Here is the reality of the situation: The Red Sox are 31-38 and would have to go 54-39 over the remaining 93 games to get to 85 wins and perhaps have a chance at the postseason.
So a team that has so far played .449 baseball would have to play .581 baseball starting tonight.
The odds of that seem slim. The Red Sox are well below average offensively and injuries aren’t an excuse as the underachievers include David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. The ceiling for this team might be finishing .500.
This is not all that unusual. Five of the last 10 defending World Series champions didn’t make the playoffs the following season, and two of them (the 2012 Giants and 2007 Cardinals) had losing records.
Only the 2008 Phillies returned to the World Series.
The Red Sox have two choices at this point: Dutifully stay the course and hope they suddenly starting playing well, or line up a series of trades to improve the 2015 team.
Sure, they could trade to improve this team. But it would be borderline irresponsible to give up prospects to improve a team with the second-worst record in the American League.
(We pause here to remind you the Marlins are one game out of first place. They’re not trading Giancarlo Stanton now. They’re just not. Move along from that idea.)
No matter what happens this season, the future is bright. The Red Sox have payroll and roster flexibility and a number of high-end prospects in the upper levels of the minor leagues. They are in an enviable position compared to other teams.
So why not improve that position? Take advantage of the emotional capital gained last season by telling fans you’re gearing up for another run in 2015. Here are trade candidates in order of the most likely to get traded:
Koji Uehara: The closer is 39 and will be a free agent after the season. He has been a ridiculous bargain for the better part of two seasons and now you can add to that bargain by dealing him for a prospect. Contending teams need relievers and Uehara could be the best available.
The alternative is seeing him walk as a free agent after the season or overpaying to keep him for his age 40 and 41 seasons.
Craig Breslow, Chris Capuano or Andrew Miller: Contending teams need lefty relievers and the Sox have three of them with varying degrees of value. All three will be free agents after the season, although the Sox do hold an option on Breslow.
Burke Badenhop: The righthanded reliever has been terrific this season and will be a free agent. His value has never been higher, so sell high.
Jake Peavy: He will be a free agent after the season and it’s unlikely the Red Sox will bring him back given all the starters they have in Triple A. He might not bring back a big return, but a contending team looking to improve the back end of its rotation might give up a prospect.
A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross: Catchers always have value and both of these guys will be free agents after the season. Why not deal one of them and let Christian Vazquez get started in the majors?
Jonny Gomes: He will be a free agent after the season and seems to spread Jonny Gomes Postseason Magic wherever he goes. He is unlikely to be signed after the season, so why not trade him?
Stephen Drew: If the Red Sox really do see Xander Bogaerts as their shortstop of the future, it’s a waste of time to have him playing third base for a losing team. Trade Drew and move Bogaerts back.
That being said, the Red Sox are probably blowing smoke about Bogaerts and see him staying at third.
John Lackey: The Red Sox should work out an extension with Lackey that encompasses the $500,000 option they hold on him for 2015. But he would have tremendous value on the trade market given his contract and the quality of his pitching.
Jon Lester: The Red Sox should sign Lester to a contract extension to solidify their rotation and the guess here is they will do just that. If they have no intention of doing that — which is a reasonable position to take given the number of innings he has thrown — trade him now. That would be far more preferable to waiting until the end of the season and pretending you want to keep him right up until he signs with another team.
Shane Victorino: He is owed $13 million for 2015, which would depress his trade value. But you can make the argument that the Sox got everything they could get out of him last season and the rest is all downhill.
Clay Buchholz: He is signed for $12 million in 2015 and the Sox hold reasonable options for 2016 ($13 million) and 2017 ($13.5 million), so he’s probably not going anywhere. But you’d have to at least think about it given his inability to stay off the disabled list.
Felix Doubront: The lefty will be arbitration eligible for the first time after the season and will be decent value as a No. 4 or No. 5 starter. But given his inconsistency, a deal wouldn’t be unreasonable.
Will Middlebrooks: For reasons unclear, people seem to think he will be traded. Two things: His value has never been lower and he has minor league options. He may not have a future with the Red Sox, but it’s better to wait for Middlebrooks to build value before dealing him.