Slow to develop, monotonous, dullish, devoid of scoring for sustained stretches . . .
No, I’m not talking about soccer’s World Cup, which has been scintillating sports theater. I’m referencing the season of the Boston Red Sox, treading water in the Group of Mediocrity, better known as the American League East.
With the Sox on a 10-game road trip, it’s a good time to take inventory on a grand slam of recent developments/potential happenings.
1. David Ortiz wasn’t being a selfish player last Wednesday, when following a 2-1 walkoff, 10-inning win over the Minnesota Twins he complained about not being awarded a hit by official scorer Bob Ellis. He was just being a baseball player. And the ruling was indeed changed to a hit Monday. Ortiz was driving home my contention that baseball is an individual game masquerading as a team sport.
It has always been that way with players preoccupied with their individual statistics. Remember Wade Boggs politicking to get an error he was charged with changed to a hit, at the expense of teammate Roger Clemens’s ERA in 1992? How about starting pitchers leaving the dugout when they realize they can’t get the win?
This is not to condone Ortiz’s behavior, but to understand that it’s inherent to baseball, not just Ortiz’s personality. Baseball is a sport of self-reliance and self-aggrandizement. It simply doesn’t require the same amount of teamwork as football, hockey, or basketball.
It’s a bunch of players on neighboring islands. Baseball caters to individual measurement of success or failure. That’s why it is the sport most awash in individual statistical data.
There are certainly plays in baseball that require intricate teamwork and coordination — turning a double play or executing a suicide squeeze — but most of the game is solipsistic.
The Big Guy has done this before, barging into a press conference to gripe about an RBI or laying waste to a dugout phone after a desultory piece of umpiring, despite his team having a five-run seventh-inning lead.
Ortiz gets some special dispensation because he is a designated hitter. Hitting is the only way his contributions can be counted. Unlike Dustin Pedroia, he doesn’t have the benefit of pointing to a dirty uniform or a diving stop when he’s not producing at the plate. Entering Monday, Ortiz was hitting .208 this month with a .307 on-base percentage; he had hit five home runs.
Ortiz’s message was ill-timed and ill-conveyed — he apologized to Ellis Monday — but it’s one that is as timeless as baseball itself: What about me?
2. Memo to the Red Sox: Don’t rush uber-prospect Mookie Betts to the majors. The Sox remain committed to exploring all internal options to remedy their astonishing lack of outfield production, which is why third base prospect Garin Cecchini started in left field Sunday for Pawtucket.
Betts entered Monday with 87 plate appearances in Triple A and 25 total minor league appearances in center field. The 21-year-old, who has a .955 OPS between Double A and Triple A this season, could use a little more seasoning before playing savior.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington has built a fertile farm system that Baseball America rated as the second-best in the game entering the 2014 season. But stacking prospects like cordwood is only part of the process. Model organizations must identify which prospects are essential and which are expendable in deals to address weaknesses. The Atlanta Braves of the 1990s and early aughts were masters of this.
Maybe the Sox are hoarding their pieces for an eventual run at Giancarlo Stanton. But if you’re unwilling to give up anyone from the farm system, you might end up hurting prospects like Betts in the end, as their development is accelerated to plug holes that could be filled by parting with lesser prospects.
3. We’ll always have Opening Day in Baltimore, Grady. The Red Sox designated Opening Day center fielder Grady Sizemore for assignment last Tuesday, ending his overhyped stint with the team. It was patently absurd that Sizemore, after a two-year hardball hiatus due to injuries, was being hailed as his 2008 self because he was running around JetBlue Park in Fort Myers in March like Ken Griffey Jr.
We were to believe that Sizemore hadn’t declined at all, but Tom Brady is on the verge of morphing into Mark Sanchez.
Sizemore’s final numbers in a Red Sox uniform look an awful lot like the last two seasons he played in the majors.
Sizemore hit .216 with a .288 on-base percentage and a .324 slugging percentage for the Sox in 52 games. In 2011, he sported a .224/.285/.485 line in 71 games. In 2010, it was .211/.271/.289 in 33 games.
Sizemore lived up to expectations during his time here. It was just that the Sox saddled him with unrealistic ones.
4. It’s time for the Red Sox to make way for Clay, as scuffling starter Clay Buchholz is now ready to return from his team-mandated minor league sabbatical, er, hyperextended left knee. Buchholz and his stuff are simply too good to discard, even if his ERA (7.02) matches a Las Vegas area code.
The Sox face a tough decision on what to do with young starters Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, and Felix Doubront (who can’t be optioned to the minors).
The Sox should make room for Doubront in the bullpen, where he pitched brilliantly in the World Series. They should keep De La Rosa in the rotation, demoting Workman. On merit, Workman would stay in the majors. But he has yet to go seven innings in eight career big league starts, five this season.
De La Rosa has thrown seven dominant innings in three of his five starts this year, including his last two. The Sox need to find out if the 25-year-old is realizing his potential as a top-of-the-rotation starter.
In a Red Sox season with flickering hope and elusive answers, sticking with De La Rosa could provide sustained doses of both.