Technically, the Red Sox' season isn't over yet. Their elimination number is 46, which as you might know is far from zero. So with that in mind, I thought I would put the situation in more convincing language:
The Red Sox are two games under .500 after 112 games. That means for more than two thirds of the season they have not even been an average team.
5.5 games back may not seem like a lot, but for the Sox to recover that much on the likes of the Tigers, Athletics, and Orioles, they would need to go 31-19 over the last 50 games of the season--and that assumes that at least two of these three clubs who have played their way to nine games over .500 play just .500 over the last two months.
That's 31-19 for a team that has not played 12 games over .500 once this year. You can't section off any consecutive portion of the season where they've achieved the results they would realistically need to even in a scenario where the the competition is mercifully mediocre.
Keep in mind that the Sox will have to do this against competition with an overall winning percentage of .515.
The Red Sox need good teams to be average while they, a below-average team based on record, play better than any other team has played so far this year against other teams that have played better than them so far. This is not four nights in October, but 50 games in August and September. They need more than a miracle, they need a confluence of miracles.
Now, some will say that these are the points where a true fan is tested, and where their faith is most needed. But the Red Sox, as much as typical baseball rhetoric might like to pretend otherwise--are not a religion. Faith doesn't provide hits, runs, or outs as needed, and in some cases, if held by those who actually make decisions, it can hurt.
There are, after all, advantages to surrender.
Since we are talking about advantages for the Red Sox and not their fans, here, please excuse me if I largely pass over the psychological benefits of not getting so invested in the win - loss outcome of the remaining games. For those who watch all 162, or near enough to it, it's actually a pretty significant factor, but that's not what we're talking about right now.
Instead, let me paint a picture of the deal the Red Sox have on the table.
Every season has a certain intrinsic value. Each one is an opportunity to win a world series, the one thing that really matters to a fanbase above all else.
As the season progresses, it either gains or loses value. For the Yankees, Rangers, and Nationals right now, this is an incredibly valuable season, since these teams all seem to have a decent shot at a world series title.
The Red Sox' season is not so bright and shiny. It's actually pretty mangy. It's entirely unlikely that this team makes the playoffs, and if they do, they are certainl not built for a playoff run. They won't likely match up well in the one-game playoff given their lack of a really elite pitcher, and a top-3 that either includes two players with ERAs over 4.80 or a rookie and a converted reliever.
Given that, their chances of winning a world series this year are slim-to-none. In exchange for giving up that opportunity, they are offered:
1) The Opportunity To Get Healthy
You know what's really sucked? Breaking the record for the number of players sent to the disabled list in a season. You know what's really scary? How possible it is that they'll have more of the same in 2013.
Right now, the Red Sox have huge reason to be concerned about Carl Crawford and his elbow. They have reason to be concerned about the slow-healing heel of David Ortiz. They have young starters in Franklin Morales and Felix Doubront headed into dangerous territory innings-wise, and a reliever they're about to bring back from a long-term injury who could well be called on to carry too much of the load too quickly if the recent performances of the bullpen are any indication.
All these cease to be issues if the Red Sox stop concerning themselves primarily with the scoreboard for the season. Crawford can get his surgery if it's needed with plenty of time to recover before the season starts, so we don't have another situation like we did this year, and if he doesn't need it he won't be out there putting his arm under stress with throws every night until he's had a few more months off to let everything get back to normal.
Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales can be handled with more care, letting Doubront get the rest he seems to very much need and making sure Franklin Morales can be eased back into the starting rotation with an eye towards starting the year there in 2013.
As for David Ortiz, he won't feel the need to rush back on a diet of pain-killing injections.
A healthy 2013 Red Sox team can be a good 2013 Red Sox team. A legitimate contender. If they start the year with a $20 million outfielder recovering from Tommy John Surgery and players who injured themselves going too far the season before, than it's just going to be more of the same.
2) The Opportunity To Evaluate Talent
Which of the following players should the Red Sox rely on in 2013?
- Ryan Kalish
- Ryan Lavarnway
- Junichi Tazawa
- Clayton Mortensen
- Pedro Ciriaco
- Chris Carpenter
- Zach Stewart
All seven of these players are on the 40-man roster, and not a single one of them is a clear "yes" or "no" for the 2013 squad.
Can Ryan Kalish hit? Can Ryan Lavarnway catch and adjust to major league pitching? Is Pedro Ciriaco Nick Green or Elvis Andrus? Can Clayton Mortensen maintain his ERA given his sketchy peripherals? Can Junichi Tazawa handle high-pressure innings? Who the hell is Chris Carpenter? And is Zach Stewart getting to the place where he can be a legitimate first line of defense against rotation injuries?
Some of us might think we know the answers to these questions, but the only way to know for sure is to actually give these guys some time in the majors. Time to prove themselves, or to get the experience needed so that they can enter 2013 as something more than too-green rookies (officially or otherwise). The Red Sox don't need to see more from Vicente Padilla, Mike Aviles, Kelly Shoppach, and Aaron Cook right now. They know who those players are whether or not they're members of the Red Sox next year. The guys they need to figure out are the cheap young players who could be the future of the team, or the dead weight that drags down the 2013 squad.
3) The Opportunity To Make Trades
The non-waiver deadline is past, but there's still some value out there. Waiver trades aren't often blockbusters, exactly, but the Sox still have some pieces they could unload in just about every position. Kelly Shoppach would be a welcome addition to plenty of teams, Cody Ross could be a huge piece for a World Series contender, and if Mike Aviles isn't necessarily Boston's guy, the Giants might want some better depth behind Marco Scutaro than Brandon Crawford, given Scutaro's age and Pablo Sandoval's injury history.
The Sox won't get big hauls by any stretch of the imagination, but if there's value to be had after another couple weeks without making a real dent in the wild card deficit, then why not go out there and get it? Even if all they can do is bum Nick Punto's contract off as part of a larger deal.
4) Draft Position
People don't like to hear about it in the MLB, given how long it takes for a draft pick to impact the team (Mike Leakes of the world aside), but every bit of position does help, especially now that it also effects the budget for the team in the draft. Frankly, they're not going to be drafting first overall, but right now they're barely even top-15. If there's one place a team doesn't want to be, it's in the middle, because it means they weren't good enough to accomplish anything, and not bad enough to get any significant boost from it.
As much as it sucks to say, winning games only has value insofar as the Sox can pull off that aforementioned confluence of miracles. The Sox will drop a few more than they have been just in the process of taking advantage of all these other opportunities, and if that's enough to drop them below the likes of the Jays and Mets, then frankly all the better.
5) Bobby Valentine Could Be Fired
If we can drop the charade of contention then we can drop the charade that he's not a complete train wreck. The management can even have their scapegoat. It's all-too-easy a picture to paint.
All that, and all it costs the Sox is a season that has long since gone south. One which has left them with a losing record.
If you're hoping for that crazy bunch of miracles, you might as well hope they come with the rookies playing, some of the tradeable pieces having gone elsewhere, and Tim Bogar managing. The difference in likelihood isn't all that significant, anyways.
For now, all that the Red Sox get from chasing the dream is a line to sell to fans that is all-too-tired after going 45 months without a playoff win, and all that fans get is a chance to put off that moment when the 2012 World Series is just something that is happening to other teams, while all the while small bits of knowledge for the front office and experience for the players who need it most go flitting away. They aren't much on a game-to-game basis, but over time the missed opportunities pile up, and we're all left paying for it with a less-effective team in 2013.