Commentary

Winning complicates things for Sox

Changes are still coming, but likely at a slower pace if the team keeps rolling

Updated: July 19, 2014, 1:52 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The Mookie Betts Experience is about to go on hiatus.

[+] EnlargeXander Bogaerts
AP Photo/Charles KrupaJohn Farrell hopes Xander Bogaerts bought himself a little breathing room with Friday night's homer.

With Shane Victorino due to be activated Saturday after remaining upright in consecutive games in Pawtucket, returning rookie Betts to Triple-A is almost certainly the corresponding roster move, and the most logical.

It makes far more sense for Betts to learn how to play the outfield in Pawtucket, where he can play every day, than try to carve out some time here. That's the easiest roster decision general manager Ben Cherington will have to make in the coming days. It's about to get a lot more complicated.

Victorino went 1-for-4 in seven innings of Pawtucket's 4-3 win Friday night and will be re-examined here Saturday, Farrell said, before the final decision is made.

Farrell suggested Friday that Will Middlebrooks, who just began a third rehab assignment with Pawtucket, could be back with the team before it leaves for Toronto on Sunday night. That timetable could be in question. The organization would still like Middlebrooks, who was robbed of a three-run home run Friday night, to get more playing time and demonstrate some greater consistency at the plate. That would also buy the Sox some time before they have to create roster space for him.

One thing that is certain is the Sox have no plans to demote Xander Bogaerts, and that was even before the 21-year-old rookie homered into the center-field camera well Friday night, lined out, reached on an error and walked, scoring twice in Boston's 5-4 win over Kansas City. The Sox were willing to bite the bullet during Bogaerts' horrific six-week slump, and they're not about to alter course now.

"Hopefully, this gives him a chance to breathe a little bit,'' Farrell said.

Stephen Drew's status, meanwhile, might well depend on how the Sox perform in these last 13 games before the July 31 trading deadline. Besides playing his usual impeccable defense, Drew singled and doubled Friday night, giving him five hits in his past three games. The Sox, should they decide to pursue even a long-shot chance of competing for a playoff spot, might hold on to Drew, figuring that he gives them their best chance to win. Another tailspin between now and Aug. 1, though, and the smart play would be to move Drew, return Bogaerts to short and give Middlebrooks a couple of months to prove he's part of the future here.

The one player who still seems certain of being dealt before the deadline is Jake Peavy, especially since he might have pumped up his value with solid starts in his past three outings (2.84 ERA, 19 strikeouts in 19 innings). Brandon Workman is ready to be recalled to take his place, and the only question would appear to be whether Peavy makes his next start, scheduled for next Tuesday in Toronto, or will be traded by then.

Players like Jonny Gomes, who hit a game-deciding pinch home run Friday, and Mike Carp, who proved a valuable piece off the bench last season and had a game-winning hit last week, both have something to offer to contenders looking for right-handed and left-handed help, respectively, off the bench. But Gomes, especially, will not be going anywhere as long as the team aspires to contend.

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Middlebrooks' latest rehab assignment began Friday night, which means the Sox have 20 days before they have to recall him. If they exhaust all that time, that will take them past the trading deadline. If the Sox want to force the issue before then, Carp would appear to be the most vulnerable position player on the roster, a candidate for the A.J. Pierzynski treatment -- designated for assignment.

And it's useful to recall that the trading deadline is an artificial one; clubs can still make moves during the August waiver period. In 2012, that's when the Red Sox were able to pass Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez through waivers and make their blockbuster deal with the Dodgers. Being spared a deal in July doesn't mean the Sox wouldn't attempt to move Drew, Gomes or even Koji Uehara in August.

Maybe something falls into place quickly and Middlebrooks will join his Sox teammates by the time they board a plane for Toronto. And, given what appears to be the permanently tenuous state of Victorino's health, Betts could be back sooner than later. But a roster makeover, which seemed a certainty when the Sox were losing seven of their first eight games on the last homestand, might come in piecemeal fashion, if it comes at all. Winning does that to a team.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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