All of the talk around the Red Sox right now, for good reason, is regarding just how important this current 14-game stretch in which they will be playing either the Rays or Yankees each and every day. There’s no doubt that all of that talk is legitimate, to be fair. Although the division is likely out of reach barring an epic collapse by New York, the Red Sox need to win games and it’s harder to do that against teams like the Yankees. The Rays, meanwhile, are one of the primary contenders for one of the two wildcard spots along with Boston, Oakland and Cleveland, among a few other fringier contenders. If one of Tampa and Boston beats up on the other, it will have a massive effect on this race.
So, there’s no doubting how important this stretch is to where this team lands at the end of the season. It’s not just about that, though. This stretch is also going to help dictate what the front office decides to do about this team at the trade deadline. That July 31 deadline, now the only trade deadline of the season after the league ridded itself of the August 30 waiver deadline, is the focus for everyone right now. That’s how it should be, of course.
Right now, after the Red Sox have won the first two games of the Tampa Bay series, it seems unlikely they are going to sell. Granted, if they lose four of their next five or something along those lines, things will change, at least in terms of fan perception. Given where they are in the standings, it’s hard for me to get behind the idea of straight-up selling for this team. That said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t at least get the appeal for other people.
There is one school of thought that continues to show up of late, particularly after last weekend’s disastrous trip to Baltimore, that I don’t understand. That is the comparisons to some other recent teams. Specifically, I have seen numerous people compare this team to either or both of the 2014 Red Sox or the 2015 Tigers. Both of these were teams with expectations that fell short and ended up becoming sellers at the trade deadline. In the sense that this current Red Sox team has also disappointed tremendously compared to preseason expectations, the comparison is apt. That is where the similarities end, though.
Think about that 2014 team. Like this 2019 team, that was a roster coming off a championship that was largely — though not quite to the same extent as this roster — the same group being brought back for a second run. That said, it was also mostly an older group brought in from the outside. There were obviously some homegrown guys that helped win that 2013 championship, but the defining factor of that team was surprising free agents that came together as veterans to win a ring. Last year, there were certainly free agents on shorter-term deals who helped that run, but it was a core that was designed for long-term success doing what the team envisioned. The 2013 season was magic. The 2018 season was the plan.
The 2015 Tigers are brought up for the obvious reason that it was a team constructed by Dave Dombrowski. He resided over that trade deadline that saw Detroit trade guys like David Price and Yoenis Cespedes, but he was let go just a couple days after that deadline. The similarities between the Tigers and Red Sox aren’t just about the man in charge of baseball operations. It’s also a pair of teams that has/had spent a long time contending and has/had some farm system issues. That said, the farm system issues for the Red Sox are starting to be overblown. I’ll expand on this in a separate article later in the week, but Boston has three top-100 prospects (per Baseball America), other intriguing players both close to the majors and down in the lower levels. There is plenty of room for improvement, but it is not barren. More importantly, the Tigers were a team whose top players were all at or near the back nine of their career. The Red Sox have an offensive core that is at or before their prime. That seems to be a significant difference.
Really, there are two important points with regards to this team not going on the kind of significant selling spree that we saw from the 2014 Red Sox and 2015 Tigers. For one thing, they are still firmly in their window with players in their prime. Mookie Betts is at the top of his game, even if the numbers don’t reflect that. Xander Bogaerts is right in his prime. Rafael Devers is still emerging. Andrew Benintendi is not yet in his prime. Christian Vázquez is in his prime and has emerged as an upper-tier catcher this year. That’s a core to add to, not trade from.
More importantly: They are in contention! For as disappointing as the year has been, they are in second place in their division (albeit far out of first) and two games out of the wildcard. In 2014, they were in last place in the American League East with a 47-53 record on this day. They were six games out of a playoff spot. The Tigers were in a more comparable spot. They had a worse record, sitting at .500, but they were only three games out of a playoff spot. That said, the underlying numbers behind their season like pythagorean record indicated a much worse team than what the Red Sox have shown so far this year.
Like I said above, this is not to say there is no argument whatsoever for this team to have a light sell if things tank in the next week. I don’t see it happening, but there is a scenario. However, this is not a 2014 Red Sox or 2015 Tigers situation. Those teams traded star-level players to reset their franchises. The Red Sox are not currently in the need for a reset. If they fall apart, they could trade players who will not be around to help in 2020. That means guys like Rick Porcello, Mitch Moreland and maybe J.D. Martinez if you believe he’s gone next year. That even seems like a step too far to me, though. The point being: This Red Sox team is in a unique situation, and it does a disservice to how weird the year has been to compare them to other, dissimilar disappointments.