It was hard to believe that it was only nine months ago in the same clubhouse that the Red Sox celebrated a World Series title. That championship feeling is as distant now as the clubhouse mood before Wednesday night’s listless 6-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.
On Oct. 30, 2013, a Wednesday, the Red Sox packed into their clubhouse for a sodden celebration, drenching each other in champagne, beer, and adulation after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-1, at Fenway Park to cap a worst-to-first redemption.
On July 30, 2014, a Wednesday, many of the same players were in a subdued and solemn version of the same space, the room dripping with uneasiness, uncertainty, and tension.
It felt like a bond was being broken, a brotherhood disbanded, as the Sox were primed to scatter the ashes of their broken team across major league baseball, including ace lefthander Jon Lester.
With Thursday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline looming and the Red Sox strapped to the bottom of the American League East like they’re wearing lead cleats, the team that embodied Boston Strong looked like Boston, So Long.
The Sox started Wednesday on the verge of deconstructing their World Series championship team, with no greater symbol of the expected Great Purge than the trade chatter surrounding playoff hero and impending free agent Lester.
It’s one thing to trade Jake Peavy, another to move Lester and John Lackey, who was the winning pitcher in the deciding game of the 2013 World Series.
It felt like the Red Sox were holding a going-out-of-business sale for the 2013 world champions. Everything must go!
You expected to see an auctioneer in the home clubhouse. At least that would have livened things up a bit.
Lester, who was 4-1 with a 1.56 earned run average last postseason, and the Red Sox are destined for a break-up, no matter how much they claim to long to be together forever. The only question is will it happen via trade, or after the season, when Lester hits free agency?
The sturdy lefty is in line for a market-value contract ($24 million-$25 million per season) and that’s suddenly too rich for the Red Sox’ taste. It doesn’t matter that Lester is a player who has proven he can succeed in the crucible of Boston baseball and had the second-best pitcher WAR (wins above replacement) in major league baseball at the start of Wednesday.
There is no question being burned by bad long-term deals given to Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett has distorted how the Sox view re-signing Lester.
Aging baby-boomers can identify with the Sox’ new team-building approach. They don’t trust anyone over 30.
Meet the risk-averse Red Sox, who are willing to cede one of the single biggest advantages derived from being in this baseball-obsessed market — the financial might to write off bad contracts. Deals that would be crippling for other clubs can be sold off by the Sox because they have a fan base that is willing to have its fealty monetized.
But the Sox want to build their team now like they have the budget of the Kansas City Royals.
You don’t have to be legendary political economist Adam Smith to figure out that if the Sox are going to try to legislate a one-team market correction for baseball they’re going to miss out on some quality players.
The persistent trade talk and seeming inevitability of a Lester deal made being at Fenway feel like waiting in line at the RMV — tedious, joyless, but entirely mandatory. It only got worse during the game, as the Sox sank back to 12 games below .500 (48-60).
At about 3:15 p.m, Twitter reports filtered in that the Sox had traded away a homegrown lefthanded pitcher who overpowered the Cardinals in the 2013 World Series.
But it wasn’t Lester.
The Sox shipped malcontent Felix Doubront to old friend Theo Epstein and the Chicago Cubs. Doubront just beat the Sox by two days in completely quitting on this team, after his embarrassing relief “effort’’ on Monday in a 14-1 drubbing by the Blue Jays.
Lester, who has been one of the few bright spots for the Sox, going 10-7 with a 2.52 ERA, was originally supposed to start Wednesday night against the Blue Jays. But the Sox announced Tuesday that Brandon Workman would make the start.
No need to risk damaging the merchandise before you hawk it for maximum value.
Lester’s belongings were still in his locker when the clubhouse opened a little after 3:30 p.m. Pictures, civilian clothes, game pants, and a collection of cleats all secure in his stall.
Manager John Farrell, while acknowledging the reality of the rampant trade speculation, said in his pregame news conference that Lester was scheduled to start Sunday against the Yankees.
Lester was on the field for batting practice. In the first inning, NESN cameras spotted Lester in baseball attire in the dugout.
He wasn’t gone yet.
As the Red Sox were ostensibly preparing to part with the remnants of 2013 glory, their 2015 dream was on display in the clubhouse, pregame. The flat-screen televisions showed Miami Marlins star and Red Sox object of desire Giancarlo Stanton club his 24th home run of the season.
Farrell insisted that even with a sell-off general manager Ben Cherington has a plan to restore the Sox to contention in 2015.
“I think we have every intention to compete and contend next year,” said Farrell. “That’s not to say that we’re not looking to win as many games as we can this year.
“The question mark remains who are the players who come back for individual players that we have now. We don’t know that yet. But I would hope that the team that is built for 2015 isn’t just based on those who are brought back in trades by tomorrow at 4 o’clock. This is an ongoing process that we continue to build.”
Check back with the Sox in nine months.