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This is not the best year to be bad

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The Red Sox season is not set in stone this early, but if they continue to struggle this is not the best time.

Boston Red Sox vs New York Mets Staff Photo By Matt Stone/ MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

The Red Sox have not gotten off to the start they were looking for in this shortened 2020 season. With every game taking on extra importance in the condensed schedule, Boston has lost their last four and sit with a 1-4 record as they prepare to hit the road for the first time this season. Obviously, we’re talking about a five-game sample, which is nothing in baseball. Except everything is different this year, and translated to a 162-game pace this is the equivalent of a 2.7-10.8 start. We can just call it 3-11 to make it easier. Now, even with that start in a normal season it would be too early to panic, and I don’t want to make it sound like the season is over. It’s not. That said, a 3-11 start would certainly start to show some real issues, and there’s no doubt this Red Sox team has some very real issues.

It basically goes without saying at this point that their starting pitching is the biggest issue. Nathan Eovaldi looked good in his first start (even adjusting for opponent), but it’s been a disaster after that. Martín Pérez got shelled for two innings before settling down. Ryan Weber just never had it. Whatever they were trying to do with their bullpen game strategy in the fourth game put the team behind early. Matt Hall didn’t make it out of the third. This rotation had low expectations, and they’ve somehow failed to even meet those. Along with the rotaiton, the offense has had a few key players struggle and as a group it has failed to come through in some big chances. The bullpen has killed some late-game momentum, too, and Ron Roenicke has already had a few questionable moves early in his tenure.

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

Again, it has to be pointed that it has been five games. The rotation has been bad, but we’ve also turned through it one (1) time. Nathan Eovaldi makes his second start of the season tonight. There are very real issues, but also baseball teams are bad for five games at a time every year. Even good ones! I don’t think the Red Sox are good, but that’s mostly because I never thought they were good. I thought before the season they would hover around .500 (my final prediction was 28-32) as the offense carried them for stretches. This is one of the stretches where the offense is not carrying them, but I still think they can be that same team because I have a hard time really changing any opinions based on five games.

All of that being said, it’s also challenging to really counter any argument that says this Red Sox team just isn’t that good. The early returns certainly indicate that! And with that potential realization, there is also the bargaining stage where one can ease their pain by saying this is the year to be bad. It’s a throwaway, farce of a season that lasts only 60 games. It’s not even guaranteed that we’re going to finish this thing! If we do, it seems like a foregone conclusion that the eventual champion is not going to be viewed as 100 percent legitimate, fairly or unfairly. If you’re going to be bad, you might as well make it during a season that is mostly going to be used for bar trivia 25 years from now. Right?

If you were to ask me, I would actually say the opposite is true. This is the exact year you don’t want to be bad. When you’re a team like the Red Sox, you’re really never supposed to be bad. That’s an unfair expectation, of course, but it’s the way it is. They are one of a handful of MLB franchises in that boat where bad years are not really accepted and actual rebuilds are out of the question. And so when you do have one of those years when you are bad, you have to take advantage of that. The Yankees teams from the middle of last decade were the perfect example. They had one year where they were sellers at the deadline, and it set them up for their current juggernaut, most notably by acquiring Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman. You take advantage of the rare bad years by making good trades.

In a normal year, the Red Sox would be heading down that road. (Again, they’re not there yet, but just go with it.) If they continued to struggle into June, we’d start to hear rumors around J.D. Martinez, Brandon Workman and Jackie Bradley Jr., along with potential rumors for guys like Matt Barnes and Eduardo Rodriguez. Maybe others. The specific names are not important. The important part is the Red Sox would be able to get some good talent back in trades in a normal season, even if they didn’t exactly hit a Gleyber Torres-like lottery. This is the way for a team like the Red Sox to rebuild, taking some shortcuts in order to avoid an actual old fashioned rebuild.

This year, though, trades just don’t seem to be in the cards for a few reasons. One, there are some moral questions about sending a player and potentially his family packing to another part of the country during a pandemic. That is doubly concerning if the trade lands a player in a hot spot. I’m not entirely sure baseball teams care a ton about that, but it’s a factor. Two, the rules are a bit iffy on trades for prospects not on the player pool, though I’ve yet to see a convincing argument that using a player to be named later wouldn’t work. So, this is a concern, but mild at this point.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, these prospects haven’t been seen in game action in almost a year. By the time this year’s trade deadline comes around, it will have been essentially a full calendar year since the minor-league season ended. How confident will scouting departments really be in their evaluations of players they haven’t seen in 12 months? That concern, by the way, carries into the offseason as well. And finally, will teams really be rushing to give up much of anything for a chance at a championship that will be looked at differently and will require advancing through an expanded playoff field?

It should be made clear, of course, that this is all guesswork. None of us have seen a season like even a little bit like the one we are currently living through. Anyone who says they know what to expect is lying, and I would suspect that extends to actual front office employees around the league as well. It’s entirely possible I am 100 percent wrong here and the trade market looks exactly as it normally does, just later in the year. But I just don’t see it.

So, like I said, I’m not giving up on the Red Sox being a .500-ish team this year, which in a 16-team playoff field could actually be enough to make things interesting. And I’m certainly not throwing a season away after five games. But at the same time, things look like they could be headed down an ugly road, and if they do, I think this is probably the worst year for that to happen.