It was 2PM EST, July 31st. I was sitting at work, and someone named Bob Nightengale reported that the Red Sox were about to acquire catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez. Then word began to trickle that the Red Sox would not have to part with prized prospect Clay Buchholz. I started to get really excited. The Sox had gotten the slugger they needed, kept the prospect they (and other teams) cherished, and still had two hours to go to get more help. It was obvious the Sox needed another arm (pen or rotation) and obvious, at least to me, that help was needed at Shortstop. I was upset to see Justin Masterson go, and from what I have read, Nick Hagadone, and Bryan Price are fine prospects as well, but what Red Sox fan could be upset with acquiring Victor Martinez? The Sox had stumbled following the All Star Break, but 7/31/2008 was going to cure all that. 7/31/2009 was going to fix what ails us, just as 7/31/2004 had done.
The Sox then dealt Adam Laroche, who had been impressive in his brief stint with the Sox, back to one of his former teams, the Atlanta Braves for 1st baseman Casey Kotchman. This was a curious trade, but obvious to most, it was part of a larger deal. The Sox were going to spin Kochman, get other players, GM Theo Epstein was thinking big!
And then….nothing. The trade deadline came and went. No Shortstop help. No bullpen help. No Halladay. No nada.
I felt underwhelmed. I was so happy with Victor Martinez (who wouldn’t be), but to me, the holes on this Red Sox team were glaring, and our GM, with money and prospects galore, did not fix the obvious problems. The bullpen was superb much of the first half, but had faltered lately. Brad Penny had been better than advertised, but was starting to falter, and was a notorious first half pitcher (and that was before his injury problems). John Smoltz had looked like an old pitcher more than the pitcher of old. Clay Bucholz, after a nice season debut against Toronto, had been up and down and, as talented as he is, has not proven anything at the major league level (the no hitter was nice, but the consistency has not been there). And that was before his 4 inning, 7 runs, 4 walk fiasco against Baltimore on 8/2 after being given a 7-0 lead.
And let’s talk about shortstop. Theo Epstien is a very smart GM, but finding a good shortstop has been his bugaboo since signing the worthless Edgar Rentaria over the popular Orlando Cabrera following the 2004 season. The Sox may like Jed Lowrie, but best case scenario, he has struggled mightily this year following wrist injury and is just rounding into shape. Worst case scenario, he is hitting .148 (yes .148) and has shown little pop (3 extra base hits in 54 AB’s). I have seen nothing out of Lowrie to indicate he can be an every day shortstop for a pennant contending team. I could be wrong (Lord knows I was wrong when I thought Duston Pedroia would be a bust), but I do not see it in Jed Lowrie. A nice player, nice utility type player, but playing shortstop for a pennant contender? Not sure that is going to happen. Perhaps 2009 is unfair, as he was injured and is now just coming back from an injury, but if you go back to All Star break 2008 (267 AB’s), Lowrie is hitting .232 with 2 HR’s.
But hey, compared to Nick Green, Lowrie is Barry Larkin. My friends and fellow Red Sox fans get mad when I criticize Nick Green. True, he is what he is, a career journeyman who can be exposed if playing too often. He did fine the first 2-3 months of the year, even hit a walkoff HR against Atlanta (a cheapie, but still). But to say he has been brutal recently would be like saying Bernard Madoff’s reputation has taken a bit of a hit. Since the start of June (131 Ab’s), Green is hitting a NL pitcher-esque .191. He has made some bad plays at SS (not his true postion, by the way) that have cost the sox games (the extra inning collapse at home against the pathetic A’s). To be fair, he does have 4 HR’s in that span, and my gripe is more with Theo Epstein for not upgrading the position than with Green himself. But to go down the stretch with Green and Lowrie as your shortstops when trying to win a title is unfathomable to me. We saw steady Orlando Cabrera traded last week and Christian Guzman (a .317 hitter over the last 2 ½ years) from the Nationals was on the block. Neither of these guys will ever be in Cooperstown, but both would be upgrades from the current situation. Red Sox fans get mad when I say this, but Julio Lugo, as unlikeable and unproductive as he was in Boston, is a better baseball player than Nick Green. The Sox were able to move Lugo and are still paying his salary. If they found some team to take his salary (no easy task), I would have no problem moving him, but as long as you have to pay him, the Sox should have kept the better player, and that is Julio Lugo. The Sox made a mistake in keeping Green and letting Lugo go, in my view.
As for pitching, the Sox staff was so good for much of the first half, but showed enough warning signs that any fan could see help was needed. Manny Delcarmen was reliable, but now is walking too many people (21 BB in 44 IP) to be counted upon too much. Justin Masterson was key for the Sox, but struggled against LH batters, and has been traded. Ramon Ramirez was lights out for much of April and May, but like Delcarmen, has come back to earth somewhat. Like Delcarmen, his overall numbers are good, but have faltered lately. Daniel Bard has been tremendous, but still only has 32 MLB innings under his belt. And Jonathan Papelbon seems to give fans Mitch Williams flashbacks with all his high wire saves (though to be fair, his ERA is 1.96 and he has blown only 3 of 27 save chances).
This brings me back to Theo. The Sox have many flaws on the field (too many walks, pitchers that do not go deep enough into games other than Lester and Beckett, I cannot remember the last time we threw out a base stealer just to name a few). Some flaws were things he could fix, some were not. Rumors flew that he tried to make a splash and tried to get Halladay at the last moment, that he even tried to pry the unbelievable Felix Hernandez from Seattle. Perhaps thinking big was the problem. Halladay or Hernadez would have been awesome, but another reliable arm in the pen or a decent starter like Jarrod Washburn would have been great. A shortstop, in my view, was a must-have, but now the chance to acquire one, barring a waiver deal, is gone. To me, now was the time to trade Buchholz while his value is high. He is talented, no question, but his maturity has been questioned and he is no kid. He is 6 months younger than Jon Lester (25), who has won a World Series clincher and almost pitched the Sox into another World Series in 2008.
The Red Sox led the AL East for much of the first half, but have fallen back. They still lead the Wild Card, but I fear we will look back at 7/31/2009 as a sad day, a day where the Sox failed to make the move that could have pushed them over the top. I think the playoffs will start and the Sox, like in 2006, will be home watching. Maybe Tampa or Texas will not be able to overtake them. Maybe the Red Sox will continue their head to head dominance against the Yankees starting tonight and ride that to a division title. Maybe I am wrong (will not be the first or last time). But I see a team with a lot of warning signs, on a downward spiral, and I fear it will not get any better in 2009.