With June just about wrapping up, and the Red Sox 79 games into a 162-game season, it's time for the hot takes and marginal-win valuations that make up the countdown to the trade deadline. We come to this year's deadline with a bit less enthusiasm than last year's, of course. The 2013 squad was 48-33 at this point, leading the East, and looking to improve on the margins to shore up their playoff run. This year's team is in fourth, scuffling along with the likes of the White Sox and the 2017 World Champions. The AL is tight enough to give Boston some semblance of hope, but as Ben explained yesterday, the odds of a playoff run are low at best, miraculous at worst.
As such, the call has gone up for a fire sale, a total teardown of the roster. After all, the Sox unloaded a ton of bad contracts in 2012, and won the World Series the very next year. Not that anyone is saying this exact result will unfold again, of course, but I think the 2012 equivalence is a flawed one, and needs to be dealt with before we discuss the real trade needs and options of this year's team.
In August of 2012, we awoke one morning to find that our chronically underachieving team had with one stroke removed a third of its payroll, largely due to the Dodgers' desperate need for Nick Punto. That team, like this year's, was full of underperforming stars, and was well-served by making a change and looking to the future. And that's where the similarities end. The biggest long-term problem faced by the 2012 Red Sox wasn't that the traded stars were underperforming, it was that they were underperforming for a combined $57 million a year. More importantly, the worst culprits were going to be making a combined $42 million a year for the bulk of the decade. The 2012 Red Sox were not simply underachieving, they were locked in to a potential decade of underachievement.
That's not the case this year. There's no doubt that this team hasn't lived up to expectations. And it's not just last year's championship run, although certainly that doesn't help. But this isn't a badly built team weighed down by massive long-term deals, it's a flexibly-built team that isn't playing well. There's a huge difference. Teams are burned down for two reasons (often related): their payroll has gotten so bloated that they can't afford any new players; or their organization has grown old, injured, and without a farm. Neither of these things applies to Boston.
This has been mentioned more than a few times on this site, but the Red Sox currently have exactly one player signed beyond 2015: Dustin Pedroia. David Ortiz and Clay Buchholz have options that would take them through 2017. And that's it. Everyone else is either headed for free agency or has a few arb years out ahead of them. On the minor-league end, Boston's farm system is considered one of the best in baseball, with strong prospects and depth to spare. So where's the need for a total teardown? More importantly, what do they have that would bring anything back that's going to greatly improve the team long-term?
Half a year of Jon Lester isn't going to bring anything significant back, certainly anything better than another six years of Jon Lester. Unless, of course, they've really decided they're going to let him walk. In which case they're idiots, but they might as well try to raid the Braves' system first. Same goes for Lackey. As for the short-term vets, well, look at the list and their numbers so far this year. Think Boston's going to net an A-list prospect for Jake Peavy or AJ Pierzynski? Are teams lining up with power outfield bats for Stephen Drew or Edward Mujica? Koji Uehara might get something nifty, if a contender is desperate enough for a closer in late July. But there's not a Josh Beckett-for-Hanley Ramirez trade out there for Boston.
This is not to say Boston should stand pat. If they can find takers for Peavy or Pierzynski, they should be all over that. If some pitching coach in the NL has convinced his GM that he can fix Felix Doubront, Boston should be sending over his medicals yesterday. The Red Sox have a number of players who are tempting trade targets for other teams, and they should pursue those options. Extra minor-league depth is hardly the worst thing, and freeing up roster slots for guys like Rubby De La Rosa and Garin Cecchini is even better.
The thing is, a busy trade deadline wouldn't be a teardown, or a rebuild, or a gritty reboot that secretly sucks but everyone loves because Heath Ledger put up 10 WAR. This was the plan from the beginning. Sign a bunch of short-term veterans, phase in the young guys, then trade the old guys or let them walk into free agency. This was exactly the goal from the minute Adrian Gonzalez got fitted for his Dodgers jersey. The only hiccup in the plan was that Boston won the World Series last year. And as hiccups go, I think we can all deal. But it doesn't change anything, really.
2013 and 2014 were supposed to be (yes, I'm gonna say it and you can't stop me) bridge years. Now Boston's coming to the end of the bridge; it's time to decide who's coming along for the longer trip. And not because they've failed in their journey, or because they've panicked upon seeing an uncertain shore. Because this is the path they already decided to walk, and they've got a solid route planned.