To say the first half of the 2014 Boston Red Sox season has not reached expectations would be an understatement. Coming off a World Series title in 2013, the Sox are mired in the AL East basement with a 43-52 record. Not the results expected from a defending champion in any setting.
But what the first half of the 2014 Red Sox season has served as is a return to normal. A falling back to earth from what was a magical 2013 season. A return to the notion that this is a reloading team, that these years are bridge years to a future of sustained success and perennial contenders for the American League pennant.
Yes, 2013 was a bridge year. Or at least it was designed as one. The team was assembled with the hopes of fielding a competitive team while developing young players like Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Will Middlebrooks, etc. Easing the young talent into the majors in a strong veteran clubhouse. But one thing led to another, a few things went right and the Sox were able to take advantage of a weak league and rode momentum all the way to the title.
That title led to inflated expectations for the 2014 club, a side effect of the euphoria that comes with a championship. And give Ben Cherington & Co. credit, they didn’t let that euphoria effect the master plan. They were going to sink or swim with the approach taken in 2013 — bring in pieces that serve as a bridge to the future, and hope they can help the team compete.
It was that plan that kept Sox brass from giving catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia a multi-year deal on the heels of a career year, instead giving a one-year deal to veteran backstop A.J. Pierzynski knowing there were two blue-chip catching prospects in the organization in Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart.
It was that plan that had 1/3 of the lineup made up of rookies in Bogaerts and Bradley, and a player who had yet to play a full season in Middlebrooks. The former two were major league-ready players who would benefit from any trial or triumphs experienced at the highest level, while Middlebrooks needed to be given a chance due to the impact bat potential he possessed.
It was that plan that had Stephen Drew returning to the team in June when Bogaerts struggled. Bogaerts showed through the first two months of the season what many (including yours truly) said he wasn’t — a major league shortstop. The Red Sox moved him to the position he looks to be, a third baseman. Drew is a bridge to Deven Marrero, the team’s shortstop of the future at the moment.
Could the Boston front office have done more over the offseason? Absolutely. A player like Rajai Davis would’ve at least partially filled what was a gaping hole in the Red Sox outfield, complimenting Bradley while he struggled and giving a fill-in for the injured Shane Victorino. Nelson Cruz would’ve changed the complexion of this lineup that is among the worst in baseball through 3.5 months of baseball.
But it’s easy to make such a statement at this stature. Hindsight is always 20/20. In the game of Monday morning quarterback, everyone’s Tom Brady.
It could just be a matter of law of averages. So many things went right for this team in 2013. Therefore, things just naturally don’t go right the next time around.
Or it could just be the fact that this team just isn’t that good. That we overrated them based off what happened last season. That the Red Sox remain in reloading mode, and no peak or valley — regardless of height or depth — could disturb the process.
Call it what you want. A disappointment. A travesty. A disaster.
But at the end of the day, it’s reinforcement of what should be expected from the Red Sox as they continue to transition into the next chapter of franchise history.