By Jeff Louderback
Bobby Valentine insists that the Red Sox are “headed in the right direction.” This, he said before Aaron Cook was knocked around and the Sox were embarrassed again on the current road trip, 10-3 in a three-game series opener at Yankee Stadium on Friday night.
Boston is now a season-worst 11.5 games behind the Yankees in the American League East standings. After 100 games, the club is 49-51. It was too early to panic when the Red Sox struggled in April. There was also a lot of baseball left when they remained inconsistent in May and June. Yet when the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is less than a week away, as Bill Parcells so eloquently said, you are what your record says you are. Simply put, the Red Sox are a last place team that is under .500.
Though injuries have derailed the team’s progress, key hitters like Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz don’t pitch. It is woefully inconsistent starting pitching that has prevented the 2012 Red Sox from contending. At this point, everyone knows that Jon Lester and Josh Beckett are the main culprits since they were expected to serve as the ace-caliber arms atop the rotation but the Sox are 13-24 in games that they have started this year.
Lester takes the mound this afternoon at Yankee Stadium while Beckett will make his next start at Fenway Park against Detroit. Ortiz is expected to be activated from the disabled list on Wednesday, and the Red Sox could make a move for a difference-making starting pitcher by Tuesday’s trade deadline.
Since the Red Sox have not shown that they are capable of mounting a prolonged winning streak, general manager Ben Cherington should be cautious to make a deal. Even if the Sox somehow gain momentum and claim the second wild card, it is highly unlikely that they would win the American League Division Series if they won the wild card one-game playoff.
The Red Sox need fixing, and here are some moves they should implement:
- Unless they can land Felix Hernandez from the Mariners, the Red Sox should not trade any of their premium prospects (Xander Bogaerts, Matt Barnes, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Ryan Lavarnway). All four have a chance to help the Red Sox over the next two years. Lavarnway will likely make his season debut when rosters expand on September 1. Bradley could be major league ready by next September and appears to be the heir apparent to Jacoby Ellsbury in center field. Barnes and Bogaerts might be major league ready by 2014.
- Keep Cody Ross and Ryan Kalish. The 31-year-old Ross has belted 16 home runs, and he is a run-producing right-handed hitting outfielder. The Red Sox have two of those in the minor leagues in Bryce Brentz and Brandon Jacobs, but neither are major league ready. Ross is drawing interest from other teams, but the Sox would be wise to keep him and even bring him back next year. The 24-year-old Kalish is hitting well at Triple-A Pawtucket as he continues to regain his hitting stroke after missing most of last season and part of this season while rehabbing from shoulder and neck injuries. He has a chance to be the starting right fielder for the Red Sox next season.
- Change the culture by finding a taker for Josh Beckett, and by dismissing Valentine. Neither move will likely be made this season, but Beckett and Valentine could be gone when the off-season arrives. Beckett is due $15.75 in 2013 and 2014, and he has 10-5 trade rights, but chances are he would accept a trade to a contender. Finding another team for Beckett will be addition by subtraction since he has worn out his welcome in Boston. As for Valentine, enough time has passed this season to see that he is no different now than he was in Texas and New York. He has poor communication skills, and his players detest him. If the Red Sox fired him today, and named bench coach Tim Bogar interim manager, my opinion would change about the team’s post-season chances.
- Shut down Carl Crawford. Media reports indicate that the Red Sox would love to find a taker for Crawford, and that would likely involve eating much of his contract or taking on a bad contract in return. Unless that happens, Boston is stuck with the left fielder who has five years and $102 million remaining on his deal after this season. Crawford has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow, and he says that doctors have told him he will need Tommy John surgery. Recovery time for a position player who undergoes Tommy John surgery is six months, which would have him ready for spring training if he had the surgery done right now. The Red Sox have an abundance of outfielders, and Crawford is producing little as it is. Bring up Kalish and shut down Crawford so if he does remain in a Red Sox uniform, he will be fully recovered by spring training.
- Sell high on Mike Aviles, Aaron Cook and Kelly Shoppach. If the Red Sox deal these three players, it would not signal they are giving up on 2012. In fact, the moves might invigorate the team. Jose Iglesias, the 22-year-old defensive whiz, is improving his plate approach at Pawtucket and drawing more walks. Aviles’ defense is sometimes shaky, as it was Friday night against the Yankees. He could yield a prospect, and inserting Iglesias into the starting shortstop role would dramatically improve the Red Sox defense. Cook allowed six runs in four innings against the Yankees, but he has pitched reasonably well, and his sinker is moving. Boston has 26-year-old left-hander Franklin Morales who deserves an extended look in the rotation. Shoppach hits left-handers well and is a plus defensive catcher. He is drawing interest from teams looking for a reliable backup, and the Red Sox have the 24-year-old Lavarnway at Pawtucket. Lavarnway is a power-hitting catcher who has made tremendous strides on defense. It is time to platoon him with Jarrod Saltalmacchia.
- If possible, trade for a difference-making starting pitcher. Like it or not, the Red Sox are not going to trade Jon Lester. He is still just 28, and when his mechanics are smooth, he is one of the best left-handed starters in the league. Only a few starters can match his ERAs over the last four seasons (before 2012, of course), and he is 81-42 with a 3.75 ERA overall. With Lester, Clay Buchholz, 24-year-old left-hander Felix Doubront and Morales, the Red Sox have four decent starting pitchers under the age of 30. What they need is a top of the rotation arm to join them. Next season, John Lackey will rejoin the rotation, and he will be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. He could be a pleasant surprise considering that he pitched much of the three previous seasons with elbow discomfort, and before that he was a durable and effective starter.