nine months or less. That's already cutting into next season though so the sooner he gets under the knife, the sooner he can start to recover and the sooner he can get back to being Carl Crawford on the field for the Red Sox.
Crawford is set for surgery tomorrow and Shoppach is squatting in Flushing, so those are taken care of. Here are five more items on the to-do list:
1. Can Andrew Bailey stay healthy for two months at a time?
The erstwhile closer should be placed into the role he was traded to fill. All things being right, Bailey is the closer in 2013, right? So put him there, let him get some success in Boston and build up some confidence.
2. Can Jose Iglesias hit major league pitching enough to start?
Iglesias isn't exactly lighting the world on fire with his bat in Triple-A, but he's been serviceable. But when you consider the esteem with which his glove-work is held within the scouting community (and by anyone who has ever seen the guy play) that's all he needs to be. If Iglesias could hit .275/.320/.350 from the nine spot with plus plus defense, I think we'd all be ecstatic. Mike Aviles has been fine. Better with the leather than we thought but not much with the bat outside of some extra base hits. Aviles is a fine player, but he shouldn't stand in the way of finding out if Iglesias can hold his head above water offensively over these last 39 games. Whether or not Iglesias can hit major league pitching will, I'd imagine, have a profound impact on the team's direction over the course of the off-season. Time to find out of he sinks or swims.
3. Can a young guy get some experience up in this piece?
With Crawford done for the year and the Red Sox playoff hopes long since faded to oblivion, there is no reason to keep playing Nick Punto or Scott Podsednik. We know who those guys are and we know what they can do. Put Daniel Nava, Pedro Ciriaco, and Ryan Lavarnway, and if he's up, Iglesias into the lineup every single night. Yes, it might be painful. Yes, on occasion it might be excruciating, but then are Podsednik, Punto, Aviles, and a clearly tiring Jarrod Saltalamacchia going to do much better? And even if they are, to what end? Time to see what these guys can do with 100+ at-bats as starters. This is it, boys. Prove you should be a part of the 2013 Red Sox.
To that end, if the organization deems that Ryan Kalish is ready to face major league pitching then throw him in there as well. If he needs to face Triple-A pitching for whatever reason, that's fine as well.
4. Shield veterans from over-work
I don't know what medical situation Josh Beckett's arm, elbow, and shoulder are in right now, but it wouldn't shock me if he was playing through something. If so, there's no reason to keep sending him out there. Shut him down and get him some rest. Doing so ensures he's healthy-ish if the Red Sox try to trade him this off-season or, if they want to keep him around, it reduces the wear and tear and allows some extra recuperation time for next season.
However, if there isn't anything medically wrong that rest could help solve, by all means, keep sending Beckett out there. If the Sox are intent on trading him then maybe he can put together a run and increase his trade value. If they aren't, better he ends the season on some positive note rather than the run of total garbage he's been on recently.
5. Figure out the managerial situation and act accordingly
Bobby Valentine isn't an unknown quantity. He's managed the team for 123 games. He's managed them through thick and thin and thicker and thickest. We know who he is and what he's made of. The front office knows too. If he's the man to manage the team next season then let's hear that from the front office. If he isn't, then let him go on his merry way and put Tim Bogar or Dave Magadan or whomever in charge and use the last 39 games as an audition/fact-finding session.
It does no good to keep Valentine on through the season and then dismiss him as the off-season begins. Use the time allotted wisely, find out if Bogar or Magadan or whomever can squeeze something useful out of this stone called the 2012 Red Sox. If not, fine, no harm done that wasn't previously visited upon the team. But maybe the final 39 games reveal someone who has a firm grasp on the clubhouse and on in-game decision-making. That'd be a nice way to go into the off season, huh?
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No this isn't how any of us wanted the 2012 season to end. But that isn't to say there isn't important work to do. The Red Sox need to use the remaining 39 games productively. If they do they'll get a head start on a winning 2013.