Peter Gammons: This isn’t going to end well

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Reality is always clearest at first light, and on the Ides of June the reality for some teams is growing clearer that this isn’t going to end well.

Most notably, for the $180 something million Red Sox, who blew an 8-1 lead to a Toronto team they needed to beat, lost six straight to the Jays and Orioles and now have a better record than the Oakland Athletics. Period. For the Miami Marlins, who despite an encouraging shutout from rookie Jose Urena, still are trying to feel their way through an unusual managerial change and a tattered starting pitching staff. For the Seattle Mariners, who watched Felix Hernandez get one out and allow eight runs to the Houston Astros, then Sunday nearly got no-hitter by Lance McCullers and now sit 7 ½ games behind the ‘Stros’.

And even the Padres, who lost two of three at their Petco home over the weekend to the Dodgers, a weekend in which their play for the present deals forced them to watch Joe Ross win for the Nationals Saturday and shortstop Trea Turner take his 127 game, 39 extra base hit, .322/.397/.458 line and speed to the Nationals system while San Diego braces for a 2017 organizational drought. All the while, another club’s evaluator watched the weekend and said, “that is a really bad defensive team.” Hope the Nats enjoy Turner, who two teams rated the best positional prospect in the 2014 draft, next season.

Even for the Reds, not that there is fault to be spread around. They won a tough game at Wrigley on a weekend when they need to at least split to remain in sight, under .500 and with the Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs in front of them and a disabled list that is increasingly looking like a phone directory. But at 28-34 and 13 games out with two of the league’s three best teams (St. Louis, Pittsburgh) and the Cubs in front of them, the reality of dealing with injuries and the impending free agency of Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake may force a reconstruction even before the All Star Game. Hence, the Yankees, Blue Jays, Giants, Red Sox, Tigers and other teams have been following Leake and Cueto. Boston? Trade three prospects, drive him to Cooperstown for idol Pedro Martinez’s induction and make Jack Welch his financial adviser?

If this does not work in Miami and they finish below .500 after Jose Fernandez returns and all the optimism generated by Giancarlo Stanton gets swept under Dan Jennings’ desk, how does this end? Not only do they risk fan support, but what happens to Stanton, who pushed his deal—which makes him the seventh highest paid Marlin this season—because he likes Miami and wants to play meaningful games in September—and his future?

Promise remains. Christian Yelich is likely to have a big second half. Dee Gordon was a terrific pickup. J.T. Realmuto has taken on the catching. Adeiny Hechavarria has been dazzling.

The problem is starting pitching. In 62 games, their starters have 17 wins, six by Dan Haren, four by Tom Koehler. To ask Fernandez to immediately be The Crown Prince a year off Tommy John Surgery is a lot to ask for even this prodigy, and his usage comes with a yellow light. The 13 month anniversary of his TJ operation is Tuesday; Pittsburgh won’t let Jameson Taillon pitch in a minor league game until his 15th month is up.

They expected to win in Seattle. They expected to score enough runs for their pitching with Robinson Cano, Mark Trumbo and Nelson Cruz, and here they are, scoring three runs or less in 16 consecutive games. They maintain their problem hasn’t been a .296 on base percentage, which is the worst in the American League, but they haven’t hit in key situations. But if it is the inability to get on base and the pitching isn’t as good as we thought, then what are the likely ending scenarios?

The Reds have complex layers of issues. Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake are free agents come the end of the year. They have $63.5M tied up in Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey for next season.

And with Zack Cozart, Homer Bailey, Devin Mesoraco all out for the year and Billy Hamilton learning on the job, owner Robert Castellini and Walt Jocketty have a difficult call on rebuilding by trading big pitchers with the All Star Game and an historic fan base.

When you say “next year” is a very difficult call for any owner with a huge investment. The Phillies are ready to do it. Clubs needing a closer think Francisco Rodriguez could be had now, but Kyle Lohse, not so much, while Matt Garza’s 2016 contract doesn’t make him as attractive.

One team all those pondering a 2015 sunset watching is Toronto.

Back on May 26, the Blue Jays were in last place, 19-26, and there was discomfort through the whole organization because GM Alex Anthopoulos, manager John Gibbons and several others were without contracts for 2016 and no one knew who the next club president would be. Now, having won 11 straight and moved within  game of first place, the question is asked daily: why aren’t Anthopoulos being rewarded?

No general manager had a better off-season than Anthopoulos, whom unlike the Padres, factored in defense. The Josh Donaldson trade was the best of the winter. He’s leading the American League in WAR, leading third basemen in homers and OPS. Russell Martin leads all AL catchers in WAR, has 10 homers, and is second in throwing out runners. Justin Smoak, Chris Colabello and Devon Travis have also been major contributors.

Now his focus is on finding veteran starter bullpen help. Ruben Amaro would prefer sending Jonathan Papelbon to Toronto, but as long as the Cubs are a possibility, Papelbon would prefer Chicago. Although right now the Cubs feel confident in Jason Motte and their bullpen—getting Rafael Soriano by All Star Break—may have less of a need than one more starter for the rotation.

