This Week in Boston Baseballing, July 12 – 18

Boston took two of three against the Astros in Houston before heading off for a four-day All-Star Break hiatus. The team enters the second half of the season 9 ½ games out of the race for first place in the AL East.

Dustin Pedroia (2.6) and Brock Holt (2.2) are the team’s leading position players in terms of WAR. Jon Lester (4.2) and John Lackey (2.4) pace the pitching staff.

According to FanGraphs’ projections page, the Red Sox have a 6.2% chance of making the playoffs as either the winner of the AL East or as one of the two Wild Card teams that face off in a one-game series prior to the American League Division Series. However, FG reckons they have just a 1.1% shot at making the ALCS. In other words, basically every player would have to outperform their projected stat lines for the remainder of the season for the team to climb back into things.

The 2014 Season’s Parallels With 1996 Aren’t So Bad…
It has been rare for a Red Sox team to struggle this mightily this early in the season over the past few decades. Even during the abortive 2012 season under Bobby Valentine, the team had postseason aspirations well into July.

This season, by comparison, has been much more akin to 1996. But that does not have to be a bad thing. From Matt Martinelli on the Improper Bostonian website:

Making their major-league debuts in 1996 were Trot Nixon (a cameo game for the former first-round pick) and Nomar Garciaparra, who shot through the minor leagues at a Mookie Betts pace. Youth won the day on that 1996 squad, which got its most valuable contributions on the offensive side from the 20-something crew of Vaughn, Valentin, Naehring, O’Leary, Bragg and even Jeff Frye. Garciaparra’s one month of play set him up for his dazzling 1997 rookie year, and the 1998-99 playoff appearances for the Sox.

A repeat of the 1996 season, which included an action packed final two months, a ton of playing time for the young kids, and an exciting charge by the free-agent-to-be ace pitcher is about what Sox fans should be hoping for at this point. Oh, and if the Sox go on a run to win twice as many games as they lose (like they did to end 1996), that would put them at 88 wins. It might be good enough for a division title in this parity-filled year. Maybe something might be a bit different from 1996 after all.

The following season in 1997 wasn’t exactly a bowl of fun, but by and large the Sox were competitive into late summer during each of the final years of the Duquette regime in 1998-2002. And that was with a John Harrington ownership group and the coaching staff that was strife with turmoil and mis-management. A similar wave of young talent in addition to a much more competent ownership group and front office should take the sting out of one outlying year of underperformance.

Is Jon Lester a Goner?
On Wednesday, ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian brought up the “real possibility” that Jon Lester may be in a different uniform next season. The Red Sox offered Lester a lowball offer of four years at $70 million earlier this spring. The team has since done the high-wire act during the first half of the season, basically leaving the door open for more serious offers without actually extending a more serious offer. The front office has greased the skids for his departure. Whether or not they have done so intentionally or they have simply fumbled these negotiations beyond repair is completely debatable and open to interpretation.

The $70m offer may not be all that unreasonable, though. Back in March, we wrote about Lester’s contract in the context of how the team has handled David Ortiz, who the club has never let reach true free agency. The Red Sox have paid Ortiz well to be a cornerstone of the roster, one of the better DH’s in the game but by no means a steal in terms of value because he brings no defensive value.

As a left-handed pitcher in his early 30s, Lester might simply be destined for a nine-figure deal one way or another. He is more underwhelming from the perspective of star power and charisma than a guy like Ortiz. Nevertheless, the best guess here is that he slots in at about 5 years and $125 million. There is a chance some team loses its mind and goes even higher and/or longer. If that’s the case, we’d prefer if that temporary insanity belongs to a team other than the Red Sox.

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