Can the Red Sox leap over four other teams?
That is what this all boils down to as we approach the All-Star break. It's not about being 6.5 games out. It's about being in last.
If the Sox were in second place and 6.5 games out the calculus changes. You are only focused on one team. You have to outplay that one team and if you do, you are in good shape for the post-season.
But the Sox have to outplay the rest of the entire A.L. East. It's not about hoping the Yanks play .450 ball the rest of the year. It's that not only do the Yanks have to play .450 ball, but so do Tampa, Baltimore and Toronto. And the Sox can't play .500 ball. They have to, at a minimum, play .560 or better.
Does anyone believe that is possible with this team? True, over their last 15 games they are 10-5. But that is a statistical outlier over the course of this season. Boston has been a mediocre team at best in 2015 and nothing has happened to really change that.
I waited a long time before writing this because it was, frankly, becoming a chore to write the same story over and over and over again. Of untapped potential and short-circuited comebacks. The truth is this; the way this team is built is not conducive to Boston being competitive this year. And I would love to be wrong about this but I don't think I am.
There are some good things about this team. Bogaerts has broken out this year; he is arguably the best SS in the American League right now. His exclusion from the All-Star game is a joke. Mookie Betts has a WAR of 4.2 and is one of the best CF in the AL right now. Eduardo Rodriguez? One of the best rookie pitchers in the AL this year (5-2, 1.3 WAR). And don't forget Brock Holt, the super-utility player who has broken out this year and rightfully earned his first trip to the All-Star game.
It doesn't take a genius to recognize that one thing all these guys have in common is that they are young. The oldest is Holt at 27. And maybe that is where Boston's focus should be going into the second-half of 2015.
This isn't to say that the Sox should jettison every last veteran. Any 2016 team needs veteran leadership. Pedroia is going nowhere. Holt could be a good, young leader. But Boston has to start asking some tough questions with clear eyes.
Should Clay Buchholz be around for 2016?
Is there a market for Mike Napoli or do you just release him outright?
Is David Ortiz your 2016 DH? Or do you make the change and install Ramirez as your DH and get a real glove in left field?
That last question is the most relevant one of all. Here is the hard truth. Ramirez has an offensive WAR of 1.7 with an .816 OPS. His defensive WAR is -2.2, which is amazing in the worst sense of the word.
Ramirez is killing this team with his fielding. It makes anything he gives Boston with his bat worthless. Meanwhile, Ortiz has an OPS of .762 and a 0.5 WAR. He is 39 years old and yes we finally have to have this conversation.
No team wants to say farewell to their iconic players. And Ortiz has been, and is, an icon in Boston. But he is 39 and not hitting like he used to. Unlike A-Rod, he didn't get a year off to heal up.
Maybe Ortiz shouldn't be the everyday DH anymore. Maybe he plays every other day, or every third day. Because this current setup simply isn't working.
But I don't know if the front office has the vision or the fortitude to make that call.
The Buchholz call should be easier. They dodged a huge bullet with this last injury as Clay's UCL is intact.
Which means the Sox can offer teams a pitcher who has talent with a decent stat-line and a team-friendly contract through 2017. That should get the Sox more than Andrew Miller did last year. If you recall, the haul in that case was the previously-mentioned Eduardo Rodriguez.
Clay has talent, but he is too inconsistent and is not the top-guy that this team needs in the rotation. The free-agent market for starting pitchers is going to be thick this off-season with Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto leading that group. And while the Sox are risk-averse to giving big deals to pitchers over 30, the truth is that this rotation needs a reliable veteran presence to anchor it while younger pitchers like E-Rod and Brian Johnson come along.
Whether Boston management will see it that way...who can say? But one would hope they can look at 2015 and see that their plan simply failed to work.