Rather than empty their system or their cash flow for Hamels or Cueto, Anthopoulos is trying to get a midrange veteran starter like Aaron Harang or Kyle Lohse and a Papelbon or Francisco Rodriguez to help get the Jays into the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

But the Red Sox are the team most dazed and confused here on the Ides of June. They have the worst run differential. They are 12th in runs. Their starters’ ERA is the worst in either league. Their defense, especially in left and at third, is in the bottom third of the league.

Yet, here is what is so confusing: for a 26 game stretch until the Toronto Massacre, their starters had allowed 2 runs or fewer in 19 games. They have lost six games this season when a starter allowed one or two runs. They have won four games this season when a starter has allowed five runs.

Wasn’t this supposed to be a team that with David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and Mike Napoli hitting 3-4-5-6 was supposed to win 8-6, 10-5 games? They’ve averaged 3.5. Ortiz has started to hit the last week with three homers, but he’s .223/,313/.414. Napoli is .200/.297/.380. Ramirez has one homer since May 1. Sandoval is .256/.314/.389. Ortiz and Sandoval are under .120 against lefthanded pitchers. Their top three averages belong to Dustin Pedroia, Brock Holt and Xander Bogaerts.

What John Henry and Ben Cherington do hasn’t been decided. Farrell uncharacteristically made it clear he wants Ramirez to clean up his act. Sunday, Hanley casually let himself get picked off second when Bogaerts hit a bases loaded bullet to Donaldson, ending the first inning. He has played left field as if it were detentioned, failed to signal Pedroia on whether or not to slide in Baltimore…They need him to be an elite performer, not a $22M supporting actor, a Manny Ramirez, not a Carl Crawford.

If Shane Victorino gets healthy, one direction may be to drop the set lineup and go with a fluid flow with Pedroia and Bogaerts in every day with a fluid mix of Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, Jackie Bradley, Holt and maybe even Deven Marrero, whose .700+ OPS at Pawtucket could allow him time at third and a day here or there at short and second.

They have stuck with their original rotation, but only Clay Buchholz has an ERA under 5.00. Eduardo Rodriguez, who Sunday pitched as if he were Eddie Feigner—who pitched softball games with only a catcher, infielder and outfielder on his defense—is likely to stay. They could bring in Brian Johnson, keep the Rick Porcello transition working, then see if Joe Kelly, Justin Masterson and Steven Wright make them a better staff as starters or relievers.

Wade Miley’s June 11 meltdown in view of the television cameras has made him the ultra villain, but in his seven previous starts he had a 3.41 ERA. One of his former pitching coaches promised three or four meltdowns a season. Unfortunately for him, for John Farrell and the team, there was no Adam Jones or Torii Hunter to shove him down into the runway and put an end to the scene. Not even a Jonny Gomes.

There is no obvious replacement if Henry and Cherington feel they must move on from Farrell. There are no Cueto or Hamels chips to play. Most days, they start three DHs.

They have to get Betts, Blake Swihart, Castillo and Bogaerts going, hope the middle four starts to hit, that they find a 12 man pitching mix…and there is some urgency to make The Fens more than gardens and Frisbee-chasing puppies and development sites until the Patriots open their season.

Right now, the sense around the Red Sox is, more than any team in either league, this is not going to end well. The $15 lobster rolls are great, but the lobster rolls at The Chart Room are a whole lot better, and the sunsets are over Buzzard’s Bay, not players’ careers. The Red Sox customer services are among the best in their business.

But in every business, the endgame has to be in clear focus, and, right now figuring what they want this team to be and how to get there is a mystery beyond Stephen King’s imagination.

Comments

  1. Hudson Valley Slim says:

    I believe, although left unsaid of course, is that Sox management/ownership always viewed this as a bridge year, a transition year. Let the younguns get some experience, see how the pitching prospects develop. At the same time put a competitive exciting team on the field, with the signings of Ramirez and Sandoval. That an ace-type pitcher wasn’t acquired was “the tell”. Some better ones will be gettable at the deadline or after the season.

    We all saw the thin pitching, but it is really surprising to me what poor defensive players Ramirez and Sandoval are. Hanley Ramirez, was a huge gamble because of past immaturity. But you figure, along the lines of the ol’ Bill James defensive spectrum, that a big league shortstop, even a below-average one, could play left adequately. And Fenway’s a small leftfield, relatively easy once you figure out the Wall. But he looks bamboozled.

    Pablo Sandoval has flaws in his game we didn’t see in his brilliant World Series. A sloppy third baseman who can’t hit lefties. Seems a bit thin-skinned as well. Not good in Boston….

    Can we get a do-over? The Dodgers are set but maybe the Yanks could pick up these contracts!?! I prefer the homegrown players – let Holt, Betts, Bogaerts, Bradley, Swihart, Castillo all play, don’t hesitate to bench the high salaries if they’re not pulling the load.

    • Raymond Luxury Yacht says:

      I can’t disagree with anything you’ve said, but the sad fact is these free agents ARE the do over. AGon, Crawford, and Beckett (as Peter puts it – the Nick Punto deal), was the original get out of jail card. Unfortunately, unless they can find a way to motivate their new $90M acquisitions, we might be stuck with 3-4 more years of this lethargic play.