The shadows have been growing longer on Yawkey Way, the sun setting a little earlier. The final days of the 2010 baseball season are upon us, and the Sox are heading west after a disappointing homestand.
We're supposed to be counting down magic numbers this time of year, but much of the magic has left the Red Sox' season. So, while the short-term future of this team doesn't appear to include a postseason appearance, we will spend much of the next three weeks drawing early impressions about players who may be a part of the team's long-term future.
Let's face it: Many of the players who should've been September call-ups have been wearing a Red Sox uniform since midseason. Daniel Nava, Jed Lowrie and Darnell McDonald were hoping to help the Sox before the end of the season; instead, they've been helping the team for most of the season.
Now, we're seeing the second wave of minor league talent make its mark on the team. Theo Epstein and Terry Francona have been quick to stress that you don't make final judgments on young players based on "spring training and September." But, with 10 of the remaining 22 games against contenders like the Yankees and White Sox, Boston's youth brigade will get to test the big league waters against big league competition.
There's a pretty good chance Lars Anderson, Yamaico Navarro and Josh Reddick will begin next season in Pawtucket. Still, they're getting valuable experience right now, and if they don't prove themselves invaluable to Boston's future, they may increase their value when trade talks fire up during the winter.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia may be the primary catcher on this club next season, and he wants to show the world (and his manager) that he's capable of handling the daily catch-and-throw grind of the position.
Then there's the bullpen. It will need a complete overhaul in the offseason. Jonathan Papelbon (unless he's traded) and Daniel Bard are the only sure things the Sox have in relief. Michael Bowden and Felix Doubront have a very real shot to earn a spot out there for the coming season.
To say the least, it's going to be a very busy offseason. Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez, two of the most potent bats in the lineup, will be free agents. David Ortiz will be, too, if the team doesn't pick up its option on him.
There will be trades and free-agent signings to consider, and these young players will factor into those decisions. So these are important games for them.
That said, the few remaining healthy veterans aren't heading to the golf course three weeks early. They will still get plenty of playing time, as they did Wednesday night against the Rays.
"Regardless of who plays, we're going to try to win," said Francona. "This isn't Triple-A. I'm not crazy. We want to see some of the young guys play a little bit. That's good to see, but guys that have played all year and have given at times more than they should, you don't just sweep them to the side and say, 'Hey, thanks for the effort.'"