There are division rivals who don’t believe the Red Sox are goners in this AL East race.
They’re either kidding, sincere, being kind and diplomatic, or just delusional. It’s probably the right thing for a Sox opponent to say, but in reality, how can this be?
“I think we’re all playing each other over the last two months of the season so this can be anybody’s division,” said Derek Jeter. “Our team has had a lot of injuries, so we need other people to step up and do the job. It’s there for anyone to take. I don’t even look at the standings until the end of August.”
Jeter is right in that the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox — the bottom three in the division — should proceed as if they are in the race. What harm would that do?
Toronto slugger Jose Bautista also thinks any team can still win.
The Red Sox have been playing kids all season so they can claim they’re building for next year. Or if they go on a winning streak, they can claim they never surrendered the 2014 season.
They have taken their lumps, but there have been times recently where the team has shown signs of life.
There’s so much the Red Sox would have to overcome, mainly the four teams ahead of them. Teams get hot. Teams go cold. Nothing says the teams that have been on top — Baltimore and Toronto — will stay there.
“Up to this point things haven’t gone our way,” Jon Lester said. “But you can see our offense is starting to turn it around and we’ve got some good pitching performances lately. Our bullpen has been solid all year.”
The last-place Red Sox have three top starters in Lester, John Lackey, and Clay Buchholz. They also have a solid No. 4 in Jake Peavy, who has made three consecutive quality starts, and a pair of young starters in Rubby De La Rosa and Brandon Workman, who have kept the team in games.
The Red Sox will likely face some interesting decisions leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Among them:
1. Peavy and Felix Doubront have been shopped and/or have had their names directly involved in trade talks.
The Cardinals and Dodgers have a shot to obtain Peavy. The Brewers were thought to be interested, but now say they are not. Nor are the Braves.
Despite his 1-8 record, Peavy’s pitching far better than that and the teams who have been scouting him lately know it. Peavy could be a last-minute deal when the pitching market is sorted out at the deadline.
2. Cole Hamels, anyone? It makes perfect sense for the Red Sox to pursue the Phillies lefthander. They have been scouting him. Why? His contract is precisely the contract the Sox want for a No. 1 pitcher. It has four years remaining at about $90 million.
Such a move would be geared mostly for next season. The issue for the Sox would be giving up prospects.
Hamels is Philly’s most tradeable commodity. They would have to score huge to make a deal. The Phillies have been scouting Boston heavily all season. At one point they had their top people at seven of eight Sox series. And now the Phillies are scouting Boston’s farm system.
The Phillies would have to get three top young players to even think about a Hamels deal. Otherwise, they will likely build around him.
A play for Hamels could improve the Red Sox’ leverage with Lester, to whom they made an opening proposal of four years at $70 million.
3. It would appear the Red Sox would make another proposal to Lester before the end of the season. Lester would be wise to play it out and see what the market offers.
“The money is going to get pretty intense for him,” said one rival AL East GM. “Max Scherzer is out there with him for free agents of top-echelon guys and Lester is lefthanded. Seems like he’s in a good position.”
The biggest thing Lester has to avoid right now is an injury. If he stays injury-free and performs at the level he did in the first half, then bring in two Brinks trucks to hold the money he’ll make.
It’ll take a team with deep pockets, but several will be in the hunt for Scherzer and Lester. The Rangers, Yankees, Dodgers, Mariners, Orioles, Blue Jays, Giants, Brewers, and Rockies could all be in the hunt for one ace or both.
Teams also are beginning to ask the Red Sox, “Would you trade Lester?”
4. The rest of this season is really about finding out which young guys can be trusted to man key positions in 2015. The Red Sox have to decide whether Mookie Betts is really an outfielder and whether Brock Holt is, in fact, a starter.
They must find out whether Jackie Bradley Jr. can hit well enough to play center field every day or whether he becomes a trade chip. Who knows about Will Middlebrooks? The third baseman is injured again (sore wrist), setting him back once more.
The Red Sox hope Xander Bogaerts will begin to get comfortable at third base — which is what they consider his permanent position — and start making the adjustments at the plate that will get him back to being a fun hitter to watch.
They also want Christian Vazquez to develop the non-physical aspect of the catching position. He needs to learn the pitchers and eventually start calling the game.
5. The Red Sox want Koji Uehara, 39, back for 2015 and will likely make him a one-year offer. The Sox really don’t have any internal closer candidates, nor do they want to explore the closer market.
Any trade offer for Uehara would likely not bring much, given his age. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen; perhaps a team steps up and blows the Red Sox away.
6. Teammates, coaches, and manager John Farrell heap lavish praise on Stephen Drew. He’s clearly Dustin Pedroia’s favorite shortstop of his 17 double-play partners. Drew began to swing the bat much better before the break. The feeling is, if he continues to hit he’ll create a trade market for himself.
7. Big couple of months ahead for lefty relievers Andrew Miller and Craig Breslow. Miller is a pending free agent while Breslow has a $4 million club option. Miller is definitely someone the Red Sox would like to retain. Breslow hasn’t had the best of seasons.
8. Shane Victorino still has a year left on his deal, at $13 million. How much playing time will Victorino get in the second half when the Red Sox have to find out about Betts and Holt? His absence has been tough, but now there may be no urgency to hurry him back unless they’re trying to attract a trade partner.
9. David Ross is attracting interest from contenders who think the veteran catcher can help their staff. But he’s also someone the Red Sox would love to keep for 2015 and continue to work with Vazquez.
10. Jonny Gomes, Daniel Nava, and Mike Carp all could be vulnerable to deals as bench contributors. The Tigers, for instance, have four righthanded-hitting outfielders and could use a lefty bat. The Royals could use a righty bat.
11. Henry Owens is the minor leaguer to watch the rest of the way, for sure. The tall lefthander has 12 wins at Portland. A promotion to Pawtucket is likely in the works.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.