Despite Struggles, the Red Sox Shouldn’t Throw in the Towel

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Ben Cherington

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday, the Boston Globe‘s Peter Abraham laid out his reasons why the Red Sox should bail on defending their World Series title and instead focus on the future. In essence, it’s what the 2013 season could have been, until an improbable championship-caliber team emerged.

Things just haven’t gone Boston’s way this season. Just days from hitting the halfway point, the Sox are staring up at most of the American League. Their .449 winning percentage is ahead of just three teams in the A.L. Their offense has been missing and their starting pitching has lacked depth at times. It’s all led to a 8.5-game deficit in the division and a seven-game hill to climb for a wild card spot.

It does put Boston in a tough position in the second half of the season, which is why Abraham thinks it’s time to cut bait. But that’s the exact opposite of what general manager Ben Cherington should do. Though they’ve only shown glimpses of it this season, this team still has the ability to look like a playoff team. And they should go for it.

The early part of this year was always going to be tough. The answers to losing key players like Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Stephen Drew (at least initially) were either unproven youngsters or aged veterans. Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Xander Bogaerts are still adjusting to life in the Majors, an A.J. Pierzynski was only a stopgap option to begin with.

They’ve also struggled with injuries much more this year than last. Offensively, they’ve missed Mike Carp, Will Middlebrooks, Mike Napoli, and Shane Victorino for extended periods of time. They’ve also gone without Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront for a while, too. Though some of those players have underachieved this year, that type of instability on a roster rarely leads to more wins. These issues were not anything the 2013 championship team had to endure.

With Drew, there was always the expectation that it was going to take a while for him get back into playing form. He had no spring training and has been on the Major League roster for all of three weeks. His .133 average will go up.

The Drew signing also indicates that Cherington envisioned this as a team that could compete in the second half. At that time, the Red Sox were the third-worst team in the A.L. Cherington wasn’t bringing in Drew to be an instant fix. That was a signing with the rest of the season in mind.

What Cherington needs to do is more of that. He needs to add more players who can help this year’s team. The outfield is in need of the most help, and a player like San Diego’s Seth Smith would fit well without requiring the Sox give up a highly-regarded prospect.

But why put more into a team that has shown little in the way of contending this year? Because their competition is primed to be picked off. The A.L. East is arguably the weakest division in the league. The first place Blue Jays have the 23rd-ranked pitching staff in the league and are dealing with some significant injuries. The Orioles don’t have any top-of-the-rotation-quality starters, while the offense has some glaring holes and they don’t get production from everywhere they should. The Yankees can’t score regularly and they have one pitcher. The Rays are in worse shape than them all and will be shopping ace David Price before the deadline. This is hardly a murderer’s row.

As it stands now, it’s hard to see any one of these teams having the firepower to make a run in October. The Red Sox are probably better equipped for that than any of them. Jon Lester and John Lackey make for a formidable 1-2 punch who will give Boston a chance in any postseason series. Of course, it’s just a matter of getting there.

And the best chance they have of doing that is staying the course and being a buyer in the trade market. Holding a fire sale makes little sense anyway because of who they could deal. They could trade a few bullpen guys, but that has been the biggest strength of this team. Keeping it together should be a part of the future.

Any other players available to be traded would have little value. Jake Peavy could be a candidate, but he won’t bring much. Nor would Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, or Middlebrooks. At different times, they have all shown flashes of brilliance, though that time is not now. Their values have never been lower and trading them now would make no sense. If they can get things turned around, they can be part of a second half resurgence, rather than a second-rate return.

There’s even a way to compete this year, while still preparing for the future. The Red Sox have a few minor leaguers who look primed to make the jump to the majors and could strengthen areas of weakness. Calling up Mookie Betts, Christian Vazquez, and maybe even Garin Cecchini would serve the purpose of getting them Major League reps, but also providing a necessary spark.

It’s easy for Red Sox fans to be critical of the team they’ve been watching for these last three months, especially in a season following a World Series championship. But just because this has been a bit of a bumpy ride doesn’t mean it’s time to blow everything up. In fact, the current state of affairs shows they should do the exact opposite.

Tony Consiglio is a lifelong baseball fan and has worked for television and radio stations throughout New England.