The Red Sox appeared to be waving the white flag when they dropped seven of eight to open a 10-game homestand prior to the All-Star Break. Now, fresh off a three-game series sweep of the Royals, the Sox are among the hottest teams in baseball.
Boston has won seven of eight with a great balance of offense, timely hitting, extra-base power, and dominant pitching and, in the process, it has trimmed its gap to 7.5 games back in the American League East and six contests behind for the second Wild Card with 64 games to play in the regular season – the next 13 against division opponents. Those deficits stood at 9.5 and eight, respectively, just three days ago.
For me, this is a classic case of too little, too late. For many of you, however, the hopes of overcoming staggering odds and enjoying October baseball are alive.
So, I'll ask you a question Ben Cherington and Red Sox ownership must too be facing with the MLB trade deadline rapidly approaching on July 31:
What's your magic number?
In other words, while many around these parts have resigned themselves to the fact the Sox must be sellers – a process that arguably began with the release of the unpopular A.J. Pierzynski – what would it realistically take for Boston to be buyers? How many games back must the Sox be on, say, July 29 or the eve of the deadline to about-face on its apparent minor leaguer movement and consider adding David Ortiz's coveted lineup protection or a more reliable outfield bat?
First, you must examine reality: There are currently enormous hurdles to overcome. The Red Sox are fifth in the division and in ninth-place in the Wild Card standings. That's a ton of teams to leapfrog.
Presumably, though, Boston would have inched its way up the leaderboard to actually consider making a move for now, rather than simply one for 2015.
Cherington and co. must be having these conversations internally. Take Jake Peavy, for instance. Sure, it's possible the right deal hasn't presented itself since the veteran’s apparent goodbye to the media. But it could also be that the GM believes his team still has a chance at making a run and would prefer not to deal an experienced arm that could be more useful down the stretch and into the postseason than youngsters like Rubby De La Rosa or Brandon Workman. It's just a theory, but not an outlandish one.
Koji Uehara has obviously drawn interest from other teams. The Tigers and Giants are two contending clubs that would benefit from a closer. Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe reported the Sox would prefer to hang onto their 39-year-old finisher. And, why not? Even if he is on the cusp of free agency, would you choose to enter the playoffs with Junichi Tazawa manning the ninth inning over one of the top ninth inning guys in the game?
Naturally, even after previous comments during that tough homestand that would have indicated otherwise, the Red Sox have been very vocal of late to note they aren't conceding anything. No one, save for the rebuilding Astros, goes out with desires to lose. But not unlike with the popular Celtics "tanking" debate, there's a fine line between focusing on wins and losses and developing players.
It seemed, until recently, that the Red Sox were focused primarily on their youngsters. Subtle differences during this winning streak could indicate otherwise. Xander Bogaerts was out of the lineup on Sunday after coming out of the break 1-for-6 with a home run. Mookie Betts was optioned to Pawtucket upon the return of Shane Victorino, a move that could have been met with the release of someone like Mike Carp if the organization was set on Betts continuing to work out his wrinkles at the big league level.
Ten days out from the trade deadline, the Sox would like us to believe they're still in the hunt to defend their third championship in 10 years. Against most odds, perhaps they are.
If so, here's my number: Four.
Should Boston sit four games out of a playoff spot or better by the deadline then, by all means, I hope the team positively impacts its roster and puts the “building the next good Red Sox team” plans on hold.
Any more than that, though, it's time to sell. Wholesale changes aren’t necessary, but Peavy, pinch-hitter extraordinaire Jonny Gomes, and an assortment of others not in the plans for 2015 could all certainly be moved to further carry on the playoff-free youth movement.
At this point, the Red Sox’ magic number for elimination doesn’t matter. What does is the team’s trade deadline magic number.
So, what do you suppose it is? And what's yours?
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