Last to first to last to first?
Hey, it just might happen for the Boston Red Sox.
Over time in 2014, the sentimentality over last October's run to World Series glory gave way to reality. The Red Sox have been the textbook hangover team, enduring fatigued arms and battered bodies on their way to what was, entering Thursday's non-waiver Trade Deadline, a daunting 13-game deficit in the American League East.
General manager Ben Cherington is both realistic and pragmatic enough to know what to do in these situations.
"Given where we were, given where the team was in the standings and given the math that we're fighting coming into this week," said Cherington, "our intent was to try to see what opportunities are out there for us."
Plenty of opportunities, as it turned out.
|Yoenis Cespedes||Stephen Drew|
|Allen Craig||Felix Doubront|
|Edwin Escobar||Jonny Gomes|
|Heath Hembree||Jon Lester|
|Kelly Johnson||John Lackey|
|Joe Kelly||Andrew Miller|
|Eduardo Rodriguez||Jake Peavy|
As was the case two years ago, when the Red Sox had to dig themselves out of the rubble of the disastrous (and short-lived) Bobby Valentine era, Cherington hit the phones hard. And ultimately, he had arguably as good a week as any executive in the game -- Billy Beane and Dave Dombrowski included.
Oh, sure, you don't gut a championship squad without some semblance of emotion. So, one last time, let's pour one out for the 2013 squad -- that lovable, bearded bunch that inspired a heartbroken city. Six guys from the Fall Classic roster (Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront, Jonny Gomes and Stephen Drew) are gone, as is left-handed reliever Andrew Miller.
In their place, though, is a collection of players who will allow the Red Sox to field the seeds of a contender in '15 while simultaneously supporting an already well-regarded farm system.
And that's the ultimate takeaway here: This is not a rebuild. This is a reload on top of a rebuild, and it could be the beginnings of another storybook rise up the standings.
Where once it appeared the '15 season might be centered around the growth of Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts and the development of whatever highly touted prospect the Red Sox reaped for Lester, instead those kids will still have starring roles in the 2015 effort while simultaneously receiving plenty of lineup support. Not just from Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, but also from Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig, two accomplished Major League bats who could benefit from Fenway's cozy confines.
The Red Sox were the only team in baseball to exceed 800 runs scored last season. This year, they're right at the bottom of the AL heap, on pace to score a little more than 600.
A huge drop, to say the least.
They'll need those young bats to mature, no doubt. Yet in bringing Cespedes' power bat aboard, the Red Sox landed a commodity increasingly rare in today's climate. His on-base percentage has sagged since his 2012 breakout, and it will take better pitch recognition to turn that Home Run Derby prowess into more consistent in-game output. But if you listen close, you can already hear the sound of Cespedes' lined shots smacking the Green Monster.
Craig, 30, is something of a mystery at the moment. Back in March, I was not alone in touting him as a potential National League MVP. It was not an unreasonable argument, because Craig's swing then, as now, is devoid of major holes or flaws. It could be that the foot injury that he heroically, if fruitlessly, rushed back from to play in last year's World Series has lingered in some fashion. Whatever the case, hitters hit, and Craig, with a career adjusted OPS+ 32 percent better than league average before this unsatisfactory season, has hit in the past. Count me among those who believe he'll hit again, and Boston, who has him under contractual control through 2018, will be better for it.
But what about the pitching, you ask?
Look, there's no denying the Red Sox rotation is weaker without Lester. But it became increasingly clear, in the days leading up to the Deadline, that the Red Sox had no choice but to deal him.
Granted, they brought that situation upon themselves, making a low-ball effort (a reported four years, $70 million) to their ace last spring and following it up with only marginal, meaningless increases as he drew closer and closer to free agency. They missed any chance of signing him to a so-called "hometown" discount, shying away (some would say responsibly) from getting into the nine-figure range for an arm over 30, with a lot of mileage.
Maybe Boston will bite the bullet and come back to Lester with that nine-figure offer this winter (though, all things considered, I doubt it). But in the meantime, the value of trading Lester far exceeded the value of keeping him and reaping Draft-pick compensation if he signed elsewhere.
Cherington made it clear the Red Sox will be active in the starting pitching market after the season, Lester or no Lester. And that market will famously be fronted not just by Lester but also by Max Scherzer and James Shields. Maybe the Sox will renew past ties with Justin Masterson and take a chance on him bouncing back, just as the Cardinals have at the Deadline.
But free agency isn't all the Red Sox have to pine for in that area. Joe Kelly is a worthwhile pickup, even if his uninspiring strikeout rate won't inspire visions of front-end grandeur. More to the point, the Red Sox have now added two attractive arms in Edwin Escobar (from the Peavy trade with the Giants) and Eduardo Rodriguez (from the Miller trade with the Orioles) to a stash that already included Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, Anthony Ranaudo, Allen Webster, Henry Owens, Trey Ball and Matt Barnes.
Will all of those guys pan out? Absolutely not, unless the Red Sox's luck in that department is as inconceivably high as it was with their 2012-13 free-agent class. But if they hit on just a few, they'll be way ahead of the game.
In short, this was a lot of talent, established and otherwise, that the Red Sox reaped in unloading expiring or depreciating assets.
"We'll certainly still have things we need to do this winter," Cherington said. "But hopefully we've gotten a little bit of a jumpstart, at least on adding to the offense."
This was no time for sentimentality. This was time to shake off the hangover and get back to the business of building a better ballclub.