Forget “Sweet Caroline” or “Dirty Water,” the musical accompaniment at Fenway Park for the Red Sox following the team sitting on its hands at Wednesday’s trade deadline should be “Que Sera, Sera.” What will be, will be. That’s the attitude that the Sox and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski took in electing to let this team find its own way back to the postseason.
The Que Sera, Sera Sox are content to play out the season playing reliever Russian roulette while spit-shining their 2018 World Series Trophy. They’ll see if that beeping sound you hear in the distance is them backing into the playoffs via the second wild card or backing out of the postseason for the first time since 2015.
Content is the perfect description for this edition of the Sox. They’ve been contented with their franchise-record 108 regular-season wins and World Series title from the time they showed up for spring training in Fort Myers, Fla. Nothing to see and nothing to prove here. All season long they’ve clinked together empty champagne glasses, living off last year’s accomplishments. They took it easy in the spring, told us there was no need to turn the page because this year was just another chapter in the same book of excellence. Then they got off to an 11-17 start, and have stated since how with their talent it’s only a matter of time before they engage their wins warp drive.
One of the biggest obstacles to repeating as a champion in any sport is complacency. It’s hard to harbor the same determination and desire to accomplish a task that you’ve already accomplished. This do-nothing trade deadline was representative of an organization that has acted complacent from the front office to the manager’s office to the clubhouse. The Sox look satisfied with winning one World Series during a three-year window where they have a roster loaded with high-end talent and in each of the last two seasons baseball’s highest payroll.
Despite Dombrowski’s unconvincing claim that the Sox were “going for it” and were “all-in” this season, the Sox are doing no such thing. Actions speak louder than words in sports, and in this case Dombrowski’s inaction spoke volumes. There’s no way that the Sox would have stood idly by, turning up their nose at the idea of the wild-card game, if they hadn’t won a World Series yet with this group. Dombrowski would’ve auctioned off every prospect in the farm system to bolster the Boston bullpen if the Sox were a team still needing to prove they could prevail in a playoff round.
The urgency was baked in for the entire organization last season. Now, not so much. This is the season of the Sox’ content.
Maybe, Dombrowski simply decided the patient wasn’t worth trying to save. The prognosis was simply too dicey to perform a talent transplant beyond the acquisition of fifth starter Andrew Cashner on July 13.
The Sox appeared unmotivated and unable to make a deal to help this team. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com indicated the industry isn’t as bullish on Boston’s retooled farm system as Dombrowski. The Sox’ minor league system isn’t barren, but it’s not fecund either, creating the possibility of inflated prospect value.
Trade all-or-nothing third base prospect Bobby Dalbec for a quality reliever? Done. He’s blocked at third by Rafael Devers, is a 24-year-old at Double A, and is averaging more than a strikeout per game.
This Sox team has what former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein would call a fatal flaw — a rotating cast of closers who aren’t really closers. That has a trickledown effect on the reliability of the bullpen and the team. Nothing undermines a team faster than uncertainty and anxiety related to securing those crucial final few outs. Just ask the ’03 Red Sox.
These Sox actually have solid setup men, led by Brandon Workman and Matt Barnes. They just don’t have The Guy after them or the guys preceding them to consistently get to them.
It would help if the Sox’ well-paid starting pitchers, David Price, Chris Sale, and Rick Porcello, could stop treating the pitching rubber like it emits radioactive particles if you toe it past the fifth inning.
There were a record 30 deadline day deals, according to MLB, but the Sox didn’t make one.
I know. The Yankees didn’t make any major additions. But it’s maddening to see the Sox sit on the sidelines while their cash-strapped competition for the second wild card, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland A’s, upgraded.
The Rays and A’s, both bottom-five payroll teams, smell the eau de toilette of apathy in Boston. Those teams also employ more ingenuity than the Sox in finding solutions to roster holes. You can’t just throw money at every problem, which seems to be the message from ownership to Dombrowski.
Dombrowski is an accomplished and capable judge of major league talent. He doesn’t get enough credit for resuscitating the Red Sox career of Jackie Bradley Jr. and deftly identifying that Devers and Andrew Benintendi were prospects the Sox shouldn’t part with even in deals for All-Stars.
But the 63-year-old Dombrowski is not as innovative, creative, or imaginative when it comes to solutions as some of the other baseball operations leaders such as Billy Beane in Oakland or Erik Neander with Tampa Bay or Chris Antonetti in Cleveland. With the vast resources of the Red Sox at his disposal, Dombrowski doesn’t have to find creative solutions. He hasn’t had to in a while.
The Sox opened up the checkbook for him and late Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch emptied his coffers to chase a World Series for much of Dombrowski’s 13-year tenure in Motown.
While it’s not his fault that the albatross contracts of Dustin Pedroia and Pablo Sandoval remain on the Sox’ competitive balance tax balance sheet, he misallocated his resources this season, spending money to retain classic rental players Nathan Eovaldi (four years, $68 million), a back-of-the-rotation starter who could claim the injured list as a place of residence, and first baseman Steve Pearce (one year, $6.25 million). That’s money that should’ve been spent reinforcing the bullpen.
Then Dombrowski compounded it by not rectifying the relief situation in-season.
This would be a good place to point out that Dombrowski didn’t fix the bullpen last year, either. He made excellent preemptive moves for Eovaldi and World Series MVP Pearce and added second baseman Ian Kinsler right before the deadline. But he dumped the bullpen issue into manager Alex Cora’s lap last postseason. Cora came up with the creative solution, the rover role, masterfully navigating the land mines in the Red Sox bullpen by supplementing it with the starters. Credit Cora for that save.
You can criticize Cora for footnoting 2018 for the first half of this season. But you can’t blame him for the bullpen and its MLB-worst save percentage entering Thursday (52.5). He has done a great job juggling knives and his original “closer” — Ryan Brasier — is now toiling at Triple A.
Whatever happens with the Que Sera, Sera Sox the rest of the way, they should be satisfied with the outcome. It looks like they already are.