And so, the shuffle continued, a new wrinkle in a season that has upended the stable managing environment in which John Farrell helped to steward the Red Sox to a championship in 2013.
In what has become a familiar development in 2014, the Red Sox made a flurry of four roster moves on Monday. Stephen Drew returned, as expected; Mike Carp -- not as expected -- landed on the DL, resulting in a U-turn by Daniel Nava to the big leagues roughly 48 hours after he'd been sent back down to Pawtucket. Garin Cecchini likewise found himself back in Triple-A after one day in the big leagues. For those keeping score, that's 52 roster moves since the first day of the season.
There is a theorem that posits that an infinite number of monkeys, entrusted (ludicrously) with keyboards, would eventually yield a perfect re-creation of a famous text, perhaps Shakespeare. Such an accomplishment would be nothing next to one of an infinite number of primates, prior to the 2014 season, stumbling upon the shape of the Red Sox lineup on Monday.
Brock Holt: leadoff man. A.J. Pierzynski: batting fifth. Both Grady Sizemore (seventh) AND Jackie Bradley Jr. (ninth) in the lineup. Drew -- unsigned until roughly two weeks ago -- hitting between them. Jonny Gomes, having won the everyday job in left field, batting sixth against a pitcher in Justin Masterson who dominates righties. Daniel Nava, one of the best hitters in the majors last year against righties, relegated to the role of spectator.
With Drew back for the 3-2 loss to the Indians, the Red Sox employed their 49th lineup in 57 games, continuing a constant personnel shuffle that commenced when Jacoby Ellsbury's free agent departure and Shane Victorino's injury on the final day of spring training set in motion a sequence of falling dominoes at or near the top of the order.
The addition of a new shortstop -- and the fallout for some of the Sox' most significant recent contributors -- represented the latest in a yearlong theme that has represented a test for Farrell to figure out the right alchemy to achieve success with a constantly unstable roster. The whole year has seemed an ongoing search for a winning formula, with Farrell the one entrusted with the primary (though not sole) responsibility for mixing the roster ingredients in a beaker and hoping the concoction doesn't explode.
"I think every year's going to present unique challenges. Injuries is going to be one of them," Farrell explained. "In situations like we're in now, this is where the role of those in the front office, those on our coaching staff, those in Pawtucket really begin to unite and become one because of the changes with the players coming up and down and the clarity to our communication, the understanding of what that player coming up to us has been excelling at, where his challenges might exist, where his limitations might exist, and how do we best fit that in to win a game tonight when the roster does change.
"I think we had a group [in 2013] that was -- as far as lineup continuity, one through five -- was much more stable because of health, track record at the major league level, more of a known commodity of that group vs. integrating young players, which we're all well aware of and willing to do. We understood the reason for it and the need for it. With that comes some growing pains and maturity to take place."
Those growing pains and transitional challenges for players like Bradley and Will Middlebrooks and (to a far, far lesser degree) Xander Bogaerts and even Grady Sizemore have created a complex day-to-day existence for the Sox. In that environment, it's been hard to know what to make of the roster -- with some of Farrell's unfamiliar in-game decisions reflecting that reality.
The personnel has changed -- and keeps changing -- and so, the tenets of Farrell's managerial style have also shifted.
It would be misleading to suggest that last year represented a push-button managing job, but the wealth of quality hitters -- most of whom were performing at or above career norms -- certainly permitted a consistent managing style, particularly given that the Sox never had more than two everyday players on the DL at the same time last year.
Farrell talked often about how his players could manage the game along with him. Role players talked often about their ability to predict the moments when they'd be called upon off the bench for very specific tasks, resulting in success in those opportunities.
This year? There have been more decisions that prompted double takes, but while that is often viewed as a reflection on Farrell, it also speaks to the different roster he's working with.
With a lineup that has struggled, the priority placed not only on a potential game-tying run but even on a run that might trim a deficit from three runs to two runs or even one has skyrocketed. And, with a number of players who have endured some woeful stretches at the plate, the path to those runs has been unreliable, resulting in a manager who has employed the kind of tactics this year -- bunts or hit-and-runs, for instance, while down a couple of runs -- that were almost never seen a year ago.
Farrell knows the second guesses that some of his tactics have produced, and indeed, he understands them. He understands that some of the in-game choices he's made this year have been different than ones he would have made in comparable situations in 2013.
"The one thing that we always still value is the value of an out. You never want to just sacrifice that out. But you then have to weight that with where you are in the lineup, the pitcher on the mound, and what is the -- at least in the moment -- the probability of advancing 90 feet and hopefully manufacturing one run rather than sitting back and playing for the three-run homer, where that is going to be less of a likelihood," said Farrell. "You're always looking to find an ability to put a player in a position of success. And if that means we've had to manufacture runs by using a bunt or a hit and run or looking to take advantage of a situation to try to gain 90 feet, those small things become used more if you've got them in a history with a player and knowing what his offensive abilities are at the major league level.
"We also find ourselves in situations where we might have used the bunt in situations where it might not naturally or typically call for. So when you're advancing or looking to sacrifice two runners over when you're down three runs to try to look at a six-out, two-inning time frame to chip away rather than play for the big inning all the time, you have to stay open-minded to that. And it might go against the grain for what a typical Red Sox lineup has been constructed to do."
