BOSTON -- No putting lipstick on a pig for the Boston Red Sox, no sir.
The trade deadline came and the trade deadline went Friday afternoon, leaving general manager Ben Cherington occupying the same philosophical position as one of his predecessors, Lou Gorman, who once famously said under much different circumstances:
"The sun will rise, the sun will set, and I'll have lunch."
In Cherington’s case, a nap might be more advisable, given the number of hours he spent over the past couple of weeks exploring what he said were “hundreds of concepts -- literally,’’ before deciding the Sox were best served by doing little of consequence now.
On Monday, the Red Sox traded outfielder Shane Victorino to the Los Angeles Angels for utility infielder Josh Rutledge. On Friday, in a deal announced after the 4 p.m. deadline, the Red Sox acquired reliever Ryan Cook, a one-time All-Star now in the minors, from the Oakland Athletics for cash considerations or a player to be named later.
“We had a busy few days. We worked on a lot of stuff,” Cherington said while sitting in the Sox dugout Friday afternoon. “Talked about a lot of stuff. Big, small, in between. In the end, didn’t find enough compelling to do much. It just didn’t come our way.
“But thought we had a really productive week nonetheless. Got a lot of information. We know a lot more about what may or may not be in play for us going forward in the offseason.”
The lack of activity will be of little use to Sox COO Sam Kennedy in drumming up business for the next two months and will do nothing to ease the aggravation of Sox fans braced for the team’s third last-place finish in the past four years. How incumbent upon Cherington was it to make a deal, given the team’s standing?
“I think it’s incumbent upon us to make real improvement between now and Opening Day,’’ he said. “We didn’t feel like it had to be this week. And so we went into it with the mindset, we’re going to pursue things we think fall in line with ways we need to improve between now and Opening Day. If we find those things now, we’ll do it. We’ll pursue it. If not, we’ll wait and tackle the offseason.’’
While this season is beyond salvaging, there’s another way to approach the last 59 games, other than wallowing in misery.
Cherington acknowledges there are still deals that can be made during the August waiver period, and it’s on him if they’re not. First baseman Mike Napoli and outfielder Alejandro De Aza are both movable pieces, and the only reason to keep them around is they both play the game right, bring energy every time they step on the field, and are good role models for the younger players to emulate. Those things matter.
But they also stand in the way of the Red Sox answering a few questions headed into the offseason. The Sox need to play Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo in the outfield as much as they can in the next two months, to learn whether either or both should fit in next season’s mix or be used as trading pieces. The outfield is too crowded with De Aza, especially once Mookie Betts returns from his concussion.
Cherington said there are no plans yet to move Pablo Sandoval across the diamond to first base. But it would be useful for the Sox to take a look at him over there, and if not Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, an infielder badly miscast as an outfielder.
“One of the things I want to do now that we’re past the deadline is -- and John [Farrell] and I already have talked about this -- is get together with John and his staff and talk about how we can best use the next two months,’’ Cherington said. “Until we do that, I don’t know what that’s going to be. What I do know is we’ve got to use the next two months in the most productive way possible.’’
For now, Cherington said, he is still committed to Sandoval as the team’s third baseman.
“This is a guy who wants to be good, wants to be a good third baseman,’’ Cherington said. “We need him to be a good third baseman going forward, and he has been a good third baseman. His job and our job is do everything possible to put himself in that position where he’s able to do that.
“If there are things he needs to do or that we need to challenge [him], those are things we’ll talk about with him behind closed doors. We know he wants to be good, and he has been good. He can be again. Certainly, he is capable of doing that.’’
Cherington said that the focus will be on improving the team’s pitching and defense. It’s easy to identify the two biggest defensive liabilities, Sandoval and Ramirez, who were quickly added last offseason because the Sox felt they needed more run producers. Their grand plan, which also involved remaking the team’s starting rotation, obviously hasn’t worked.
As recently as the beginning of June, principal owner John W. Henry still thought it could work.
“I think what John said was, ‘Prove us right or prove us wrong,'" Cherington said. “I think it’s safe to say at the end of July, we were wrong at the beginning of the season as to what this team could do. And so we’ve got to figure out, we’re in the process of trying to figure out, why that is. And we’ve got to fix it and play better baseball.’’
The pitching? Get the kids up here, Brian Johnson and Henry Owens and Matt Barnes, and let them cut their teeth. If Joe Kelly doesn’t get his act together soon, then move him to the bullpen and see what he offers there. Give regular work to knuckleballer Steven Wright and tell Rick Porcello that he can’t take back the first four months, so just focus on his remaining starts as if he were starting the season anew.
Cherington acknowledged that the Sox undoubtedly will have to add more arms in the offseason and stressed that as much as the Sox like their prospects, he is willing to move some of them in the right deal. That deal didn’t present itself before the deadline, he said. Contenders naturally are more willing to pay a higher price in July than clubs who are out of it.
“We’re willing to give up young talent to build a good team going forward, and I think we pursued some things, talked about a lot of different things,’’ he said. “But we didn’t find anything that made sense to us right now.’’
This team might not be in contention, but it remains obligated to play hard. That should be part of the evaluation process, too, especially as it relates to the manager, John Farrell. How will the team respond the rest of the way? And it’s a given that Cherington, too, has invited intense scrutiny of how he fits going forward.
“I think we can envision a good team here,’’ he said. “It’s quickly fixable, but not easy. It’s not one action, one piece, one move.’’