Tuesday, July 21, 2015
This Season is Already Over for the Red Sox, and the Immediate Future Doesn't Look Bright
Baseball's unofficial second half has begun, and the Red Sox answered the bell by reeling off four consecutive losses to the Angles.
Including their loss to the Yankees before the All Star break began, Boston has now dropped five straight games.
The Sox are in last place in the American League East, nine games out of first place, and are tied for 11th in the wild-card hunt, 8 1/2 games back.
But here's all you really need to know: The Sox are presently tied with Seattle for the worst record in the American League.
In short, the Sox' season is over before July has even ended. That's frustrating and highly disappointing.
After all, Boston has the highest payroll in club history ($184.3 million), and the highest ticket prices in baseball. Yet, the team is headed for its third last-place finish in four years.
Ask yourself this: Given the underperforming veterans with long-term contracts, and the young players the Red Sox are trying to build around, how different will this team look next season?
My guess is that, pitching aside, the anemic lineup will look much the same.
There will be a new first baseman, replacing Mike Napoli, but the infield will remain otherwise intact. The Sox are stuck with Pablo Sandoval and can only hope for a bounce back season in 2016.
However, Sandoval's OPS had declined for four consecutive seasons — and five out of the last six — before GM Ben Cherington signed him in the offseason. The steadily declining OPS was a flashing warning signal, and it should have given Cherington pause. But the GM went full steam ahead and signed the "Panda" anyway.
Sandoval's OPS has now declined for five straight seasons, and he's only 28. No other team wants the overpaid, overweight third baseman.
Furthermore, Sandoval already has 12 errors so far this season, and one more will tie him for the second most in his career. There are still more than two months to go.
The Sox are stuck with Sandoval and his $95 million contract for four more seasons, and they can only hope he finds some magic elixir to turn around his tumbling career.
The same can be said of Hanley Ramirez, who is nothing more than an overpaid DH at this point. The problem is, the Red Sox have David Ortiz under contract next season, leaving no room for the one-dimensional Ramirez.
Once again, Ben Cherington should have known better than to sign Remirez. The former Sox' prospect had lost too much range to still play shortstop, so the Red Sox attempted to convert him to a left fielder at the age of 31.
Simply put, this experiment has been an expensive disaster. Ramirez typically looks like a little leaguer in left; utterly lost and hopeless at the Major League level. He is neither agile or athletic.
Ramirez's only value is his ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark. He has 19 homers this season, which looks really good at first sight. But when you dig a little deeper, you realize just how truly one-dimensional he is.
Ramirez has just 80 hits this season, meaning that a quarter of his those hits are homers. To be clear, that's not a good thing. Ramirez has just 26 extra-base hits this year, and 19 of them are home runs. Did I mention that he's one-dimensional? If he's not hitting the occasional home run, he's useless.
Negative reputation aside, the Red Sox are stuck with Ramirez for three more years at $22 million per season, with a vesting option for 2019. Quite simply, he is an albatross.
Understand that no other team wants him. He is a position-less player, meaning he is suited only to DH. That means he's an American League player only, leaving just 14 other potential teams for his services.
Unless the Red Sox are willing to pay most of Ramirez's contract to have him play against them multiple times per year for the next three or four years, he is their problem for the rest of his ridiculous contract.
No matter what, you can cross off a number of AL clubs from the list of potential trade partners.
Ramirez carries a .261/.306/.474 slash line. His average and OBP are unacceptable for a player with his huge salary, and while the slugging percentage is decent, it is merely the by-product of having 19 home runs. A player with 19 home runs should have an OPS over .500, but Ramirez can't hit doubles.
Mookie Betts is a center piece of the Red Sox' future plans. He'll be back in center next season.
Shane Victorino will be gone, and he'll be replaced by either $72 million minor leaguer Rusney Castillo, or Alejandro De Aza in 2016.
De Aza has been a revelation this year, posting a .310/.352/.550/.902 slash line in 34 games with the Red Sox. Who wouldn't rather see him in left field every day instead of Ramirez?
But then there's Jackie Bradley, who was the Sox' starting center fielder for the entire 2014 season. While he struggled at the plate last year, to the tune of a grisly .198/.265/.266/.531 slash line, he's been a hot hitter in Triple A this season.
Bradley is hitting .315 with nine home runs, 27 RBIs and a .389 on-base percentage in 64 games with the PawSox this season. He has two multi-homer games in his last four contests. Bradley looks vastly improved and major league-ready.
Beyond that, he might be the best outfielder on the Red Sox, Shane Victorino notwithstanding. Bradley has an outstanding arm and takes the most precise routes to balls, making tough plays look routine. The defensive aspect of his game should not be overlooked.
Surely he has earned another shot in the majors this year or next, whether it's with the Red Sox or another team.
Whether its Castillo, De Aza or Bradley (or some combination of them) in right field next season, that means the outfield will still look mostly the same.
Are you getting the picture yet? Aside from first base and perhaps right field (unless De Aza wins the job), the roster will likely look very much the same next year. Yet, this is a group that simply hasn't gotten it done this season.
As of today, the Red Sox are 11th in runs, 11th in slugging, 10th in OPS, and ninth in home runs among the 15 AL teams.
That should worry every Red Sox fan, and every member of the organization.
The Sox will likely enter next season with a rotation that consists of Clay Buchholz, the disastrous Rick Porcello (who will be in year-one of a four-year, $82.5 million contract), and rookie Eduardo Rodriguez.
Perhaps the Sox can move Wade Miley and the roughly $13 million he is due over the next two seasons. While that's reasonable money for a fifth starter, Miley has a pitiful 4.49 ERA and 1.37 WHIP this year. Those numbers are barely acceptable for a fifth starter.
The Red Sox needed three starters to round out their rotation last offseason, and this winter they'll need at least two more — if not three. And while the Sox attempted to go into the season without a true No. 1, they have surely learned their lesson by now. That cannot happen again.
In short, it's tough to be optimistic about next year's team. Cherington has handcuffed the organization with a series of bad, inadvisable signings and trades (and I haven't even mentioned Justin Masterson, Joe Kelly or Allen Craig).
The Red Sox will likely be stuck with the bad contracts of bad players next year and beyond.
That's more troubling than anything that's transpired in 2015, a year that will surely see the Red Sox finish in last place for the third time in just four years.
The future doesn't look bright, and that surely must have owner John Henry's attention. And it must make him angry.
If baseball management is a meritocracy, Ben Cherington won't have a job with the Red Sox next year.
But some poor bastard will be left to pick up the pieces, and clean up the rather large mess he's made of this team.