If you find yourself at Fenway Park for the Red Sox’s final homestand this week, chances are most of the local starting nine will be unfamiliar. That’s because the current outfit hardly resembles the one that beat St. Louis in the World Series last year. Gone are most of the scruffy bearded veterans that took a last place team in 2012 to champions 12 months later. In their place are a bunch of fresh (and clean-shaven) faces getting their first taste of big league action. They are the replacements and hopefully the stars of the future, building blocks for the next great Red Sox team.
So much has changed since April. It seems impossible to remember now, but Boston’s opening day roster actually looked a lot like the championship edition from the previous fall, minus a few notable exceptions. Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia had signed elsewhere during the offseason, and Ryan Dempster unexpectedly retired. Stephen Drew, still a free agent at the time, was also absent, but overall, the 2013 champs were largely intact.
That didn’t last long. Players started dropping like flies in June, and by August 1 almost half the original roster was gone. Most of that turnover occurred in a flurry of deals leading up to baseball’s non-waiver trading deadline. Reminiscent of the blockbuster trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett to the Los Angeles Dodgers two summers prior, these moves signaled an end to Boston’s season as well as the beginning of its latest rebuilding attempt.
Without a doubt the biggest casualty of this summer’s fire sale was staff ace Jon Lester, a free agent at season’s end. Red Sox management was unable to negotiate an extension with him during the first half and, rather than see him walk at season’s end, traded him and Jonny Gomes to Oakland for outfield slugger Yoenis Cespedes. Boston will have another opportunity to lure Lester back this winter, but that seems unlikely given their divergent bargaining positions.
Only Clay Buchholz remains from the opening day starting rotation, and he’s been terrible. Fill-ins Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman — none older than 26 — haven’t pitched much better, ranging from inconsistent to just plain awful. Joe Kelly, acquired in the trade that sent John Lackey to St. Louis, has struggled to adapt to the American League. Boston has bountiful arms in its farm system, but the early returns on the first wave have not been good.
The lineup has also gone through a major overhaul over the course of the season, changing on a near-nightly basis. The current iteration is heavy on young talent with Christian Vazquez behind the plate, Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts up the middle, Will Middlebrooks at third and occasional cameos by Jackie Bradley, Jr. in the outfield. There have even been a few Rusney Castillo sightings lately. None of them have excelled, per se, but then again young players rarely do.
It’s been a long time since the Red Sox auditioned this many future stars at once. The upside of falling out of contention so early is that it has allowed for an extended look at these guys, many of whom are (or were) regarded as the organization’s top prospects. The last two months have been difficult, but at least the youngsters are getting valuable playing time. The Red Sox now have a better idea of what they’re capable of at the big league level and can strategize accordingly, deciding which players are worth keeping and who might be useful trade bait.
So while the Red Sox might not be easy to watch, they are still worth paying attention to. Who they are showcasing in these meaningless late-season games might be the keys to Boston’s next postseason run.