A year ago, the reservoir of talent on the bench was considerable. The Sox roster was defined by a strikingly complementary nature. Both Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp typically were available as late-innings weapons who could counter bullpen moves for righties or lefties. David Ross and Jarrod Saltalamacchia balanced each others' skill sets.
In 2014, there's been more redundancy of skills, fewer perfect complements. There's no right-handed center fielder behind Bradley, and so his superior defense has made him an everyday player. There hasn't been a left-handed-hitting left fielder who produced enough to pair with Gomes, and so Gomes' penchant for impacting a game on the bases or even with his unique defensive stylings proved sufficient to earn him an everyday role, despite the fact that he's hitting .174 with a .244 OBP and .304 slugging mark against righties. (Nava, so good against right-handers last year, has hit just .154/.267/.308 against them this year.)
"Roster change, personnel change has forced us to change roles somewhat," said Farrell. "And with that comes some challenges along the way."
One of those challenges has been the fine line between managing for the long term -- giving young players the opportunity to fail so that they can learn to succeed -- and the need to win on a nightly basis.
What might it do to the psyches of players like Middlebrooks or Bradley or even (before he became their best hitter) Bogaerts to pinch-hit for them? What about asking them to bunt? And, if asked to bunt, could they execute the tactic?
These are dugout and coaching staff conversations that took place or, in some cases, continue to take place, but without clear answers.
"That is something that runs through your mind as those opportunities emerge. Jackie Bradley, Xander Bogaerts, Brock Holt, even Will Middlebrooks to a certain extent, when he was in the lineup every day -- you want to continue to provide opportunities to foster that growth, and with the trust that you'll reap further benefit down the line, they have to gain exposure," said Farrell. "The fact is we're doing it with greater number at once; that's what makes some of those opportunities a little bit elusive at times."
There has been youth. There have been injuries. And, oh, by the way, there's been considerable inconsistency, or at least departures by some players from their 2013 or career track records.
The struggles of trusted players, Farrell suggests, have represented the most challenging part of his job this year.
"Injury, it's is pretty much, you're playing with the hand dealt to you. With inconsistencies you've got to continue to show faith, patience, and continue to work to get guys on track," he said. "That's been a little bit more difficult to predict, because you know what they've done in the past and you believe and trust that it's about to turn. And you share that frustration with the player when that doesn't happen from time to time."
Yet with the performance struggles has come a great sense of responsibility. When the Red Sox endured their 10-game losing streak, one could almost see players individually carrying the weight of the struggle with them into the batter's box -- and getting crushed under it.
Certainly, Farrell and his coaching staff likewise felt a sense of the need to help find a way to pull the team out of its funk, not wanting simply to remain passive in the midst of the mounting defeats.
"In-game, because we're wired as we want to make an impact, we want to help change the trend that we're on. And sometimes that forces you to do some things that you might not otherwise do," acknowledged Farrell. "That's where you've got to really be patient, because then you can begin to affect things negatively, by making a wrong decision. I'm not perfect. I know there's some things that I would liked to have done differently during that stretch. We all shared in that 10 games, and we all [shared in the subsequent seven-game winning streak]. You try to even it out as best you can mentally and how you act.
"I don't think any of us anticipated a 10-game losing streak. So we work and we think positively to win every night, knowing full well that's unlikely to happen. Still, this is a position where there's great expectations, and yet I find myself having to take a deep breath and step back and be objective or realistic with currently what are we dealing with, and yet show stability so players see a coaching staff that projects a consistent positive in body language and interaction with them. In times of uncertainty it's imperative that we show stability so that they feel that."
That need to project stability -- rather than experience it -- represents a departure from 2013. A year ago, the Sox made it through an entire year without a losing streak of more than three en route to a championship.
Farrell represented a visual testimony to the team's stability, a commanding presence whose decisions frequently seemed to work exactly according to the blueprint and who oversaw a remarkable focused clubhouse of players who were prepared and confident in their own abilities. At virtually every clinching milestone, he received raves from all levels of the organization -- players, ownership, the front office, New England, the baseball world -- for having been the perfect man to step in at the perfect time, in the aftermath of the chaos of 2012.
This year, of course, has been different, more challenging. That the increased challenge comes in Year 2 of Farrell's job is itself interesting.
Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona said on many occasions that it was only after winning a championship in his first year in Boston that he came to understand the public nature and responsibility of his job. Even though he won in 2004, the sense of obligation -- both the reward and burden of being the Red Sox manager -- truly hit home for him by the time he showed up for the 2005 season.
In some important ways, Farrell is in a different boat from Francona. Even before he took over the Sox' managerial job after the 2012 season, he understood what it was to be a part of the Red Sox thanks to his four years as the team's pitching coach from 2007-10. Whereas Francona learned about the depth of the Sox' impact by moving to Boston in the winter after that first title, Farrell entered his current position with a handle on the dimensions of what his team's successes and failures can mean to the fan base.
Still, while Farrell had a grasp on the significance of his role, he, too, suggests a growing appreciation for its reach -- and what it means both to enjoy success and struggle as a Red Sox manager.
"Anytime you get to a cycle the first full time in that kind of role, you get a much better understanding. So this past offseason, yeah, you could look back and say, 'Wow.' This was widespread and felt and shared by many," said Farrell. "With the success that we experienced last year, you begin to gain a much better appreciation for how important the Red Sox are to the people in this region -- particularly when you have success," he added with a laugh, "because when you don't have it you feel the opposite with that as well."