For the defending World Series Champion Boston Red Sox, to call 2014 “a disappointment” would be a serious understatement. In fact, their “defense” of their championship is already over, with the Red Sox mathematically eliminated from qualifying for post-season play.
In reality, Boston gave up all hope of repeating as champions, or even of making the playoffs, when they dealt away seven players, including three of the five pitchers in their starting rotation, at the July 31 trade deadline or shortly before.
The deadline-day frenzy followed a streak in which the Red Sox dropped eight of nine games, leaving them a desperate 13 games out of first place in the American League East with no signs that their fortunes were going to turn around.
But Boston General Manager Ben Cherington has stated that the club does not intend to go through a prolonged rebuilding process and in fact, expects to field a contending team for the 2015 season.
That means that trades are inevitable in the offseason, which for the Red Sox begins as soon as they finish their final game of the season, against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on September 28.
With the Red Sox dealing Number One starter John Lester, the anchor of their pitching staff to the Oakland A’s at the deadline — as well as sending reliable veteran starter John Lackey to the St. Louis Cardinals on the same day and another veteran starter, Jake Peavey, to the San Francisco Giants several days earlier, the Red Sox’ top offseason priority is clearly to acquire at least one high-level starting pitcher.
Their top trade target is likely to be Cole Hamels, the Philadelphia Phillies lefty who has been linked to the Red Sox via the trade rumor mill since the 2013-14 offseason. Hamels comes signed-sealed and delivered with a four-year, $90 million contract. The guaranteed stability that comes with his contract likely makes Hamels more attractive to the Red Sox than the top free agent pitchers on the market.
Those include Lester himself, who never ruled out a return to the Red Sox, as well as Detroit’s Max Scherzer.
But what will it take to pry Hamels away from the faltering Phillies? In what will likely come as a shock to Red Sox Nation, the package would almost certainly be topped by rookie outfielder Mookie Betts, whose rise this year is arguably the highlight of a season full of Red Sox lowlights.
A 2011 fifth-round draft pick, Betts has outshone fellow top Red Sox prospects Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., but Boston’s recent addition of Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo would appear to make Betts — despite comparisons to previous great Red Sox centerfielders such as Jacoby Ellsbury and Ellis Burks — expendable.
Betts appears to be the most promising Red Sox rookie since Ellsbury took over centerfield in late 2007 and went on to become an All Star and play a key role in two Red Sox World Series victories. But Red Sox Nation shouldn’t be surprised if any glory that comes Betts’ way in his career comes in the uniform of the Philadephia Phillies.
[Image via Metro]
[Image via Yawkey Way Report]