The Boston Red Sox weren't selling off the franchise, they were rebuilding it. Reforming it. Hustling it into something presentable again.
Cloaked in surrender, the Red Sox indeed burned off Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Jonny Gomes, Andrew Miller and Stephen Drew. They indeed burned off 2014, only months after lifting a World Series championship trophy and running bare-chested through the streets of Boston. They'd bought into that loveable, remarkable worst-to-first team for about six hours too long, enough for it to spiral from first to worst again.
So, they started over – not from the bottom up, but from the top down.
They pulled outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, outfielder and/or infielder Allen Craig and right-hander Joe Kelly. They also took in prospects to a deep system that could, should the situation arise, aid them in a move for, say, Giancarlo Stanton or Troy Tulowitzki. Then they have the financial flexibility – not that they'd need it, but they do have it – for, say, Max Scherzer, James Shields or Lester II.
As an immediate result, the Oakland A's are better with Lester and Gomes. The Baltimore Orioles are better with Miller. The St. Louis Cardinals are better with Lackey. The New York Yankees, maybe, with Drew. The San Francisco Giants, maybe, with Peavy.
And the Red Sox are not better, not today. Not next month.
"There's nothing celebratory about this," Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington told reporters in Boston. "Collectively as an organization, we haven't performed well enough."
But, and this may stick in the throats of the Fenway folks, the alternative was to plow onward, to throw more money at it, to pretend this was an organizational window meant to remain open for any longer than it did. By looking honestly at who they had become, at how ridiculously fortunate they'd been last summer, at how unlikely it was they'd revert to anything quite so heroic, they would not become the Philadelphia Phillies. Or, for that matter, the Yankees.
The Red Sox are far from finished with what they intend to become, presumably. They have two months to sort that out, then four to act on it. By late afternoon Thursday, however, they'd begun the slog.
Cespedes is among the 10 most exciting players in the game and carries at least four, maybe five tools. He's 28 years old and is under contract through 2015. Craig, 30, is enduring the first poor season of his career. He'll be a free agent after 2017. Kelly, 26, is under control for four more seasons.
So, start there. It appeared Lester would get to free agency anyway, and then it's a crapshoot. Miller would be a free agent. Peavy wouldn't be coming back. Neither would Gomes. Lackey, at half-a-million dollars, would've been a pleasant carry-over. But he'll be 36, and this could be the best you get for him.
The rest is to come.
"My expectation," Cherington said, "is we'll be active in the free-agent pitching market this winter."
After a long, fruitful October, it won't be enjoyable for the remaining Red Sox to pack up and go home, then to watch the variously scattered former Red Sox carry on. They'd had something great together. Now was the time, however, to separate who they were – ever so briefly – with who they'd become.
They've made good decisions. Hard ones, but still the right ones. After all, it's not surrender if you can't win. It's survival.
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