NEW YORK -- He's here. Now what?
The call-up of Mookie Betts, who will make his much-anticipated debut in Yankee Stadium on Sunday night, represents a fascinating stirring of the pot for the Red Sox with far-reaching implications for the roster. The Red Sox are hopeful that their moribund offense will receive an injection of life from the dynamic Betts, who is expected to see time in center and right fields.
Why now? Obviously, the offense has been hopelessly inert. Though two solo homers proved just enough for the Red Sox to claim a 2-1 win on Saturday over the Yankees, the Sox lineup has produced two or fewer runs in an astonishing 13 of the last 19 games, averaging just 2.6 runs a game in the process.
But beyond that, it was an important time for the Red Sox to load their roster with their most talented players to see if they can assert themselves in a fashion that can provide some clarity about what they are trying to accomplish in 2014.
The Red Sox are seven games behind the Blue Jays in the AL East and six behind the Mariners for the second wild card spot. As of now, the team believes that -- despite its poor play to date -- it can assert itself and make a move in the standings. But the Sox also understand that they have no real margin to slip in the standings. And so, the coming weeks are critical for letting the team come to a decision about what pieces to seek -- or to shed -- by the July 31 trade deadline.
In short, adding Betts -- a player who has at least the potential to change the dynamic of the Sox -- represented an attempt to give the team a chance to make a move in time to convince the front office to make further moves in support of contention.
"I think we're looking at every way to improve the team. It's still probably a little early for the trades to start happening, and so based on Mookie's performance and our confidence in him, we felt like this move makes sense now," explained general manager Ben Cherington. "It won't necessarily preclude us from pursuing other things. But this is what we're doing today."
So what's the fallout of the addition of Betts? What does his arrival mean for the playing time of others on the roster?
FIVE FOR FOUR
Though he sat on the bench Saturday to get his bearings in New York -- a course the Red Sox also took with Xander Bogaerts after calling him up last August in San Francisco -- he'll play. He'll make his first big league start on Sunday. But after that, how much time will he see on the field?
Manager John Farrell outlined a five-for-four scenario, identifying five players who will split the playing time at four positions -- a calculation that is a reflection of the polymorphous Brock Holt, who can play (literally) anywhere on the field.
With Holt roving between four potential primary positions (center, right, third, short), the Sox expect that they can find regular playing time for Betts, Holt, Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts and Stephen Drew.
"What our goal is is to get a minimum of five days a week or six days a week for the younger players," Farrell said. "We feel like we can do that with this alignment."
The idea that Bradley or Drew might play slightly less than every day -- perhaps sitting against lefties -- comes as something less than a surprise. But the idea that Bogaerts could experience even a slight compromise of his playing time represents an intriguing potential consequence of the addition of Betts.
As for Bradley, for now he'll still see fairly regular playing time. He's hitting .206 with a .286 OBP and .294 slugging mark. He's one of five players in the big leagues (along with Nate Schierholtz, Everth Cabrera, Will Venable and Jedd Gyorko) with an OBP and slugging percentage under .300 with a minimum of 200 plate appearances. For now, Cherington said that the Sox don't see a need to send him to the minors.
"I actually think that there's been some good signs from Jackie on the road trip. His at-bats have looked more competitive. … And then obviously the defense is great," said Cherington. "As we talked about it, we're trying to put the best team out there night in and night out. We believe that right now that's with Jackie and Mookie on it and there's a way to do this where everyone is playing. That doesn't mean that everyone is playing every night, but everyone is playing a lot. We'll just see where we go. We know we have to get better. We're looking for a lot of different ways to get better."
BUT FIVE FOR FOUR MAY GET SHAKEN UP
Mike Carp went 1-for-3 in Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday, his second game of a rehab assignment that is expected to last at least five or six games in his recovery from a broken bone in his foot. And when Carp is ready to come back, the Sox will have a fascinating decision on their hands.
At that point, there would appear to be three primary options to be sent to the minors. Bradley or Betts could be sent to Triple-A, or, given Holt's limitless versatility, the team could option Jonathan Herrera.
Of course, if the Sox like the current roster configuration, Carp also represents the kind of bat that might represent a target for other clubs before the trade deadline, a potentially valuable complementary piece who could have particular value (and more regular playing time) as a role contributor for a National League team.
Betts doesn't have much direct bearing on Victorino, unless the Feats of Mookie include mystical healing powers during his two years as a daily fixture in the Minor League Roundup. Instead, Betts is up precisely because Victorino's outlook remains so uncertain, and because the Sox wanted to add a player with the potential to deliver the kind of far-reaching impact at the plate, on the bases and in the field that Victorino possesses.
Had Victorino been close to a return, the Sox likely wouldn't have been making this move. But he's not, having received an epidural injection in his balky lower back. Cherington said that Victorino is expected to be back to help at some point this year, but the Sox are at a point where precise timetables for his return represent are premature.
"We still believe he's going to play and help us, but obviously there was a setback this week. It's harder to say when that [return] will be, but based on the diagnosis and the information we've gotten from our staff, he's going to come back and play," said Cherington. "It's just, we don't know when exactly. It's a little bit harder to say than it would have been five or six days ago."
THE TRADE MARKET
If Betts provides a spark, then the Sox might be more inclined to make some kind of move to add a piece before the end of July. Or, if he doesn't yet prove ready but the rest of the team shows life, then the Sox could be in a position to add a piece to try to reinforce their roster for the stretch run.
But if the Sox prove flat and muddle through their schedule, continue to play at a sub-.500 level, then the team will have to consider the possibility that the best way to strengthen the organization is by looking beyond 2014.
Those scenarios aren't necessarily an either/or -- the Sox could, for instance, move some of their players who are under contract only through 2014 for longer-term assets who also have a chance to make them better now. But the next month -- and what the team looks like with Betts -- will do everything to guide the Sox in terms of how to proceed.
Cherington said that the Sox' preparations for the trade deadline are "focused on 2014. We're trying to look realistically and be honest with where we are -- I'm not sugarcoating where we are. It's not where we want to be. We've created a deficit for ourselves. But we still think the deficit is one we can overcome. We still believe in the talent, we believe we can be a good team this year. So that’s what we're interested in doing, is trying to be as good a team as we can. If at some point, the picture changes, then it changes. Then we'll have to adjust at that point. But we're not at that point yet."