It's impossible to know what Theo Epstein meant when he made his by now infamous "bridge period" comment. One school of thought holds that it was a declaration of surrender for a season that hadn't begun, only withdrawn when it became clear the public would not accept even one lost season. The other school of thought is that it was simply an acknowledgment that 2010 would be a different kind of year--one where the Sox could not rely on call-ups and surprise rookie-sophomore contributions, instead focusing on short-term contracts to get us through the lean year.
There have undeniably been some bumps in the bridge, as it were. Mike Cameron has had trouble staying on the field, Marco Scutaro is slumping, and God only knows what the deal is with John Lackey and his amazing non-existant curveball. On the other hand, Adrian Beltre has overcome his early struggles to really become one of the more impressive members of the team both with the bat and the glove.
If there's one thing that this sort of "bridge year" brings, though, it's uncertainty. With a standard cast of characters in the lineup, we have an idea of what to expect. Ellsbury will steal bases, Youkilis will draw walks, Pedroia will hit lasers, and Drew will very quietly do his job. Certainly we are thrown through a loop every once in a while, but on the whole, we as a fanbase and likely the players as a team feel a lot more comfortable when the roster is consistent.
Which is why it is no great disappointment to anyone that the bridge year is shaping up to be an isolated incident.
For most of the last decade, the Red Sox have been primarily about player development. For the most part, the team has produced a steady stream of results: Kevin Youkilis in 2004-2005, Jonathan Papelbon in 2006, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury in 2007, Jon Lester in 2008, Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard in 2009. But, for a number of reasons, 2010 has no such name. Lars Anderson's 2009 pushed back his development, Josh Reddick is clearly not ready, and Michael Bowden has had to retool his game after initial failures in the majors. The lack of college talent drafted in 2007 doesn't help, either.
But it certainly looks like this year was, indeed, an aberration. What was a largely barren Pawtucket team has been rejuvenated with the promotions of Lars Anderson, Ryan Kalish, and the emergent Felix Doubront. Michael Bowden, Dustin Richardson, and Josh Reddick could also see a return to their previous promise and contribute in 2011.
There's also no team which is as noticeably dull as the 2009 Paw Sox--no clear gap developing to bring another bridge year in the future. Portland has Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, and Jose Iglesias. Salem has Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Lavarnway, Stolmy Pimentel, and Alex Wilson. Even what I would term the "dullest" of the teams, the Greenville Drive, has last year's first round pick Reymond Fuentes and a very intriguing staff of pitchers--to say nothing of the low-A talent stockpiled in Lowell.
Certainly nothing is set in stone when it comes to minor league prospects. After all, in another world, Lars Anderson, Josh Reddick, and Michael Bowden are all productive opening-day starters for the 2010 Red Sox. Still, that was something of a perfect storm--a weak draft, and some unexpected busts, slumps, and struggles sapping the high majors of potential talent--and hopefully not something we'll be seeing again anytime soon.
There's still much of the bridge to cross, but hopefully it will be the last for a long while.