BOSTON -- What happens if you send two players to the All-Star Game and they never come back?
That's a question for the Boston Red Sox to contemplate on a day manager John Farrell added Jon Lester to the American League All-Star pitching staff and all but promised that closer Koji Uehara will be on the team too, as soon as another All-Star pitcher bows out, which is all but guaranteed to happen.
Don't misunderstand: Lester and Uehara have no plans to go AWOL when they go to Minneapolis for the July 15 All-Star Game. But with the Sox losing for the fifth time in six games on the homestand that was supposed to catapult them back into contention, it's reasonable to wonder how much longer either pitcher will remain in a Boston uniform.
Surveying the Red Sox players and their families picnicking after Sunday's game on the same lawn where nine months earlier they had celebrated a championship, it was natural to contemplate how many other familiar faces might soon be moving on.
A season-worst 10 games under .500 and sitting in last place, nine games out of first after they could not conjure victory even out of their most stirring comeback of the season -- five runs and seven hits erasing a 6-1 deficit in the seventh inning of a game they would lose, 7-6, in 12 -- the Sox have little reason to preserve the gang that created so many enduring memories this past season.
Players who were indispensable to the cause a year ago now represent a different value to the Sox: trading chips for a future that has now trumped the present in importance.
Red Sox management hates to concede and might delay the inevitable as long as it can, but the Sox have made Ben Cherington's decision easy for him. At this stage, with the trade deadline just 3 ½ weeks away, it would be irresponsible for him not to reload for next year, and he has the pieces to accomplish that goal.
Uehara is 39 and has been a joy to watch here, but the contenders who need a closer to win in October are abundant; the Angels, Giants and Tigers immediately spring to mind.
Jonny Gomes is at the end of his contract and has won everywhere he has gone. There has to be a team out there (the Mariners?) that could use a right-handed bat and the clubhouse presence he brings with him.
David Ross and A.J. Pierzynski are both 37 and could prove useful additions elsewhere -- Ross for his defense, Pierzynski for a bat that has been disappointing here but might give someone else two good months down the stretch.
Jake Peavy, who has made back-to-back starts that have been more than serviceable when his spot in the rotation was hanging by a thread, might have the same appeal to a contender -- especially in the National League -- that he did to the Red Sox this past July. He's a ferocious competitor who fits the need for a back-of-the-rotation starter.
Stephen Drew, the shortstop given $10 million to return when the Sox thought he would fill the void created on the left side of the infield by an injury to Will Middlebrooks, has failed to do so, at least within the time frame in which it would have meant something. The Sox might have to eat much of the salary, but Drew's defense has currency on the market.
Relievers always are in demand at the deadline, and veterans Craig Breslow, Burke Badenhop and Edward Mujica might all attract some degree of interest. The Angels had interest in Breslow before they made a deal for Rich Hill but thought his stuff had dropped considerably in a year's time.
At this point, there are few untouchables.
"Nobody's to blame but us for being in the position we're in,'' said Peavy, who was addressing the Sox's place in the standings but could just as easily have been referring to the potential roster redo. "Ain't nobody in this room is going to put blame anywhere but on us."
And then there is Lester, who could be a linchpin to the Sox's future but now is ready to taste the fruits of potential free agency, with the Sox so far unconvincing in their desire to retain him. There are any number of potential suitors (think Yankees and Cubs, for starters) who are positioned to lavish Lester with the riches that have not yet been set before him by the Red Sox.
The Sox could yet surprise and make the kind of offer that Lester can expect to receive elsewhere, but that hasn't been their MO. It seems they are willing to envision a future without Lester. They will rue the day they let him get away.
All in all, it was a bittersweet day: victory unclaimed, accolades extended, picnic in the park, clouds hovering over all. These are the Red Sox. How many players will be able to say the same a month from now?