This was not the imperceptible leak of a nail in a tire. This was a four-wheel, four-game blowout, hope spinning out and crashing through the guardrails.
The players will and should struggle to accept the obvious. They are trained to compete regardless of the setting, to believe that they are capable of the nearly impossible, to think that they haven’t been eliminated until the day that they are.
But players are not the ones who make the decisions about what to do with rosters. That task falls to front offices, whose charge is realism, even when grim. And the fate that awaits the 2015 Red Sox is indeed grim.
A year ago, hope flickered for the Red Sox around the All-Star break with a stretch of five straight victories. A subsequent string of four consecutive losses through July 25 told the Red Sox all they needed to know. At nine games under .500 and with a deficit of 10 ½ games in the division and 7 ½ in the wild card race, there was nothing left. After a Friday night loss in Tampa Bay, the Red Sox started a roster purge, dealing Jake Peavy to the Giants by the next morning.
“There’s a reason why they call it a deadline,” GM Ben Cherington said last July 26. “We have to be mindful of what that means with where we are, what the math says about our chances, and we have to act accordingly. Whatever we do between now and then will be geared toward putting ourselves in the best possible position as quickly as possible.”
Math said there was nothing for which to play. Five days later, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Andrew Miller, and Stephen Drew joined the exodus.
That history is worth revisiting because of where the Red Sox now find themselves. The Angels concluded a four-game sweep by bludgeoning the Red Sox in both halves of a day-night doubleheader by a combined 18-4 score.
The Sox are nine games under .500 – just as they were when last year’s four-game losing streak prompted a decision to sell – along with nine games behind the Yankees in the division and 8 ½ games out of a wild card spot. The idea of investing more resources in 2015 for its own sake has no merit. (That doesn’t foreclose the notion of the Sox as buyers if they can address longer-term holes in the rotation, bullpen, and at first base.)
This year, the Sox don’t have a Lester or Lackey or Miller to deal. Those players were capable of intriguing virtually every contender, creating considerable value. Unless the Sox decide to deal one of their young building blocks (Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Eduardo Rodriguez, Blake Swihart), they won’t find comparable interest in anyone they’d consider moving this year.
Instead, the precedent of greatest relevance may be that of Peavy and Drew, both of whom were dealt as much (if not more) to create openings for young players with a chance to contribute in 2015 than for the sake of player returns.
The Sox have arrived at a similar point now, a fact that helps to explain why Brian Johnson will make his big league debut tonight and perhaps helping to explain the decision to activate Blake Swihart from the disabled list and to designate Sandy Leon for assignment on Monday. Perhaps more moves are coming soon in the rotation (Henry Owens is amidst his best run in Triple A), right field (to look at Jackie Bradley Jr. and/or Rusney Castillo), and at first base (Travis Shaw, Daniel Nava, or Allen Craig), even if it comes at the expense of valued veterans like Shane Victorino or Mike Napoli or even newcomer Alejandro De Aza.
The Red Sox elected to make “Calling All Kids” the theme of their 2015 season. It’s probably time for the Red Sox to take a similar campaign onto the field for the duration of a lost campaign.