Smolokoff Smack: Sox Going Young, Finally
With hopes of defending its title mostly gone, Boston looks to 2015
All aboard the youth movement train! Grab your shotguns and remember, aim for the head, because the Red Sox are coming back from the dead. Three wins in a row over American League powerhouses Chicago and Houston now have the Red Sox soaring to the top of the standings at a scorching 42-51, only 9.5 games back in the AL East and 8 games in the Wild Card. Now that the Sox are basically right back in the playoff hunt, we can forget all about that whole “stick a fork in them” thing. Boston is back, baby!
Sorry guys, I’m alright. Just wanted to see how that paragraph would look on paper. Now, back to reality. Have the Red Sox won three straight – two in walkoff fashion – since seemingly committing themselves to a youth movement? You bet they have. The Sox shipped AJ Pierzynski to Siberia, brought up rookie Christian Vasquez, and haven’t lost since. Those three wins in a row are nice, and who knows, maybe the Red Sox do have a crazy second half in store. If they could manage to sweep Houston and go into the All-Star break 44-51 on a five-game win streak, I actually might find myself legitimately excited. But I’m not holding my breath. Here’s the thing though; those wins are nice, but they aren’t the point anymore. They aren’t the thing driving my excitement. Winning is great, but losing at this stage would be fine too. All I care about is that they do it with the right players and the right mindset, and it finally appears they’re doing so.
In Friday night’s 8-3 win over the Astros, the Red Sox fielded a lineup of three rookies to go with Brock Holt, not a rookie but a player who, coming into this season, had 124 MLB at-bats. Boston has played as many as four rookies in a game already this week; Jackie Bradley, Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and now Vasquez. While Bogaerts and Bradley came into this season not only highly-touted, but with at least some Major League experience, Betts and Vasquez both made their MLB debuts this month. Betts is only 6 for his first 29 (.207) but did collect his first career home run. Vasquez – not considered all that great offensively yet – collected his first three career hits and RBIs in last night’s win. Bogaerts and Bradley are both still hitting under .240, but Bradley is hitting .375 in July and making plays like these and this (maybe the best catch of the year), so things are looking up. Bogaerts, on the other hand, has been struggling this month, but once the Red Sox trade JD Drew, he can go back to his natural position and hopefully get his head back straight. (Note: only upon proofreading did I realize I used the wrong Drew’s name; they’re the same as far as I’m concerned, so I’m leaving it). That brings us back to this whole youth movement idea; I’m so, so for it.
As much as my writing may indicate otherwise, I’m not delusional. I know this Red Sox team isn’t repeating as champions, and I know there’s about a 1% chance of them making the playoffs (ESPN has it at 1.8, actually, so I’m being even more realistic than they are). I’m going to enjoy the wins when they come, fully understanding there won’t be enough of them to really accomplish anything. That’s why my motto between now and July 31 is “trade everyone.” Stephen Drew? Goodbye. Jake Peavy? Thanks for the season, see you later. I want them gone. As much as I (sometimes) love Jonny Gomes, I wouldn’t be all that upset to see him go, either. I wanted Mike Carp gone last season, and I want him gone now, too. Any player who does not have a reasonable place in next year’s plans can GTFO. Obviously, I want to keep the big guns; David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia are untouchable. If we can work out contracts for next season, I want to keep Jon Lester and John Lackey, too. In fact, if we could trade Lester now, but wink wink hush hush make sure he re-signs in the off-season, we should do that. I’d like to keep Mike Napoli too, if only because he’s been our most productive middle-of-the-order guy yet. But even fan-favorite Koji Uehara is expendable at this point. You know who needs a lights-out closer? Title contenders. And you know what lights-out closers fetch? Prospects. Right now, the Red Sox have far more use for the latter than the former. At this point, it’s all about preparing for 2015 and beyond; if they can win some games in the interim to keep things fun, all the better.
There are two ways to have a bad season. You can be like the 2012 Red Sox, who lost 93 games with guys like Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Mike Aviles, Cody Ross, Nick Punto, Darnell McDonald…the list goes on. That team not only lost a ton of games, but they did it while cultivating absolutely zero talent. Or, you can do it like these 2014 Red Sox appear to be doing it. You can lose 90+ games, but while grooming two-thirds of your outfield, your catcher, your shortstop, hell even some of your pitchers of the future. Boston could lose 100 games this season; if it means that on opening day 2015, guys like Vasquez, Betts, and the rest of them have the better part of a season under their belts, I consider the season as much of a success as it can be.
In Boston, perhaps more-so than just about any other city, any season a team doesn’t win a title is considered a failure. That failure, however, comes on a spectrum. The 2012 Red Sox were the worst kind of failure there is – the kind that yields no progress. The 2014 Red Sox – while certainly a failure in many regards – at least have a chance to build toward next season and beyond. On opening day next season, the Red Sox will be expected to compete for a title, just like they are every year. These 2014 Sox are at least giving next year’s group a headstart. So hop on the youth movement train, because it finally looks to be picking up some serious steam.