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Chad Finn

The Red Sox are simply treading water down the stretch, soon to be submerged

Alex Verdugo seems to be the embodiment of the 2023 Red Sox — often likable and productive, but ultimately exasperating.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

When the Red Sox consummated the moronic plan to trade 27-year-old generational superstar Mookie Betts to the Dodgers on Feb. 4, 2020, I wrote angry and said my piece, which included these words:

This isn’t akin to selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees, because nothing is that. But it’s awfully close in concept to trading Yaz for prospects in 1968, or Jim Rice for a few scattered pieces in 1979. If you can’t keep Mookie Betts, who does everything right, what are we doing here?

Three and a half years later, I see no reason to amend one consonant. But I will take the opportunity to include this addendum about the resumed discussion, brought about by Betts’s first return to Fenway Park since the deal, regarding how it all went down:

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Believe Mookie. Believe him the way you believed in him.

Here’s a thought exercise sure to turn acceptance of the deal right back to that ol’ familiar anger. If Chaim Bloom called up Dodgers boss Andrew Friedman and told him that he planned to reacquire Jeter Downs from the Nationals this offseason and would include him along with Connor Wong and Alex Verdugo in an offer for Betts, how long would Friedman laugh before tears began streaming down his face?

No one is laughing over here. The Sox actually took that deal, with the added perk — really, it was the motivation — of getting David Price’s contract removed from their ledger. I’d slot Price, since retired, into the Red Sox rotation right now and pay him his old salary if it meant getting Mookie back.

This column isn’t supposed to be about Betts, but rather the Red Sox’ chances of making the postseason. But the current status of Mookie and the current state of the Red Sox are not mutually exclusive, even three-plus seasons after he was traded.

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The embodiment of the 2023 Red Sox might be Verdugo, the most established player acquired in that trade. He is talented enough, less disciplined than a college freshman leaving strict parents behind, fairly clutch in big moments, and has consistently failed to prove he is worthy of trust for any length of time. Verdugo is likable at times, and inevitably exasperating when you start to believe, just like his team.

We know who these Red Sox are, because they have been this way all season. They’re a flawed team that intersperses pockets of excellent play with bewildering, undisciplined losses. They’re above average, with a record of 68-60, and that’s enough to offer the guise of contention heading into September. But the opportunity to seize the third wild card clouds a lot of truths about their true standing.

Entering Friday’s opener of the Dodgers series, the Red Sox were in fourth place in their division. They were 11½ games behind the first-place Orioles. They have not spent an inning in first place this season. They’ve put together some impressive winnings streaks, including an eight-gamer from April 29-May 6. But it never sustains to become something more.

The microcosm of the five-steps-forward/four-and-a-half-steps-back approach to this season were their two losses to the lowly A’s on July 18-19 after winning 8 of 9 before that. They had a chance to go on a legitimate tear. Instead, they lost two in a row to a team with a .260 winning percentage. It’s who they are, and blind faith is a requirement to believe that is going to change now.

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After making the playoffs in three of Betts’s five full seasons in Boston, including the 2018 World Series-winning juggernaut, the Red Sox have participated in the postseason once since the trade, with an unexpected run to the ALCS in 2021.

I’d love to be wrong about this — because there is little that is more satisfying in this business than covering postseason games at Fenway Park — but the playoffs are going to go on without the Red Sox this year. They had 34 games remaining entering Friday. Per Boston Sports Info, they face the most difficult schedule of any of the American League wild-card contenders, with their opponents having a .538 winning percentage.

They were 3½ games out of the third wild card — a significant hole, given how few games remain — and aren’t even the next team up in the chase. They are two back of the Blue Jays, who also remain on the outside looking in at the moment. To get to 90 wins, the Red Sox would have to win 22 of those final 34 games, a .647 winning percentage. That’s beyond their capability. They’re water-treaders, going nowhere, and eventually they will become submerged.

It stinks, I know it does, but it might be best for them not to make it. If the Sox sneak in, maybe play a few playoff games of inspiring baseball before the true contenders seize the stage, it might make it easier for them to continue this way.

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No one should want that.

The Red Sox traded a generational superstar almost four years ago, and it’s made them so much less successful and interesting than they were when Mookie Betts was yours. Perhaps coming up short of the postseason again will push Bloom to bring in established, compelling, high-end talent this winter to complement a decent but still flawed core.

The day cannot arrive soon enough when the superstars receiving the biggest cheers at Fenway are present rather than past Red Sox.

Mookie Betts’ Fenway Park Homecoming
WATCH: Going Deep: Fresh off his one-on-one with Mookie Betts, reporter Pete Abraham talks about Betts’ return to Fenway and how he feels about his old team.

Chad Finn can be reached at chad.finn@globe.com. Follow him @GlobeChadFinn.