July 31 was a significant day in Red Sox history, as the team underwent perhaps the most dramatic makeover in franchise history, undergoing a fire sale once it became clear the team would not contend in 2014.
A fire sale's ultimate goal is to get a team back to contention, but the way general manager Ben Cherington went about it ran counter to most fire sales. Typically, fire sales consist of stripping the major league squad and pinning hopes on the progression of prospects.
The Red Sox don't have that luxury, with a demanding fanbase and financial resources at their disposal.
Any fire sale needed to be with eyes on 2015. Once the front office came to the realization that the 2014 squad was incapable of sustaining the success that brought the 2013 World Series title to Boston, the focus shifted to 2015.
This is one way that the Red Sox's fire sale will pay off in the end. Instead of banking a franchise's hopes on prospects who may not pan out, Cherington went after proven players who can form the core of a team that has division title hopes in 2015, while also increasing flexibility.
The club dealt away four free agents (Jon Lester, Andrew Miller, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes) plus John Lackey, who may or may not have agreed to pitch for the Red Sox under a club option for the league minimum in 2015, as MLB.com's Ian Browne notes.
In return, the club got just one prospect and one draft pick, with the bulk of the return coming in the form of accomplished major league players.
The biggest return came from moving Lester and Gomes to the Athletics in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes. Boston also picked up a 2015 draft pick in the trade as well.
Cespedes boasts big-time power and has won two consecutive Home Run Derbies.
In a league that is devoid of right-handed power (which Joe Lemire of Grantland tries to explain), having both Cespedes and Mike Napoli in the same lineup gives the Red Sox a major leg up in its goal to contend in 2015.
At the time of the trade, Red Sox outfielders had combined for 14 home runs on the season, while Cespedes had 17 alone.
Allen Craig also offers right-handed power, although he's struggling through a down season and is currently on the disabled list. If he can get through his injury and rediscover his stroke, Craig adds another thumper to the middle of a lineup that has struggled to get the big hit for extra bases far too often in 2014.
Less than a year ago, Craig was an integral component of the NL Champion Cardinals, hitting .315/.373/.457, primarily hitting cleanup.
The last significant addition to Boston's major league squad was starting pitcher Joe Kelly.
Kelly gives the Red Sox another rotation candidate for 2015 who is already established at the major league level. In 2013, Kelly posted a 2.69 ERA in 15 starts and 17 relief appearances covering 124 innings.
The team also acquired utility infielder Kelly Johnson for Drew, but that deal was about moving top prospect Xander Bogaerts back to shortstop for the rest of the season to evaluate Bogaerts' ability to man the position full-time in 2015, as Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe writes.
Another reason the Red Sox's fire sale will pay off in the end—in addition to acquiring assets who can help the team contend quickly—is due to adding controllable assets.
By focusing on a return of major league players who are under contract for at least 2015, the team actually put itself in a better position to contend next season. There was no guarantee that any of the pending free agents would return to Boston, while the incoming players will make up a big part of the 2015 squad.
Cespedes is a free agent after 2015, but Craig is tied to the team through 2017, while Kelly isn't eligible for free agency until after the 2018 season.
That provides tremendous value, as the team has now secured a better future than if they had allowed Lester, Miller, Drew and Gomes to depart in free agency without receiving anything in return, except a possible draft pick for losing Lester that would have not helped the team contend in 2015.
It's easy to say Boston's fire sale will pay off in the end, because it is already paying dividends by creating the next competitive Red Sox club that will bear fruit as early as 2015 and giving the team long-term assets to build around.