Some among us believe the death rattle of the 2014 Red Sox has become audible during this 1-4 West Coast road trip. Some, many of whom beat the odds and figured out how to open and operate their own Twitter account, claim to have heard it much sooner.
They consider the ongoing mediocrity of the defending champs to be cause for an I-told-you-things-weren’t-so-good victory lap before the All-Star break arrives. They like to call radio sports shows. Some host them, at least for now. They want to be right about the season going wrong.
It’s getting to the point in which they will be. If you figured out the blunt math and realized the Red Sox would have to go 62-23 the rest of the way to match last season’s record — that would require a .729 winning percentage, higher than the 116-win 2001 Mariners’ .716 — it’s pretty easy to starting singing the chorus of Wait Til Next Year in unison.
The Red Sox are 7.5 games back of the Blue Jays (and 6 back of the Orioles and 5 back of the Yankees, and damn are the Rays terrible) in the American League East. Despite just going 7-7 in the span, they’ve actually picked up 2.5 games in the division since June 9.
That’s a small hope, but a complicated one too, because in that span their wild-card pursuit has actually become more daunting. The Red Sox are 7.5 back of the Angels for the first spot, and 6 behind the Orioles for the second, with seven teams either tied or ahead of them that wouldn’t currently qualify for the playoffs. At 35-42, the Red Sox have the same record as the White Sox. The White Sox are in last place in the AL Central.
The simple solution is to suggest that they just win, baby, no matter the opponent. That’s certainly an uncomplicated way to ascend the standings, and if everyone who has underachieved got hot at once, look out, I suppose.
But right now, the morning after that late-night mess in Seattle in which John Lackey spoke for all of us, a prolonged winning streak feels like the daydream of the last stragglers who are still in denial about the depth of this ditch.
Given that this team has shown only sporadic inclination to make a charge — since their seven-game winning streak ended June 2, they’ve gone 8-13 — a team-wide rally is roughly as likely as LeBron James signing with the Celtics.
If it’s going to happen, the time is now. The second half of this road trip — which includes two more in Seattle and three in the Bronx — needs to go a hell of a lot better than the first half has gone. The schedule once they return home seems to provide a fair chance to make up some ground. But they cannot afford to lose any more ground before they get back to Fenway.
It’s easier today to consider breaking up this team than it is to imagine meaningful games at Fenway from September into October. Oh, the Red Sox will and should never turn this into a full-scale rebuild — there’s plenty of talent on the roster and more on the way, and they will aim to contend for a championship next year.
It just so happens that this year, the offense has stalled because of injuries, veterans having down years, and rookies who haven’t seized their opportunity as successfully as expected.
Last year’s fortune became this year’s frustration, and as the season approaches its midpoint, the frustration’s end doesn’t appear to be on the horizon. And the game you play as a fan changes, inevitably. Rather than trying to figure out how the Red Sox might score their allotted two runs tonight, you catch yourself wondering what some of these guys might bring in return.
Relievers Burke Badenhop and Andrew Miller could bolster a contender’s bullpen, and Felix Doubront seems on the path to becoming another team’s enigma soon. Jonny Gomes could get another chance to prove what he clearly believes — winning follows him — despite evidence on both sides of the argument. Stephen Drew would have some rental appeal, though we’re beginning to wonder if he picked up the wrong glasses prescription
Then there are the big-ticket items. Jon Lester, a free-agent-to-be and an ace when the games matter most, would have rent-a-lefty appeal to a team with serious World Series aspirations. John Lackey is essentially the quasi-ace that was for so many years with the Angels, and he’s a steal next season at roughly $500,000. Koji Uehara, the delightful and superb closer, turns 40 next April and is also in the last year of his deal. Imagine what a contender might give up for him.
Imagine this, too, while we’re at it (and since it’s in the headline and all). What would the market be for David Ortiz if the Red Sox made him available?
It may seem like baseball blasphemy to suggest trading Ortiz, who has done more to alter Red Sox history for the better than any player … well, probably ever. It would require a prolonged losing streak — hell, make that Bobby V.-level chaos — for it to be a consideration to Ben Cherington. And even then it would require Ortiz waiving his 10/5 rights.
I don’t think anyone wants that to happen. I don’t think it will. Ownership probably already has given him a plaque telling him he’ll end his career here. His contract — which pays him $16 million next year with two attainable options for ’16 and ’17 through age 41 — essentially says the same thing.
But the thought — presuming this season continues along the path to nowhere — is more reasonable than maybe we want to admit. While he’s delivering his usual number of clutch hits — just imagine where they’d be without his three-run homer to beat the Tigers, his salvaging blast against the A’s Sunday, or his tying shot in extra innings against the Twins last Wednesday — he’s on pace for his lowest OPS since 2009. At his age, the signs of decline can be obvious or subtle, but they’re going to be there sooner than we hope.
Trading Ortiz has been a topic before. Early in July 2012, he was asked about waiving his 10/5 rights — and that was while the Red Sox were just 2.5 out in the wild-card race. You know how that played out. Ortiz hurt his Achilles’ tendon July 16 and played one more game the rest of the season. The Red Sox collapsed. If he got hurt now, there’s no doubt that would signal the end of this season, too.
I’ll admit it: If the Red Sox don’t get it together soon and hop into legitimate wild-card contention, I’d be intrigued to find out what Ortiz would bring — the Red Sox do need to find his successor as the lineup anchor, and stockpiling young talent is a logical first step in doing so.
His defensive limitations also limit his market, but what would a desperate-to-contend franchise like, say, the Royals give up for a charismatic slugger who owns a career.455/.576/.795 slash line in three World Series appearances?
He’s not having the season this year that he did last year, but the man still knows how to seize the moment.
Trading Ortiz would be difficult, even shocking. But it wouldn’t be that much more shocking than watching this stagnant Red Sox team somehow rocket into contention. I don’t think he departs, but I’m beginning to believe that the most interesting moments of the season will come when true contenders start harvesting this roster for parts.