Anything less than repeating as World Series champions would be a failure for the Red Sox. Fair or not, that’s their reality considering nearly the entire roster returned from last year’s historically successful team.
It wasn’t like they hid from it, either.
“If you guys thought last year was special, wait ’til this year,” manager Alex Cora said in January before a big crowd at the annual Boston BBWAA dinner.
We’re still waiting.
With the season two games away from its midway point, the Red Sox trail the Yankees by eight games in the American League East and are competing for a wild-card playoff berth.
The American League is loaded with flawed teams and the Sox could well get in the playoffs and perhaps even win the wild-card game.
But based on what we have seen so far, there’s little chance the Red Sox could win a best-of-five series against the Yankees or Astros.
Their bullpen is not deep enough and several important players — Mookie Betts and J.D Martinez in particular — are not playing with the same flair and sense of purpose they showed a year ago. Even fiery Chris Sale has been meandering along.
The Red Sox are what their 42-37 record says they are, a decent team but not a good one. Sunday’s dreary 6-1 loss against the Toronto Blue Jays was further evidence of that.
“Today we didn’t show up,” Cora said. “It was disappointing.”
The solution most years would be to make a trade to improve the bullpen and give the team a needed shot of energy. But the Sox are already pushing up against the highest threshold of the luxury tax and the penalties become even more significant.
They also should be hoarding prospects in their fallow farm system, not shedding more.
So here’s a thought: Go in the other direction and sell.
This almost certainly won’t happen. The Sox haven’t given up on a season since 2014 when they were 43-52 at the All-Star break. Their business model has been to press ahead, not fall back.
But if the Sox are still running in place three weeks from now, why waste the opportunity? Shed some salary, gain some prospects, and accomplish something productive this season instead of just missing the playoffs or getting kicked out early.
The options are many:
■ Offer Martinez more guaranteed salary to void his opt-out clause after the season. If he refuses, trade him. The Astros or Rays could use a hitter.
Maybe just trade him anyway. Martinez is going to be 32 in August and can’t play the outfield very often because of back issues.
■ Offer Betts an extension and if he turns it down, trade him. The Sox could restock their system with this deal and every team in baseball would have interest to some degree. He has more trade value now than he would after the season.
■ Trade Rick Porcello before he hits free agency. The righthander was eager to sign an extension in spring training and the Sox never made him an offer. If there are no plans to bring him back, make a deal. Even a B-plus prospect is better than nothing.
Porcello is reliable, has playoff experience and will be motivated to pitch well. There’s a market for those qualities.
■ See what you can get for Mitch Moreland once he returns from the injured list. There’s little chance he returns next season as a free agent. Playoff-bound teams would find value in a steady defender with power who has 48 games of postseason experience.
Even if Moreland returns only a long-shot prospect, that’s better than nothing.
■ Brock Holt, who also is coming up on free agency, offers the defensive versatility a team with postseason aspirations would covet. He has been hitting, too. Take advantage of that.
■ Be open-minded. Eduardo Rodriguez is under team control for another 2½ years. See what the market is for him. Make Jackie Bradley Jr. an extension offer and offer him up if he declines.
If you’re going to rebuild, embrace it.
■ Put the entire bullpen on the market, every one of them. The Sox are wearing out Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman, Ryan Brasier, and Heath Hembree. Let some other team deal with the aftermath.
To be certain, the Sox have untouchables. Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers aren’t going anywhere. The same is true for Christian Vazquez given his team-friendly contract and the difficulty in finding a good catcher. Michael Chavis is a low-cost keeper.
They’re also committed to Sale. David Price’s contract would be all-but-impossible to move. The same is true for Nate Eovaldi given his injury.
Again, this is almost certainly not going to happen. The Sox will probably add a reliever or two and hope their best players wake up in time to make a run at the Yankees.
“We’re far from being where we’re supposed to be,” Cora said.
He’s right. And if that doesn’t change soon, every option should be on the table.