Losing the first four games after the All-Star break to the Angels puts the Red Sox 9-games back of the Yankees in the A.L. East. As I said yesterday, that's that for 2015.
It's officially time for Ben Cherington to focus his efforts on 2016. There is enough talent in place to be optimistic for next year and the Red Sox obviously have the resources to make the necessary adjustments that should turn things around from this debacle of a year. I do realize that the same things were said about the 2014 Red Sox and the moves made - signing Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to beef up the lineup and trading for Rick Porcello to bolster the starting rotation - did not pan out as planned but the fact remains that the team should be in position to turn things around for 2016.
Cherington should not be waiting for November to re-shape the roster. The time is now and here are a few ideas for the Red Sox to consider as part of this process.
1. Decide the future of Pablo Sandoval.
One of the team's big ticket items (5-years/$95-million) this past winter, Sandoval has not fit well in Boston in his first half a season. His triple slash of .266/.308/.383 are all well below his career averages he posted in San Francisco, as are his 7 home runs and 30 RBI. Keep in mind that Fenway Park is a better place for hitters to produce than AT&T Park. Sandoval's defense also has not been very good.
While I do like Sandoval and think he would have a good future with the Red Sox, moving him could help solve some log jams at other positions. A team like the Mets, in contention for the first time in many years, could use Sandoval to boost their offense. The Mets do have David Wright under contract until 2020 but he's hurt so Sandoval could slide right in at third base, where they currently are platooning Eric Campbell and Danny Muno, and then could end up at first base down the road.
If he Sandoval does stay in Boston, a move to first base should be the plan. That would open up third base for Brock Holt and strengthen the team defensively in the infield.
2. Solve the log jam in the outfield.
Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez are the only established long term outfielders right now, based on performance (Betts) and contract (Ramirez), but the third spot is a mystery.
Betts looks the part of a future star. He can hit, field, and run and should be an All-Star for the next decade.
Ramirez was the other big signing (4-years/$88-million with a 2019 option for an additional $22-million) this winter and while he has produced good power numbers - 19 home runs and 46 RBI - his triple slash of .261/.306/.474 is below his career averages and he has been one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball this season. His future is at DH but with David Ortiz likely back in 2016, Ramirez will remain a left fielder for now.
Shane Victorino played a big part in the 2013 World Series run but injuries and age have clearly caught up to the "Flyin Hawaiian" and if the Red Sox can't find a trade partner then they should release him. Victorino will not be a part of the team's future and that's where the focus should be right now.
Jackie Bradley Jr. has proven to be a Gold Glove caliber big league outfielder but can't seem to hit big league pitching. It's time for the the Red Sox to either give him a real chance to hit big league pitching over the next two-and-a-half months or use him as part of a trade package to give him a fresh shot in a new organization.
Rusney Castillo, the 27-year-old Cuban defector who is signed through 2020, has had a rough start in his first year in America but should not be written off yet. Like Bradley, it's time for the Red Sox to give Castillo the opportunity to play every day at the big league level. They have a considerable amount of money invested in him and with a last place finish a reality for 2015, there's no point in playing him in Pawtucket.
If Bradley is not dealt, the Red Sox should platoon him with Castillo in right field. The odd man out each night would be used as a defensive replacement for Ramirez in left field and both Ramirez and Betts could be spelled by either Bradley or Castillo for the rest of the season.
3. Fix the problem with the starting pitching.
The Red Sox rotation has been a disaster all year and is the number one reason why this season has been a failure. Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, Joe Kelly, and Wade Miley boasted in the spring that they were all aces but other than a stand out June from Buchholz and a few scattered starts from Miley, they have been a dumpster fire.
Despite his inconsistencies and history of injuries, Buchholz isn't likely to be on the move. The Red Sox hold two team options for him in 2016 for $13-million and 2017 for $13.5-million and those dollars are very reasonable, even for a pitcher who can not be relied on to produce consistently.
Porcello is also not going anywhere. After the Red Sox traded Yoenis Cespedes to the Tigers for him during the offseason, they showered him with a 4-year/$82.5-million contract. He is 5-10 with a 5.79 ERA so far and almost looks like a lost cause after just half a season.
Masterson and Kelly have also been written off. Masterson returned from a bout of shoulder tendinitis with a move to the bullpen and Kelly has been in Pawtucket since late June. Miley has not been terrible but he hasn't been great either.
One bright spot, except yesterday, has been rookie Eduardo Rodriguez. The 22-year-old lefty has been pretty good and offers hope for the immediate future. He'll be joined by fellow prospects Brian Johnson, who gets the start tonight, and Henry Owens, who should be up sooner rather than later, in Boston. It's a good time for the team to evaluate these three prospects and decide who they want to go forward with and who they want to use in a potential trade.
The Red Sox do need to look elsewhere for their pitching needs. They have been rumored to be in on Cole Hamels of the Phillies all year and it may be time to strike now to help get started on 2016. The Red Sox could send the Phillies a package of Johnson or Owens, 2013 first round pick Trey Ball, shortstop Devin Marrero, and Bradley to acquire the 31-year-old lefty who is under contract through 2019. With the Tigers faltering in the A.L. playoff picture they could put impending free agent David Price on the market but without agreeing to a new contract I can not see the Red Sox adding Price as a rental in this dismal season.
Free agency will also be an avenue for the Red Sox to rebuild their staff. Price will be joined by the likes of Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, and Yovani Gallardo on the free agent market.
Trading for Hamels or adding another starter via free agency is a must for Cherington. Buchholz, Miley, Rodriguez, and Porcello look to be the four locks for 2016's rotation and that group desperately needs an ace to lead the way and also set the tone for whatever top pitching prospects are not dealt away before the start of next year's spring training.