So a Red Sox lineup stripped down to spare parts couldn’t score a run in a 2-0 loss to the Yankees. No surprise.
Again, the rest of 2012 is relevant only as a function of what it means for 2013, and so, toward that end, here are five things about the Red Sox that mattered Thursday.
RED SOX REDEFINE THE BLUEPRINT
For now at least, the suggestion that the Red Sox owners might consider selling their club -- a notion that was contradicted in no uncertain terms by both principal owner John Henry and CEO/president Larry Lucchino -- represents an exercise in sound and fury signifying nothing. For now, it has absolutely no impact on the team.
But lost amidst the noise about whether Henry, Tom Werner and the rest of the Red Sox ownership group might look to sell was another rock turned over in the altered blueprint of the Red Sox. Henry dismissed the notion that the blockbuster, payroll-liberating deal with the Dodgers represented an effort to make the team more appealing for a potential sale.
“We did it for one reason and one reason only: to provide payroll flexibility. We didn’t have a lot of payroll flexibility,” Henry said. “Neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox, as you’ve noticed over the last year, have had great financial flexibility. There’s a new collective bargaining agreement that has come into existence over the last year. It sort of informs how clubs have to behave. The draft is no longer even close to what it was a year ago or two years ago, certainly. So, the amateur draft and the budget with regard to signing international free agents, baseball has changed economically, and we needed payroll flexibility.”
That much was known. The Sox, with nearly a year of evidence, realized that they could not rely on their core to deliver postseason berths. The club needed to be in position to react to both its needs and the market, and the only way to do so was to draw down some of the team’s considerable long-term obligations by shipping out Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett.
But Henry also offered a hint at how the Sox might change their player investment model. Obviously, the team has been ravaged by injuries in a number of recent seasons. This year represented perhaps the most dramatic instance of the phenomenon, but certainly, other recent years (including both 2010 and 2011) saw the club’s shape getting distorted by key injuries.
That being the case, Henry suggested that the Sox will look at ways of redirecting their resources away from expensive free agents and focus more on making sure the team has viable contingencies when those injuries inevitably enter the picture.
“One of the things that we should have been looking at is how much injuries are playing a part [of the team’s struggles] -- if not in baseball, at least in Boston, how much injuries have played a part with this club since 2006,” said Henry. “We still continued to concentrate on high-ticket players, so to speak, rather than depth. I think that really hurt us this year.
“You can’t use injuries as an excuse, and therefore I would say we weren’t as prepared and didn’t realize and hadn’t caught on I think quickly enough to how important it is to have — what Earl Weaver used to talk about and Larry talks about this year — deep depth. He used to call it deep depth. That’s something that we’re focusing on much more going forward.”
FELIX DOUBRONT HAS LAID A FOUNDATION
For Felix Doubront, the 2012 season has been a building block on a number of levels. In his first year in a big league rotation, he hasn’t been consistent -- but then, he’s not at a stage of is career where he’s supposed to be.
Doubront is a 24-year-old left-hander who is coming off a couple of years in which he averaged 96 innings. And so, as he has built an extra 50 innings on top of that while spending his first full season in the big leagues, it would have been difficult to imagine that he wouldn’t struggle.
Nonetheless, what he’s demonstrated on numerous occasions this year -- including on Thursday night -- was the ability to dominate.
Foremost, he showed that he can mow through the Yankees lineup. Doubront allowed two runs on just four hits while walking five and striking out five in 6 1/3 innings in Thursday’s 2-0 loss. He orchestrated his fourth quality start of the season against the Yankees, becoming the first Red Sox left-hander pitcher since Bill Lee in 1974 to accomplish that feat.
No one else in the majors has four quality starts against the Yankees this year. For that matter, no one else in the majors has three quality starts against New York. In four starts against the Yankees this year, Doubront is 1-1 with a 2.52 ERA.
Meanwhile, the outing continued Doubront’s education in an increased workload. With 6 1/3 innings, he’s now up to a career high 141 innings this year. Yet he’s learning to pitch through any late-season fatigue while holding his stuff. While his command (five walks) was inconsistent, he showed an explosive fastball that the Yankees simply couldn’t hit hard.
The outing represented an important reversal for Doubront, who had a 9.70 ERA with five homers allowed in his prior five starts. If the left-hander can come away from the end of the 2012 season with a sense of accomplishment at the end, it could serve as an important building block for his future as a starter.
