BALTIMORE — Yankees icon Derek Jeter’s final baseball game will be in Boston next Sunday, and that’s the most significant thing that will happen over the final Red Sox homestand of the season, which begins Tuesday against the Rays.
Red Sox special events guru Dr. Charles Steinberg will be the other notable figure as we watch how he choreographs Jeter’s final act.
The rest is an exercise in playing out the string, going through the motions against two teams that also have nothing to play for.
Could you have imagined this at the start of the season? Boston, Tampa Bay, and New York finishing out the string at Fenway Park? When the schedule maker designed this final week, he or she likely did so with the idea that all three would be competing for something, the American League East title or a wild-card berth.
As it turned out, the Red Sox were a bust, the Rays never recovered from early-season pitching injuries, and the Yankees hung in for as long as they could with four-fifths of their rotation injured and their major free agents injured or underperforming.
All three, once considered the giants of the division, have a lot of repairing to do this offseason. They are the lowest-scoring teams in the league, with the Red Sox worst of all.
The Red Sox have used most of their time after July 31 to evaluate young players and try to project them for 2015. Good luck with that.
The worst part of this season might not be the poor record, terrible offense, and demise of a World Series championship team, but rather the fact there’s virtually little read on which of the prospects can actually play, be depended upon, and excel next season.
What good are prized prospects if they can’t play in the majors?
Certainly, the Red Sox will project Xander Bogaerts as their shortstop and a guy who could become a good hitter. And they’ll base that off his performance from August on, even though there was no pressure with the team out of contention.
They’ll project Mookie Betts, who draws the most positive reviews from opposing teams’ scouts of any Red Sox prospect, playing somewhere, but where? We also wonder if he’ll become their major trade bait.
There certainly wasn’t enough time to evaluate Rusney Castillo, who looks like he has just average speed (timed at 4.2 seconds down the first base line) and hasn’t hit well since coming to the majors after signing a seven-year, $72.5 million contract. He did steal his first major league base in Sunday’s 3-2 win over the Orioles.
Will Middlebrooks did nothing to show he’s the future third baseman. Jackie Bradley Jr. continued where he left off after he was recalled in September, and has become the team’s nowhere man. It’s hard to recall a more overmatched Red Sox batter in recent memory. Should they have blind faith that Allen Craig will be a 90-RBI hitter again?
None of the young pitchers opened eyes.
Rubby De La Rosa, who was thought to be the guy, has regressed. Now there’s talk again of whether he’s a reliever or a starter.
Allen Webster has started to pitch better, but he can’t get deep into a game. Anthony Ranaudo started well but hasn’t finished well. It’s hard to tell much about Matt Barnes, who is supposed to have a plus-fastball but hasn’t flashed it.
Brandon Workman is 1-10 and the numbers don’t lie. Edwin Escobar, acquired with Heath Hembree in the Jake Peavy deal, hasn’t pitched enough to get a read on.
Eduardo Rodriguez, obtained in the Andrew Miller deal, has a good arm, but news flash: The Orioles didn’t think they were giving up Clayton Kershaw.
As we’ve written before, the surest guy among the pitching prospects might be knuckleballer Steven Wright, who may get a chance for a rotation spot by default. None of this bodes well for the Red Sox. If you’re going to have a lousy season, there has to at least be some sense about who will fill out your 25-man roster next season.
There’s very little sense of that.
You can project all you want. You can put together your statistical models, get Bill James’s projections as they did last offseason, and sometimes they just don’t work out.
You can make the case that the Red Sox need a third baseman, a catcher, two starting pitchers, a lefthanded bat (and maybe that’s the third baseman), and a center fielder (based on the inconclusive evidence on Castillo and Bradley). And with the way Koji Uehara has pitched lately, is he your closer for next season if he can be signed as a free agent?
Are the Red Sox better off than the Rays and Yankees? They’re better off than the Rays because of resources. The Rays had to deal David Price, but seemed to get a cheaper, younger version in Drew Smyly in that deal with the Tigers. Price is 3-4 with a 4.09 ERA in nine starts for Detroit, while Smyly is 3-1 with a 1.70 ERA in seven starts for Tampa Bay.
The Rays may have to deal another pitcher such as Jeremy Hellickson in order to get some offense, knowing they will get back lefthander Matt Moore by late May after missing this season because of Tommy John surgery.
The Yankees are a high-priced mess. They will get Alex Rodriguez back, but who knows what he’ll look like at age 40 after missing a season? The Yankees need high-priced veterans such as Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann to have bounce-back seasons.
They need CC Sabathia to come back from his knee issues and contribute again. They need good health from their starters — mainly Masahiro Tanaka, who started 12-1 before an elbow injury, which he has tried to rehab without Tommy John surgery.
They must also get a full season out of Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova, and it’s become imperative that they re-sign free agent Brandon McCarthy. They will probably try to sign two other top-of-the-rotation pitchers in free agency, and perhaps a righthanded power bat such as Nelson Cruz.
They also, of course, need to replace Jeter. For a while, it was thought Stephen Drew would be the heir apparent, but his woeful offensive season has squashed that. Now they’re looking at someone like JJ Hardy, Hanley Ramirez or Asdrubal Cabrera.
So, enjoy the Jeter celebration, because that’s all there is. This homestand is mercifully the last stand for one of the worst Red Sox teams you’ll ever see.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.