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“I think we're in better position than we were a week ago.”
Thus spake Boston Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington on Thursday evening.
For the record, the Red Sox were in last place in the AL East a week ago, and they were in last place on Thursday. By "better position," Cherington meant the team had improved itself by trading away four of the starting pitchers who'd helped Boston become World Series champions last fall. The remainder of what Cherington acknowledged as a lost season when he dealt ace and other ace Jon Lester and John Lackey on Thursday, having previously dumped Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront, will determine whether the GM is right.
And he's aware of that.
“These are now the most important 54 games of our season,” Cherington said.
In the wake of the unusually dramatic and rapid roster turnover, a Boston fan named Josh Todd could not restrain himself from saying what lots of Sox fans must have been thinking.
“You gotta have pitching to make those decisions,” Todd said.
Josh Todd doesn't know anything Ben Cherington, who is paid the big money to make those decisions, doesn't know. But the general manager's concern was that whereas more pitching might be available between now and next April, that might not be so true of more offense.
“No matter what happens the rest of the way, it would be my expectation that we'd be active in the starting pitching market this winter: trades, free agency, whatever,” the GM said. “Clearly, offense has been an issue all year. Everyone knows that. There's some offense available in free agency, but it's not a particularly strong free agent class in terms of offense. So that did become a priority for us.”
I suppose folks with tickets to watch the Yankees play Boston this weekend can be grateful that Ben Cherington didn't trade away the band.
On Wednesday, the evening before the day upon which the Red Sox would suddenly lack Lackey and be less one Lester, the Sox were preparing to play the Toronto Blue Jays. Of course, the players knew something was up. Lester, who'd been scheduled to start the game, was a late scratch. A possible trade was the only explanation. But in the dugout, Mike Napoli, in his second season with Boston after stints with the Rangers and the Angels, bravely asserted that he was paying no attention to rumors that some of his teammates might soon be wearing other uniforms.
“I worry about today,” Napoli said. “You know, I don't really look to the future. I'm out here and working hard and trying to get better everyday and come out here and perform, so there's nothing going on in the clubhouse. We're still close, and we just go day by day.”
Outside the dugout it was business as usual: Shane Victorino chatted amiably with a group of youngsters wearing Shane Victorino T-shirts. Dustin Pedroia posed for photos with fans.
The game itself would follow form. The Red Sox lost to the Blue Jays for the third night in a row. This sort of streak helped explain why so many of the Red Sox would be cleaning out their lockers the next day. The talk Wednesday night about potential departures didn't much dismay a fan named Bob, who'd brought his family to Fenway.
“That's baseball today, right?” he remarked. “It's just a sign of the times, I guess. But the kids still love the game, so that's what's important.”
In the street outside the old ballpark, the sausages sizzled and the musicians tooted and honked. Last place, first place, it was all the same to them. I suppose folks with tickets to watch the Yankees play Boston this weekend can be grateful that Ben Cherington didn't trade away the band.
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