After Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon surrendered a pair of two-run jacks in the bottom of the ninth inning at Yankee stadium Monday night, the BoSox fell to 8.5 games back in the thickly competitive American League East.
Now well behind the Tampa Bay Rays and their rotation of rising stars and streaking young mashers—not to mention their failure in beating the New York Yankees—the Red Sox were never really in contention to begin with.
Between depletion in run production, an awkwardly inefficient defense, an increasingly older and more ineffective bullpen, and a starting rotation that simply lacks its expected consistency and dominance, this 2010 Red Sox team is good at finding ways to lose games.
General Manager Theo Epstein recently contended that his team is playing “uninspired” baseball, and nothing could more accurately describe that lack of urgency and aggression with which these ballplayers have been taking the field over the first six weeks.
While the Tampa Rays and New York Yankees bolted from the starting gate with the seriousness of purpose necessary to reach the 2010 World Series, the Boston Red Sox arrived on this season’s scene with timorous overconfidence and as much an overabundance of seasonal patience.
Aggression may be the path to the dark side, but it’s what’s needed right now in the most competitive division in baseball.
What’s more, the Red Sox are too late to play catch up.
This isn’t panic time. This isn’t time to be a fair-weather fan. This isn’t an overreaction to early season woes.
This is pragmatism. This is realism. This is baseball’s version of “compassionate conservatism.”
Setting aside any personal repugnance for that political philosophy, such “tough love” is precisely what’s needed with the 2010 Red Sox.
This is the year of the Yankee and the Ray. This is the year of the Cardinal and the Giant.
This is not the year of the Red Sock.
However, next year could easily be that year.
If 2011 is to be the Red Sox year, Theo Epstein and Terry Francona must begin rebuilding now.
As a first step, Red Sox Nation must come to terms with the fact that competing every year and staying in the race are somewhat anathema to rebuilding.
As distasteful a business as it may be, the Red Sox must become sharp sellers from now through the trade deadline.
Suffering from a chronic buyer mentality, this could be a tough pill to swallow. Surely many of us have personally swallowed this pill throughout the economic crisis of the past few years.
For the Red Sox too it is time to tighten the belt and care for a new little nest egg—one that may hatch in the Spring of 2011.
Who should they sell and what should they seek?
At the end of 2010, the Red Sox kiss goodbye the outstanding salaries they’re now paying to the likes of Baltimore’s Julio Lugo ($9,000,000), Atlanta’s Billy Wagner ($1,000,000), and Toronto’s Alex Gonzalez ($500,000).
Scott Atchison, Boof Bonser, Bill Hall, Mike Lowell, Victor Martinez, Hideki Okajima, David Ortiz, Ramon Ramirez, Scott Schoeneweis, and Jason Varitek will all either be coming off the books or should be released. Their collective salaries equate to $41,235,000 in 2010 payroll.
J.D. Drew is a free agent at the conclusion of the 2011 campaign and his stock may never be higher. As valuable both offensively and defensively as he is, Drew and his $14,000,000 salary should be on the block.
All of these players should, in fact, be on the block. All, except perhaps Varitek, whose presence and poise as the backup catcher remain invaluable. Varitek must stay to nurture the likes of Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard.
Anything in return for the others is worth the while. While David Ortiz may achieve Type B status by year’s end, the Red Sox would never decline his club option and offer him arbitration.
Even Victor Martinez—should his bat awaken—could make an excellent trade chip. As a catcher, Martinez’ future in Boston is dubious at best. As a hitter he may turn a corner—as evident by his two homers at Yankee Stadium Monday night—but he’s likely not a good long-term answer for the Red Sox.
Okajima and Ramirez are quickly showing that their once powerful presence in the bullpen may have been more flash in the pan than something around which one can build an effective pitching staff.
Hopefully, some of these players can surge toward the trade deadline and fetch even low-level prospects in return when dealt to contenders.
Essentially, $51,735,000 can easily be shed from the Red Sox payroll entering the 2010 offseason.
Add the trading of J.D. Drew to that tally, and nearly $66 million becomes available to go shopping among a strong free-agent class.
Now, who the Red Sox might acquire via trade remains an item of even more significant speculation, but power bats like those of Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, and Miguel Cabrera should be a focal point of any trade discussions.
With so much available payroll, the 2011 Red Sox could and must restock with players like Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, and Matt Guerrier.
Start dealing now and the 2011 Red Sox might be able to contend with the juggernaut Yankees and pesky Rays.
They can and will if they are able to build a roster like this:
SP Josh Beckett
SP Jon Lester
SP John Lackey
SP Clay Buchholz
SP Tim Wakefield
RP Daniel Bard
RP Matt Guerrier
CL Jonathan Papelbon
1B Kevin Youkilis
2B Dustin Pedroia
SS Marco Scutaro
3B Adrian Beltre
LF Jacoby Ellsbury
CF Carl Crawford
RF Jayson Werth
DH Prince Fielder
This lineup spells championship gold.
You may ask, “What about a catcher and a handful of relievers?” Those are holes to which I cannot speculate at this time. Both must be filled via trade.
What about Mike Cameron? Let’s assume perhaps that Ellsbury must be dealt to acquire Fielder or the like. Boston's new outfield would look something like this:
LF Carl Crawford
CF Mike Cameron
RF Jayson Werth
Whatever specific moves Theo Epstein needs to make, he needs to start making them soon.
Not to contend this year, but to play meaningful ball in 2011.