NEW YORK -- With nearly five weeks left before the trade deadline, this is no time to be blowing this team up. Yes, the Boston Red Sox have been disappointing, maddening, underachieving and underwhelming. They charge baseball's top ticket prices, and have delivered the smallest return. Last year's band of brothers narrative has been replaced by a "Who are these guys kidding?" motif.
Their critics have pounced, pointing at last year's World Series title as the true outlier for a club threatening to miss the postseason for the third time in the past four years, with no allowances made for a 2011 team that was the best team in baseball before its September collapse.
The Red Sox come to New York, on the cusp of the season's midpoint, still seven games under .500 and eight games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. The distress signals are everywhere -- on the chat boards, the radio shows, the columnists, the Internet sages. The drumbeats are growing louder that this should not stand. "This is our bleeping city" has been replaced by "Do something, anything, about this bleeping team."
Trade Lester. Trade Koji. Trade Drew. Dump Peavy and Mujica. Ax A.J. Good riddance to Gomes. JBJ is a flop. It's all out there, plenty of folks prepared to declare a pox on all of John W. Henry's houses. Frustration rules the day, not without justification.
Well, at the risk of prompting an investigation of senility, it is the contention here that the Red Sox are still built to win, and should be given another five weeks to prove it. That does not mean all remains status quo. Far from it.
Changes are already afoot -- Grady Sizemore and Chris Capuano designated, Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa pushing their way into the rotation, Mookie Betts being given a crash course at Triple-A in playing the outfield. And there will be more. Peavy, you can be certain, is available in a deal, although the Sox may get creative to buy Peavy some time, a la Clay Buchholz. Felix Doubront will indeed be given another start, next week against the Cubs, but he could soon be bound for the bullpen as a third left-hander.
The changes really began with Will Middlebrooks fracturing his right index finger, and Drew being signed to return, the benefits of an improved Sox defense obscured by Drew's 0-for-27 slump. But for all the growing demand that the Sox make a deal to upgrade their outfield, and fast, all indications are that GM Ben Cherington is not yet persuaded that the best solution is an external one. And he'll take the next five weeks before he decides otherwise.
What gives him reason to be optimistic about the outfield? The emergence of Brock Holt, for one, which no one saw coming. Daniel Nava hitting over .300 in June, and getting on base like the 2013 Nava. Some cautious optimism, based on better contact and fewer strikeouts, that Jackie Bradley Jr. is fighting through to the other side of what has been an agonizing learning curve.
The return of Shane Victorino would have gone a long way toward restoring some equilibrium, but his ongoing back and hamstring problems have now cast doubt on when he will be back, and how long he can remain upright. This is where Betts comes into play. He dominated Double-A, he has reached base safely in every game he has played in Triple-A, and he bats right-handed, which is what the Sox need. The risk, of course, is that even the best rookies, like Xander Bogaerts and Bradley, are not spared the ups and downs of a big league trial by fire. If the Sox determine that Victorino can't play, that may well force their hand to acquire a veteran outfielder.
When the Sox decided at the deadline last year they needed another veteran arm, Cherington sprang into action and made a deal for Peavy. It's logical to assume he'd do the same for an outfielder.
But here's why you don't blow up this team. Not now.
1. The Sox have the best pitching in the division, and the rotation looks even stronger than it was last season, especially if Buchholz's return Wednesday was as promising as it appeared. The bullpen remains as reliable as they come, maybe even more so than last season with the addition of Burke Badenhop and a healthy Andrew Miller.
2. Nineteen of the team's next 32 games come against AL East rivals, beginning this weekend in New York and including home-and-home sets against the division-leading Jays just before the trading deadline. No better way to gain ground than playing head-to-head.
3. Despite a half season of evidence to the contrary, this team will hit. Holt hasn't stopped hitting since his promotion. Nava is demonstrating that the Sox should have given him more time to work his way out of his funk. Dustin Pedroia is having a down season, but the organization is adamant in its insistence that he is healthy, so he's due to launch. David Ortiz and Mike Napoli remain a one-two punch to be feared. Bogaerts has blown hot and cold, but his talent is undeniable. Bradley has had better at-bats. Drew won't go hitless the rest of the way. Pierzynski has a track record. The long ball might be returning. The Sox have homered in each of their past four games. Only once this season have they homered in more consecutive games.
4. And this is a down year for the division. Look at the problems afflicting the Yankees. The Rays are blowing it up, with a trade of David Price imminent. The Orioles' and Jays' pitching staffs suffer in comparison to Boston's.
Patience is not a virtue suffered gladly by Red Sox fans. It is a necessity now. I'm keeping my October open. I suggest you do, too.