The last time the 2014 Red Sox played a game that mattered … well, come to think of it, I’m not sure they’ve ever really played a game that matters.
If they did, it happened way back when Yoenis Cespedes was anchoring Oakland’s surprisingly potent lineup and Jon Lester still seemed likely to remain a one-organization player.
They’ve played games that we’ve hoped would matter, but ultimately, scattered events such as that seven-game winning streak in June or the occasional walk-off have led to more unfulfilled expectations.
Contention has been a daydream since the first couple of weeks of the season. All that went right last year has gone wrong in the sequel and they can’t hit worth a damn and blah blah blah. You know all of this. The narrative to this season was established long ago, and they’ve rarely deviated from it.
The 2014 Red Sox slogan: “Hey, Remember 2013? That Was Awesome, Right?”
I suppose all of that passes for my overdue obituary on this season. Still, acknowledging the obvious — that there’s nothing left to play for as a team — doesn’t necessarily mean the final 38 games are a waste of our time. It’s a bummer the Red Sox aren’t contending.
But as currently constructed, this is a fascinating team to evaluate, especially in context of Ben Cherington’s quest to build the next great Red Sox team. It’s time to gather evidence who will make it and who won’t, and who will stay and who gets dealt.
There is meaningful information to be found in watching Ruby De La Rosa and the myriad of young arms pitch, or Christian Vazquez catch like some honorary Molina who has been around a decade, or Xander Bogaerts try to solve the mystery of the slider.
Possibly the most interesting aspect of this team at the moment is the outfield, especially in regard to how it shakes out next year. Mookie Betts, whom I suspect has made enough progress defensively that John Farrell will actually play him this time around, swapped spots with that offensively inept defensive genius, Jackie Bradley Jr.
Allen Craig, a fine hitter before his foot issues started to seem chronic, is shaping up to be a bargain or bust, with no in between. Daniel Nava is raking again (.321/.366/.421 in the second half). Shane Victorino, brilliant last year and absent in this one, has another year left on his deal, and no one has a clue what to expect.
Then there is Cespedes. He’s arguably the most interesting player on the roster right now, a thrill-an-inning amalgam of extraordinary tools, obvious joy, dramatic flair, and maddening flaws. Other than David Ortiz, he’s the only player in the lineup who makes you stop what you’re doing and pay attention when he’s in the batter’s box. He also has a .297 OPS this season, which means 70 percent of those must-see at-bats are wholly unfulfilling.
As talented as he is, I remain a bit puzzled as to why the Red Sox brought him here with just one full year left on his deal. Because of his contract status, he has little appeal in a trade for a bigger star.
Are they just taking a look-see before letting him hit free agency — that seems unlikely considering they gave up Lester to get him — or do they intend to sign him long term?
And for all of his entertainment value — he takes the mightiest righthanded rip by a Red Sox hitter since Manny — is he someone they should sign long-term?
We’ve got 38 games left to gather some intelligence on that.
In the interim, here’s how I think it shakes out for next season and in some cases beyond regarding the aforementioned outfield names:
Victorino: An expensive fourth outfielder. They can’t trade him, and they can’t count on him, either.
Betts: Starts in center field on Opening Day — for Pawtucket. Dealt in a blockbuster trade either this offseason or next. Gotta give up something to get something, fellas.
Bradley: After listening to Jerry Remy’s candid analysis last night, I still think he’ll hit enough to play every day. But it’s going to take time and effort. He begins next season as a bench player.
Nava: Traded over the next 12 days after clearing waivers.
Craig: Starts season in left field, gets hurt again, cynical fans begin wondering if he’s related to the Drews.
Cespedes: Starts in right field, signs a 4-year deal in midseason ’15, wins Home Run Derby every year until he retires.
Rusney Castillo: Starts in center field for Red Sox on Opening Day. Castillo and Cespedes, the Cuban connection. Now that would be interesting.