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Which way should the Red Sox go?

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  June 12, 2012 11:50 AM

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The non-waivers trade deadline is July 31. That's 50 days away, roughly seven weeks.

Plenty can change in the fortunes of a baseball team in seven weeks and as the Red Sox get players off the disabled list, they could theoretically rise in the standings. With the extra wild card this season, greater opportunity exists.

The question John Henry must answer is this: what is the ceiling? If the Red Sox believe they have a roster than can advance to the World Series, then by all means the team should not be dismantled.

If not, then what is the point of keeping it together?

Getting to the playoffs and losing in the wild-card game would not be an accomplishment for this franchise. The 2004 and '07 seasons were not that long ago.

Among those Red Sox fans who actually watch the game and can name more than three players, there is a growing willingness to start over. Blind faith is being chipped away by a roster of underachieving players. Fan blogs have taken a different tone. The same is true on Twitter and in comments section here on Boston.com. There is discontent like never before among fans.

Worse, there is growing apathy. People show up late to Fenway and leave early, that is if they come at all. NESN's pre-game show is full of injury updates and analysts marveling about the players on the other teams. The Globe dumped the Sox off the front page of the sports section when the Celtics played last week. There are now several media outlets that regularly skip road trips. The cost is greater than the interest.

Which Boston team is the least likable, the Bruins, Celtics, Patriots or Red Sox? That's not even close.

If Henry came out and said all options were open and he hoped that fans would be patient as the Red Sox tried to assemble a team worthy of their support, the message would be cheered.

There are limitations. Josh Beckett has 10/5 no-trade rights. John Lackey, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford have onerous contracts that could not be traded short of the Red Sox picking up huge sums of money.

It wouldn't much sense to deal Will Middlebrooks. Or Felix Doubront.

Beyond that, should anybody be untouchable?

Kevin Youkilis, Kelly Shoppach, Mike Aviles, Ryan Sweeney, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Cody Ross and Nick Punto are veteran position players who could bolster a contender.

Alfredo Aceves, Matt Albers, Franklin Morales, Vicente Padilla, Andrew Miller, Scott Atchison and Mark Melancon are relievers who could contribute to a team in a pennant race. Heck, maybe even Daisuke Matsuzaka has a sliver of value.

Of the aforementioned 15 players, is there one the Red Sox could not absolutely, positively live without?

And while it may be heretical to suggest, should even core players like David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz be considered completely off limits?

Obviously you're not going to deal all of them. But let's say the Giants were willing to deal Madison Bumgarner for Ellsbury and Buchholz, would you hang up? What if the Mariners agreed to swap Felix Hernandez for Lester and Pedroia? No way?

The point is this: If Henry wants to press the plunger, there are plenty of pieces that can be moved and the real fans would be OK with watching a younger team steadily improve instead of watching an older team steadily calcify.

The Red Sox can't be about contrived sellout streaks, getting photos with the trophies and what used to be. They need to be about what is to come. Theo Epstein went to Chicago because he wanted a new challenge. Give Ben Cherington a new challenge. Right now all he's doing is bailing water.

If on Aug. 1 the lineup included Middlebrooks, Ryan Kalish, Jose Iglesias and Ryan Lavarnway, would you care more or less about the team than you do right now?

The guess is you would care more. A lot more.

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