Major League Baseball’s unofficial second-half is underway with the Red Sox actively looking to build upon their MLB-high 60 wins and, of course, their ailing roster.
Three members of the bullpen are already done for the season, the starting rotation features a missing ace and a floundering would-be numero uno, and the club’s preferred lineup is almost never intact as a result of reoccurring injuries to a select few.
With that in mind, Boston must properly take stock of its needs as the July 31 trade deadline rapidly approaches.
“I think we’re going to be fairly aggressive,” Red Sox vice president and assistant general manager Mike Hazen told me Friday on WBZ NewsRadio 1030. “But it’s got to be the right deal. We’re not going to just do dumb things for the sake of making moves. We have a really good team. That’s because we have a lot of good players playing really well and we’re not going to upset the fabric of that club, given what it’s done to date. We’re going to look to compliment that club in any way that we can. So, from that standpoint, we’ll be very aggressive in evaluating all opportunities.”
Still, the uncertainty in the rotation created by Clay Buchholz’s general absence and Jon Lester’s ineffectiveness since mid-May raises the question: Do the Sox need a front-line starter or a depth addition, if a move is to be made?
“That’s an interesting question,” Hazen admitted. “We’re certainly having to keep our eyes wide open with regard to the time frame of Clay’s return. I think there are a couple of factors here. One is we do have a number of young, quality arms that are in the minor leagues and have come up and pitched in the major leagues. You saw Brandon Workman start the last day before the All-Star Break. That’s one group of players that we’ll be relying on and that’s a good problem to have. I do think that part of our system of our team had been missing over the last couple years as we’ve gone through some pitching injuries during the course of the season, so that’s a key component – the guys you can rely on.
“Then we have to evaluate what the market is and see if there are available players that fit what we’re looking for,” he continued. “We’re expecting to have Clay back for the season, so you can’t go all-in on a number one starting pitcher, necessarily, depending on the price, of course, if you’re expecting to get your number one back. That’s sort of the balance we’ll have over the next two weeks. We’ll have a lot more information between now and then. We’ll be in on all scenarios.”
Buchholz’s condition is a mystery. He’s taken the mound just twice since May 22 and suffered countless setbacks in his attempt to return from neck and shoulder issues, and a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews is scheduled Monday. The All-Star pitcher has also faced the ire of fans and media members alike – me included – for his comments during the break that he wasn’t ready to pitch despite the Red Sox medical staff suggesting he could.
“When a player says that he can’t go, he can’t go,” Hazen matter-of-factly stated. “We have learned that the hard way over the years. They have to be ready to go mentally and ready to go physically. If he can’t pitch to the level that he should be pitching at, then he’s probably not doing anybody – us or him – any help. That’s something that we need to get right, we’re going to get right, he’s going to get right, and we’re going to have him for the second half, and I’m sure he’ll pick right up where he left off and help us get to the playoffs.”
Fortunately, while others have drawn criticism, John Lackey’s been an unexpected gem in his return from Tommy John surgery.
“The guy’s probably our number one starter right now,” said Hazen, noting Lackey’s consistency. “He’s taking the ball every five days and he’s performing at a very elite level. We wouldn’t be in the position we’re in right now if it weren’t for John Lackey. That’s not to say other guys haven’t contributed to that as well but it’s a very important factor and something I’m sure he’s very proud of. It’s been outstanding to watch him pitch.”
In the bullpen, closer options A and B in Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey failed in brief attempts to be reliable firemen, and their injuries opened the door for 38-year-old Koji Uehara. For those thinking the Sox need a more experienced option, despite his often stellar numbers in save situations – 1-0, 9 saves in 12 chances, 1.59 ERA, 19 strikeouts, 0 walks – Hazen said that decision belongs, at least in part, to John Farrell.
“Uehara’s the closer right now,” he said. “[Farrell]’s got to have the feel and the ability to make that decision on how he wants to run his bullpen and close games and things like that. Koji’s done an awesome job for us. He stepped in when we needed him to and he’s been pretty seamless, the transition back to that role. He’s had a lot of history pitching in tight situations late in ballgames, so it’s not a surprise what he’s doing.”
One surprise, though it’s perhaps becoming less so by the day, has been the play of Jose Iglesias. It’s a wonder if the 23-year-old has finally proven he can be the team’s shortstop of the future.
“I think he’s certainly making a case for it,” Hazen said. “We’ve sort of maintained our stance as long as we’ve had him, and that is Jose’s going to dictate what his future is going to be with the Boston Red Sox with regard to what moves we make. We made that move this offseason (for Stephen Drew) somewhat in regards to what he’s done in the past. Now I think he’s taking a different step with regard to his performance this year. This guy is an elite, elite defensive player. When he brings the offensive side of the game to the table, he can be a difference-maker, and that’s something we’ll evaluate.
“We’re not going to make any sort of determinations from now until the end of the season,” he added.” Jose’s having a really good year. He needs to continue having a really good year, and I’m sure he will. We’ll put all those pieces together in the off-season, but he’s certainly changing the dialogue internally with regard to how he’s played.”
As for the Red Sox’ overall success, Hazen all but said he’s had to pinch himself at where the club currently stands after a disastrous, drama-filled 2012 campaign.
“It’s a little bit surprising, given having the most wins right now, but it didn’t matter whether it was ’07, ’08, or ’09, you don’t start off at the end of spring training saying to yourself, ‘Hey, we’re going to have the most wins at the All-Star Break.’ You just don’t know,” he said. “There’s a little bit of a battle of attrition with regard to injury that you have to grind through, and we’re grinding through some of that right now. You have to have your good players play well. We’ve had that from start to finish, by and large. I think the biggest thing is we may have underestimated sort of how good John Lackey is, Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino, some of the guys we brought in who we thought were good but we underestimated the impact they would have on the team, and that’s really what’s taken us, beyond the elite performances by [Dustin] Pedroia, by [David] Ortiz, by Buchholz in the first-half, among others.
“I don’t think anyone anticipated us being here. I don’t think we necessarily anticipated being here, but we’ve played some really good baseball and hopefully we can continue it in the second half.”
Hazen knows, however, that maintaining such a pace won’t be easy.
“This division is a grind,” he said, marveling that four of its five teams are well above the .500 mark. “We joke about it a lot – the only time the AL East teams lose is when they play each other, at least it seems like that sometimes with each of those teams with 50 wins, and Toronto is as dangerous as any of those other four teams. It’s gonna make for a really interesting second-half, especially September, when aside from a couple of series that’s basically all we play is the American League East.”
The assistant GM also took a moment to weigh in on baseball’s latest star-studded PED scandal.
“All I can say from an organization’s standpoint is that we support the commissioner’s initiative on testing,” Hazen said. “We’ve been doing it in the minor leagues forever. We want the sport to be clean, I think the players want the sport to be clean in listening to them talk about it, but we really don’t have any other information on it.”
Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman
The author is solely responsible for the content.
About this blog
Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
Send Adam Kaufman an email.