The beauty, if you are Ben Cherington, is that there is relatively little to lose. The short- and long-term interests of the Red Sox are now in approximate alignment, which means virtually no one is untouchable.
Kevin Youkilis? That should be easy one for the Red Sox, who moved back to .500 with Sunday night’s win over the pathetic Chicago Cubs. Based on what we have seen this season, Middlebrooks is a better player than Youkilis is right now, which means the Red Sox don’t have to worry about planning for 2013 and beyond. Middlebrooks should play. Youkilis should sit. And whatever happens on or before July 31 should be regarded as a bonus.
Youkilis is batting .215, after all. In his last 11 games, he is 4 for 36. Youkilis has a base salary of $12 million this season with a $13 million club option for 2013, and his trade value is not merely going down. His trade value has bottomed out, to the point where the Red Sox will likely get virtually nothing for him even if Youkilis begins to hit in the next six weeks.
So really, what are the Red Sox doing here? If Cherington is smart in the next six weeks, he will take a long, hard look at the Red Sox roster and ask himself a most obvious question:
Who are really the untouchables here?
Are there any at all?
We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: The months of May and June were important for the Red Sox because nearly 75 percent of all playoff teams over the last 10 years have been in possession of a playoff spot by the end of July. Decision time is now rapidly approaching. The Red Sox of today are 33-33. Since May 1, they are 22-22. Everything about this team suggests that they are a reincarnation of the Fortune .500s – they cost a fortune, they play .500 – because the Sox seem to follow every stretch of good play with a stretch of poor.
In their last 162 games, the Red Sox are 86-76, folks. In their last 365 days, they are 81-77. We long ago had a long sample of mediocrity to analyze, be it the result of apathy, injury, ineptitude or a combination of all.
Go right around the field on this roster. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are going nowhere, largely as the result of contract obligations still totaling near $250 million. Dustin Pedroia, when healthy, is their most complete player, talented and relatively cheap. Middlebrooks, Ryan Kalish, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Felix Doubront all look to be part of a relatively promising future, based on past performance or current.
But the rest of the Red Sox should be open to debate, on the table in any and all trade discussions, assuming the Sox can get something considered as a fair or reasonable return.
Josh Beckett? The Red Sox should have seriously looked at moving him last offseason, if for no other reason than the fact that Beckett has had durability issues for some time. Clay Buchholz? He missed half of last year. Jon Lester would have qualified as an untouchable, but his drop in performance can’t help but make one wonder what he could fetch in a trade, too. As impressive as the Boston bullpen has been in the last two months, there really is not a Red Sox reliever whom the Sox should consider a future building block.
And then there is Jacoby Ellsbury, who sandwiched an MVP-caliber season between two lost years. Ellsbury seems positioned to return on or around the All-Star break. He is eligible for free agency at the end of next season. Agent Scott Boras is likely to seek a Crawford-type deal when Ellsbury hits the market, and there are those of us who believed a year that the Sox have virtually no chance of retaining their multitalented center fielder.
The truth? The Sox needed to be more aggressive with their roster last offseason, when Ellsbury was coming off a historic season (and might have fetched a frontline pitcher) and Beckett was healthy. The more time that passes, the more the Sox seem to lose out on a potential return for assets that have lost much of their value.
Let’s be clear here. Between now and July 31, Cherington will be faced with a large number of trade proposals, the majority of which he will not make. He still should consider many of them. The Red Sox are no longer at the point they were in 2007 or 2008, when the Sox seemed to have a solid nucleus around which they could build for years. Even someone like David Ortiz must be considered in trade talks because the Sox have a handful of young players who deserve an opportunity.
Ryan Lavarnway should be here instead of Kelly Shoppach. Kalish deserves a spot over Ryan Sweeney (currently on the disabled list) or, for that matter, Cody Ross. Scott Podsednik is purely a band-aid. If and when Cherington pulls the trigger, he may find that he can make trades designed well beyond the future of the Red Sox, deals that will do more than make the Sox better in the long term.
He may find he can do deals that will make the Sox better in the short term, too.
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