Statistically speaking, based solely on run differential, the best three teams in baseball reside in the American League East. At least one of them will not make the playoffs. Today, the Red Sox took a major step in ensuring that they will not be the odd team out.And so, on a deadline day in which the Sox swapped Adam LaRoche for Casey Kotchman while adding Victor Martinez for a package of three players (Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone, Bryan Price), the other good news was this: The Tampa Bay Rays did nothing and the New York Yankees added only a role player. The Red Sox addressed one of their greatest weaknesses, in the short term and the long, while their primary competitors made no significant upgrades in what is sure to be a heated competition during the final two months of the season.
Depending on the precise tweaks by Sox manager Terry Francona, the Red Sox now can put together lineups that look something like this:
1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
3. Victor Martinez, 1B
4. Kevin Youkilis, 3B
5. David Ortiz/Mike Lowell, DH
6. Jason Bay, LF
7. J.D. Drew, RF
8. Jason Varitek, C
9. Jed Lowrie, SS
Bench: Lowell (R) or Ortiz (L), Rocco Baldelli (R), Nick Green (R), Casey Kotchman (L), George Kottaras (L).
1. Ellsbury, CF
2. Pedroia, 2B
3. Martinez, 1B
4. Youkilis, 3B
5. Bay, LF
6. Lowell/Ortiz, DH
7. Baldelli, RF
8. Varitek, C
9. Lowrie, SS
Bench: Lowell (R) or Ortiz (L), Drew (L), Green (R), Kotchman (L), Kottaras (L).
(Note: Kottaras could end getting squeezed off the roster if and when the Sox add a 12th pitcher.)
Take a good look at those lineups, 1 through 9, including the bench. There is depth and there is versatility. Kotchman can come in as a defensive replacement on those occasions when Martinez plays first. If Martinez catches, Varitek comes out of the lineup, Youkilis moves to first and Lowell plays third. If Ortiz sits, Lowell or Martinez can DH. And if the Red Sox have any kind of injury, specifically to Lowell, their depth and versatility affords them the luxury of turning to a player with everyday experience while still preserving their bench.
And then there is this: Of the players currently on Boston's 25-man roster, Bay is the only potential free agent of major concern. The others are Brad Penny, John Smoltz, Baldelli, and Green. The Sox have control over every other player either in the form of a signed contract or a club option, meaning that general manager Theo Epstein will have relatively little to do with regard to the 2010 roster.
And so next year, too, Boston will look like a championship contender.
Adrian Gonzalez? Roy Halladay? With regard to the latter, the Red Sox were never really close. As for Gonzalez, while the payoff would have been greater, the cost would have been, too. Strictly from the Red Sox' perspective, one of the beauties of today's dealings is that Epstein acquired the No. 3 or No. 4 hitter the club needed without sacrificing Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Casey Kelly, Junichi Tazawa, Michael Bowden or Lars Anderson, among others, which means the Sox will have depth next season, too. At the outset, it certainly appears as if Theo got the best of both worlds while maintaining the financial flexibility to re-sign Bay.
Admittedly, there are never any guarantees. The Red Sox still have 10 games remaining with the Yankees this season and eight with the Rays in what will be a barn-burning divisional race. In the last week or so, they have added two hitters (Martinez, Kotchman) who can help them against righthanded pitching. They have improved their bench while taking very little away from their bullpen, and they preserved the depth of starting pitching that should serve them for years to come.
Meanwhile, New York did very little and Tampa did nothing.
Come late September and beyond, we may look back on July 31 and identify it as the day that the general manager of the Red Sox officially got his team back into the playoffs.
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