Directionless Red Sox hope for addition by subtraction

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Make no mistake about it: this is a pretty nasty storm the Red Sox have had to weather.

The team has already had to use 41 players. The left fielder and the closer have missed the entire season so far. The All-Star center fielder has missed most of it. At one point, the team’s top five outfielders were all on the disabled list. Two members of the rotation are currently on the DL. The No. 4 starter and the expected eighth-inning guy both blew up. The All-Star second baseman was dealt a nasty thumb injury that limited his production. The All-Star first baseman has failed to produce.

That the Red Sox are 38-34 anyway is actually quite impressive and a testament to all of the talent on hand.

Still, if any word sums up the Boston franchise these last two years, it’s directionless. It’s constantly running through new plans, often abandoning old ones at the drop of a hat.

That’s how a team ends up paying someone to take its former All-Star third baseman and getting only a couple of question marks in return.

The Red Sox probably had no choice. Will Middlebrooks obviously needs to play regularly, which left Kevin Youkilis without a role. The offers weren’t exactly poring in, that’s for sure. Zach Stewart and Brent Lillibridge probably was the best they could do.

Still, the point is that the Red Sox left themselves with no choice yet again. It’s a recurring theme. They let the luxury tax rule their offseason, and in their attempts to save money, gave away Marco Scutaro and parted with Josh Reddick and Jed Lowrie in order to rebuild their pen.

When they let Theo Epstein go to Chicago, they did so without working out compensation beforehand. In the end, all they ended up with was a soon-to-be injured reliever in Chris Carpenter.

The Red Sox probably aren’t through backing themselves into corners. They’ll have to figure out an outfield once Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury return. The pitching staff, too, could get overcrowded in a hurry if Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz return in early July and Daniel Bard gets things turned around in Triple-A. If they fail to reach the postseason, they’ll face questions about whether they should blow up the whole team this winter or carry on with the talented but overly expensive group of stars around now.

In the meantime, they’ll just have to hope Middlebrooks keeps producing despite his troubling strikeout-to-walk ratio. They won’t get any immediate help from Stewart, who will be a part of the rotation at Triple-A Pawtucket. Lillibridge, who was hitting just .175 this season, will serve as a fifth outfielder and occasional backup for Middlebrooks.

And they’ll carry on without Youkilis. He surely wasn’t going to be happy in a backup role, and given his history, he shouldn’t have been. Youkilis is definitely past his peak, but from 2008-10, he had a three-year run as one of the AL’s top three hitters. Even last year, he was still well above average at .258/.373/.459. Odds are that he’ll be a quality regular for the White Sox, and my guess is that he’ll outhit Middlebrooks over the rest of the year, though he’ll probably be good for at least one significant injury along the way. Even so, the Red Sox will end up missing him when all is said and done.

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.