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Competing and Developing Under a White Flag

It is not too much to say that yesterday, July 9, was the day the Red Sox officially stopped believing that they have much of a chance of winning anything in 2014.  By essentially releasing AJ Pierzynski, the Sox made clear that they are now focused on next year.  That said, they also increased any miniscule chance they have of making a miraculous comeback this year.  In keeping with this model, the Sox should primarily focus on developing talent for next year while simultaneously remaining competitive game-to-game this year.

Getting rid of Pierzynski and the all-but-certain trade of Jake Peavy are the primary steps in this approach.  Christian Vazquez is a better player right now than AJ Pierzynski.  Vazquez immediately becomes one of the best defensive catcher in the majors, would presumably bring a youthful passion to the ballpark, and is reported to be a good teammate, eager student, and developing hitter.  If Vazquez bats .200 with a couple homers and Gold Glove caliber defense the remainder of this year, he is still better than Pierzynski batting .220ish, a few homers, and a bad attitude and bad plate approach.

Meanwhile, Vazquez gets 71 games to learn from David Ross who might not be around next year - or maybe he'll be coaching.  Vazquez gets to be told off my John Lackey and Clay Buchholz about framing pitches, game calling, etc.  That advances a top prospect a half a year developmentally ahead of where he would be if he was given the job next spring.

Likewise, when Peavy is traded, the Sox will be improved.  Right now, Rubby De La Rosa is the better pitcher and even his failures have value for the Sox of the future.  I was not happy that De La Rosa was sent down at all after his last two, excellent, MLB starts as the same was true then as is true now: the Sox are better now and in the future for starting De La Rosa over Peavy.  That said, I'll be comfortable with Peavy getting those last two starts if the Sox get a good return for him on the trade market. Last year, the Sox gave up a very valuable commodity (Jose Iglesias) for Peavy.  His WHIP has risen and his strikeouts have fallen this year as compared to his White Sox season last year, but he's still worth something.

Sox fans should remember the type of value that the Sox and other competitive teams have given up traditionally for in-season help.  Aside from someone with no trade value and a ready replacement in the minors (e.g. Pierzynski), the Sox should only make trades if they get real value in return.

Meanwhile, the Sox owe their fans - and their remaining veterans - a competitive team on the field this year and next.  Sox fans are loyal and face high ticket prices, we don't deserve to have a non-competitive team out there.

With the obvious corollary that anyone is available at this point for the right price, the Sox should plan to keep valuable players who they rely on this year and have a reasonable expectation of retaining.  Primary among these are Jon Lester and Koji Uehara.  Lester is the ace and, while we might lose him this off season, keeping him will keep him connected to the franchise (increasing our chances of keeping him) and let he and Lackey lead by example as other youngsters (including Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, and Matt Barnes) start cycling into the rotation this year.

Do not trade Koji.  If you want this year to me a multi-year occurrence, try demoralizing your veterans and young starters by blowing games late.  The Sox should keep resigning Koji to one year deals unless he tells them he expects to retire after the season - in which case, see if you can trade him to a) get something in return and b) give him a chance of a second championship.  Eventually, Koji will either retire or stop being effective.  Let one of those situations dictate when you try Junichi Tazawa as the closer.  Keeping Koji is the most important decision for the Sox in showing that they understand the importance for the fans and for the on-field culture of the team that we are still trying to win games.

The Sox need to keep trying to win games.  I watch baseball because I love baseball.  I want my team to have a chance to win every game and to put a team out there that can win that game.  The modern notion that if you can't win a championship that year that you should blow up your team is wrong.  Do not get me wrong, I want a championship.  The Sox should do what they can to speed our path to the next championship.  But, they should remain competitive.  The 5-rookie squad on the field last night was competitive and the best team we have.

The big trade questions for the Sox are what to do with Andrew Miller, Johnny Gomes, Stephen Drew, and, I would include, Daniel Nava.  Miller is very valuable and a pending free agent.  He is probably the only player I would trade for whom the Sox do not have a worthy replacement ready (sorry Drake Britton).  Gomes and Drew might have value elsewhere and really aren't helping the team much today.  Nava will be 32 next year.  He does not cost much, plays solid defense, and can rake righthanded pitching when he's on.  The reason I would consider trading him is that he is hot (.317 in June and July) and that his early season slump and age do not really give one faith that he'll be good for years to come.  That said, I would not trade both Gomes and Nava so as to keep a veteran in the outfield mix - assuming Shane Victorino's rehab has been delayed until March.

The Sox have to strike a balance going forward.  Where a major leaguer is not better than his minor league (or bench) replacement, they should consider moving on.  That said, they should remain a competitive team by keeping their closer and their ace.

These final months of these season, the Sox should aim to be a .500 team and get a good sense of which players will start next year.  Is JBJ really starting to hit?  Is Bogaerts a 3rd basemen or a shortstop (and is he even ready yet)?  Can you rely on Brock Holt as a starter and leadoff guy next year or is this a fluke (his .307 career minor league average suggests this is for real)?  Should Workman, De La Rosa, and Webster be expected to fill one, two, or three spots in next year's rotation? Is Mookie Betts ready?

With answers to these questions more clear, the Sox should then spend the offseason in the market for a true power hitter or two to knock in guys like Holt, Betts, and JBJ.


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