“It’s important for him. He wants to do it,” manager Bobby Valentine said of the reversal of Doubront’s recent skid. “Talking to him in between starts, he was determined, he understood some of the situations that he didn’t, I think, mentally overcome in his previous games and I think this was a good game for him that he broke through.”
JOSE IGLESIAS DOES NOT APPEAR READY FOR PRIME TIME
Right now, Jose Iglesias is piling mistakes upon futility. The shortstop entered Thursday’s game as a defensive replacement in the top of the ninth inning (notably, with Mike Aviles moving to second base). As was the case on Wednesday, Iglesias showed tantalizing skills but also inconsistency with his glove.
He showed his GPS-like ability to track fly balls to start the inning, chasing down a pop to shallow center from Eduardo Nunez for the first out of the inning. However, with an opportunity to end the inning with a two-out force play, he booted a grounder by Alex Rodriguez for his second error of the season.
One day earlier, Iglesias had failed to turn a double-play pivot because he tried to get too fancy on the play, dropping his arm angle and skipping the ball to first rather than delivering a clean over-the-top throw.
In short: Iglesias remains mired in a considerable offensive funk this month, having gone 2-for-24 (.083) with one walk. Meanwhile, he’s not letting his considerable defensive tools play consistently.
That being the case, right now, Iglesias looks like a player who still requires more minor league seasoning to round out his development. His struggles aren’t comparable to those of, say, Dustin Pedroia in his call-up in September 2006.
Iglesias -- unlike Pedroia in 2006 -- doesn’t have a demonstrated, consistent track record of minor league excellence. He had a couple of strong months this year that suggested he’s closer than he was at the end of 2011, but with one minor league option remaining, the 22-year-old seems like a good candidate to return to Pawtucket for the start of next season.
ALFREDO ACEVES’ FUTURE WITH THE RED SOX IS MURKY
Aceves is making a $1.2 million base salary this year, and he’ll pull in about another $100,000 in incentives if he makes five more appearances out of the bullpen. But now, as a second-time arbitration eligible player who registered 25 saves, he’s in line for a pretty considerable salary bump.
It’s worth noting that the right-hander’s year-end role will factor into how much he would be in line to make through arbitration. Still, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to contemplate the right-hander being in line for something in the vicinity of $3 million.
And so the cost-benefit analysis regarding the right-hander will tilt a bit, particularly given the recent concerns about his behavior. He was suspended last month for three games after tearing off his jersey in the bullpen. And on Wednesday, he took the back exit off the mound and walked around its circumference in order to avoid passing Valentine.
“You always want people around who know the difference between right and wrong, and sometimes when people don’t know the difference, you can talk all day long to them, and it doesn’t matter. In Alfredo’s case, I think that he understands what he’s doing," Valentine said. “If you know you do something wrong, you understand that there’s also a consequence.”
Valentine said that Aceves remained on the roster for Thursday’s game, and that he would not be fined. Any punishment the right-hander has received remains, for now, unknown.
Asked if he thought Aceves -- who became a free agent after the 2010 season when the Yankees non-tendered him -- could remain with the Sox for the rest of this year and beyond, Valentine replied in the affirmative. And the idea of courting some risk and uncertainty for a reliever with a potentially high ceiling to keep him around on a one-year deal at about $3 million (Dan Wheeler money, roughly) is not absurd.
Still, Aceves’ place on the roster seems to be a subject of discomfort. The longer that remains the case, the more likely it is that the Sox will have to sell low on a pitcher who ranked among their most important contributors for his first year and a half in Boston.
JOHN LACKEY CONTINUES DOWN THE PATH TO A 2013 SPOT IN THE ROTATION
Lackey threw 25 pitches to hitters on Thursday, his second round of live batting practice. Valentine suggested that he continued to show improvement, and that the pitcher’s “velocity is pretty good” as he is now 11 months past his Tommy John surgery.
A milestone now looms. Valentine said Lackey is in line to pitch “a couple of innings” in the Fall Instructional League in Fort Myers this month. The idea of pitching in a game -- even against inexperienced players with little time in pro ball in the Instructional League -- represents a meaningful milestone for Lackey entering next year.
“It’s been a goal of his. You always want to be able to reach your goals,” Valentine said. “To check that off, I think, would be a good thing for him to do. … I don’t think it’s so important for his physical development. It’s just important for his mental checklist.”
BONUS: THE DRAFT UPDATE
With the loss, the Red Sox are 64-80, the seventh-worst record in the majors. They are one game “better” than a Marlins team that has the sixth-worst record in the big leagues.