It is really, really hard to feel any sort of positive feelings about this Red Sox team after what we just watched over the weekend out in London. Boston laid a total egg across the pond against the Yankees, scoring a whole bunch of runs but allowing many more and not really being as competitive for most of those games as the final scores would indicate. Even the most optimistic among us have to be having a hard time trying to spin positivity after looking at the standings that now show the Red Sox trailing the Yankees by 11 games.
Now, after this disaster, Dave Dombrowski and the team’s front office are in a position where they can’t really afford to wait around before making their decision on the rest of the season. They need to decide now whether they are going to make a real run at solidifying a wildcard spot and going for a deep playoff run from that spot or just chalking this up to not being their year and starting to set up for 2020. This is not going to be a post where I argue which direction they should go. I believe they should be going for the wildcard, but I don’t think the argument to take a step back is crazy or anything. The one thing that can’t happen, though, is inaction. It’s not something that needs to be announced, and if they decide they don’t want to go for it this year, we probably won’t know that. If they want to make a run in 2019, however, they need to make a move to help that process now, not later.
Obviously, when we talking about making moves to go for it we are talking about the bullpen. There is no secret about this. Granted, that is not to say the rest of the roster is set. The offense has put up big numbers this year but they are still frustrating at times. I think they could probably use some more depth because the three-man bench is not ideal as the season goes on and guys get banged up. The rotation has been up-and-down while also failing tremendously to fill the final spot. They could probably use another starter, to be honest, but it’s not the priority right now as we speak on July 1. Those areas of the team are iffy. The bullpen is a straight-up disaster.
The arguments in favor of this bullpen — or at least that claim the unit isn’t as bad as they are generally made out to be — can be fair. Bullpens all around the league are bad. Relative to the rest of the league, Boston’s relief corps hasn’t been as atrocious as they seem. That’s true. It also doesn’t change the fact that they cannot win with this group. Matt Barnes was the only high-quality arm coming into the year, and whether it’s due to his talent falling off a cliff, a lack of confidence, overworking or a combination of the three he cannot be trusted in this moment in time. Marcus Walden looked great early in the year, but that was a couple of months for a 30-year-old rookie. Brandon Workman has probably been the most consistent arm in the bullpen, but he’s also walking almost 18 percent of the batters he faces. The point being: All of these guys have big flaws right now and none can be trusted as a number one. Like I said above, bullpens all across the league are bad. There aren’t other competitive bullpens without anyone to be trusted, though.
Clearly, things just aren’t sustainable for this Red Sox bullpen. I think it’s clear that, right now, they are in a particularly bad spot and there almost has to be some regression back to the mean at some point soon. Still, even as we look at these guys in terms of true-talent rather than how they’re currently pitching it’s simply not enough. Boston’s roster, as a whole, is more talented than most, if not all, of the teams competing in the American League Wildcard race. A bad bullpen is the kind of thing that can neutralize an overall advantage in talent, though.
The season is now more than half over and the Red Sox are in the middle of a pack of seven wildcard contenders within 7.5 games of each other. There are enough flaws with all of these teams that anything can happen. That said, it’s not hard at all to see this bullpen staying in their funk long enough where this thing gets away from them before the month ends and the trade deadline comes and goes. Dombrowski, if he wants to go for it with this roster, can’t take that chance.
Now, it goes without saying that it takes two to tango. Dombrowski can’t just stand up and yell “I declare to be buyers!” a la Michael Scott and just have bullpen arms dropped on his lap. The good news is the league is in a place where early-season sellers shouldn’t be hard to find. There are enough teams that know they aren’t in it that bullpen arms will be out there if you look hard enough. Just a quick scan of the standings shows guys like Ken Giles, anyone in San Francisco, and Shane Greene, among others, will be available now. The bad news is the Red Sox are in a position of enough desperation that they’d likely have to pay a little extra in terms of prospects. That’s the price of sitting on your hands in the offseason, though.
Like I said, maybe the Red Sox decide they aren’t going to dump assets into trying to add to this particular roster and they sit on their hands. It will be frustrating for now because they aren’t going to announce those intentions to us, but ultimately there is an argument for it even if it’s not one I agree with. Publicly, though, the Red Sox keep saying they believe they are a World Series-caliber team. Looking at the talent and ignoring the play on the field, it’s hard to argue with that on paper. They have glaring holes, though, and it’s to the point where we can’t simply ignore them. If they truly believe this roster can win another championship, it’s time to put their prospects and their money where their mouth is. If they are going to make moves to add to the roster the time is now or it might as well be never.