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Adam Kaufman

Red Sox Have Officially Started Looking Ahead to 2015

Ben Cherington 3.jpg


Look up in the sky.

See that?

No, it’s not a bat signal.

It’s the Red Sox waving a giant white flag.

If Boston’s 2014 season had been given a movie title on Wednesday, it’d be “This Is the End”.

That’s okay. No criticism here, simply reality. Between ineptitude and inexperience, injuries and inefficiencies, this year’s defense of a World Series championship has proven offensive to just about anyone able to stomach the nightly viewings. Win some, lose more.

At times, the offense, defense, starters, and bullpen have all struggled. That group rarely ever clicked all at once and, lately, they’ve collectively abandoned ship.

It all came to a head Wednesday afternoon with Boston’s decision to designate veteran and almost universally disliked catcher A.J. Pierzynski for assignment. In a word, Pierzynski has been “fine”. In 72 games, the impatient backstop batted .254 with a .633 OPS. At 37, he came as advertised with a regressing plate prowess, just nine walks, and an outwardly cranky clubhouse demeanor.

Pierzynski isn’t the problem. A problem, maybe, but certainly not the problem. If the Red Sox were winning, he’d still be on the roster, warts and all. General manager Ben Cherington all but said as much when grilled by media after the move. The wins just haven’t been there.

Through 91 games, the Sox are a paltry 40-51 and back in the American League East cellar for the first time since that miserable 2012 campaign, one that ironically saw Boston sitting at 46-45 at this very same point. Imagine that.

Pierzynski’s release was a move that signified something we haven’t said much around these parts in recent years:

Wait ‘til next year.

Following the announcement, manager John Farrell said, “It’s an opportunity for us to invest in players that we feel are going to be here beyond 2014.”

On a one-year deal, that surely wasn’t the bridge-gap signing Pierzynski. In this case, that player is untested but seemingly capable rookie Christian Vazquez, a fresh-faced 23-year-old ready for his first big league action after hitting .273 with three homers and 20 RBI in 66 games for Triple-A Pawtucket this season. He went hitless in three at-bats in his debut.

Pressed over whether the Red Sox – 9.5 games behind the division-leading Orioles and 9 1/2 games back of a wild card berth – were officially throwing in the towel on this season, Farrell stated, “Based on the performance of us as a team, we’re not closing the book on 2014 but, at the same time, we’re investing in those beyond this year.”

A season removed from 97 regular season victories, timely hitting, overachievements, and striking gold on virtually every personnel and baseball decision, Farrell may as well have said, “I mean, anything is possible but, uh, yeah.”

Truthfully, the writing was on the wall prior to Pierzynski’s long-awaited departure.

Following Tuesday’s 8-3 defeat to the White Sox, which dropped the Red Sox to 1-7 (now 2-7 with Wednesday's 5-4 comeback win) since returning to Fenway from a 4-6 road trip capped by two wins in the Bronx, Farrell admitted, “When we started the homestand, we felt that this 10-game stretch was going to be pivotal to some internal decisions that are to be made and we fully recognize where we are.

“That doesn’t mean we’re not committed to this year,” he continued, “and we’re always going to remain optimistic – that’s the competitor in all of us – and yet at the same time this homestand has not been what we expected coming off the road trip.”

The Pierzynski-for-Vazquez swap was just the beginning; the first domino.

Sometime prior to MLB’s July 31 trade deadline, long-time National Leaguer Jake Peavy will be shipped back to the NL to a contender seeking back-of-the-rotation depth. The starter all but literally hugged reporters goodbye after Tuesday’s game. He also happens to be just 1-7 with a 4.64 ERA over a healthy 18 starts. Better to get a consistent look at up-and-comer Rubby De La Rosa and his flame-throwing arm, as well as Brandon Workman.

Stephen Drew? The mid-season signing for defensive stability and an offensive upgrade has been a failure of epic proportions. For $10 million, the veteran shortstop has batted .131 with a .409 OPS in 25 games. Don’t be surprised if he’s sent on his way in order to give emotionally-afflicted phenom Xander Bogaerts another crack up the middle.

Jonny Gomes, we’re told, is the kind of guy teams want to go to war with. So what if he’s the one usually letting us know? Often times, though, when Gomes is around, wins do follow. A club making a postseason push may just be interested in a role-playing rental capable of timely hitting and a sense for seizing the moment. Once he’s gone, that’s one less guy standing in the way of any at-bats for sometimes leftfielders Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, Brock Holt, or even Daniel Nava.

Along those same lines, Mike Carp wouldn’t necessarily draw any trade interest, but he’s absolutely another candidate to be designated for assignment after a fruitful 2013 spun into an injury-plagued year in which he’s hit .208 with a .588 OPS in 35 contests.

Bullpen arms Craig Breslow and Burke Badenhop are options to be moved as well. If the Red Sox don’t view Koji Uehara as their 40-year-old closer in 2015, the dependable stopper could net a decent return.

It’s unfortunate, all of it. Unlike Bobby Valentine’s bunch of two years ago, Farrell’s group isn’t unlikeable or entitled. It simply isn’t very good.

The Sox were never able to replace new Yankee Jacoby Ellsbury’s overall production. Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli, David Ortiz, Nava and other instrumental players have taken steps back of varying degrees. Bradley and Bogaerts are still adjusting to big league pitching. Plus, Shane Victorino and Will Middlebrooks were injured and terrible when healthy.

Collectively, the pitching has been good but, to a man, it’s a mixed bag with Clay Buchholz resembling an Everlast. Felix Doubront, now reluctantly in the bullpen, hasn’t been much better. Jon Lester and John Lackey have been the goodie bags worth retaining with the hope of respectively re-signing and restructuring them for next season.

According to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette’s Bill Ballou, Wednesday’s showdown versus Chicago employed five Boston rookies in the lineup for the first time before an All-Star Break since 1952.

Oh, yes, folks, this is indeed the end; the end of the playoff dreams and the beginning of what may be a significant roster transformation.

It happens. We could yell, scream, throw things, or chastise management for not doing more last winter, but it wouldn’t do any good. At this point, it’s better to enjoy the season’s final few playoff-less months with an eye out for that little glimmer – that quality arm or emerging bat who might just fill a void next season.

Right about now, it’s all we have.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

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