Exciting again, Red Sox not far from being 2016 contenders

(AP Photo)
Bill Foley ( @Foles74)
Contributing Writer

Somehow, the 2015 Boston Red Sox went from being the most despicable team in Red Sox history to a team that is an absolute joy to watch.

Moments after Xander Bogaerts hit the go-ahead grand slam in Boston’s climbing-out-of-the-cellar win Monday night at Fenway Park, David Ortiz hit a shot that looked like it was going to find the bullpen.

The reaction of the guys in the dugout was priceless. Every player was on the top step going crazy. Outside the dugout, Mookie Betts was jumping up and down like a little kid on Christmas.

As it has been for the last six weeks or so, the Red Sox have been playing with the enthusiasm and drive of a team in a pennant race. That’s great to see, even if the team is about to be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

What a far cry that is from the Hanley Ramirez Red Sox of April through July. That group of underachievers couldn’t have been more unlikeable with Ted Wells playing third and Roger Goodell in left.

That the team could go from such a dreadful disaster to being within reach of .500 (the Sox need to go 9-4 to finish 81-81) is a testament to the players and interim manager Torey Lovullo. It is also a sign that the Red Sox are ready to return to contention in 2016.

Really, the team isn’t that far away. Right now, nobody wants to be playing the Red Sox.

The first thing the Red Sox need to do is announce that they are going to stick with the outfield of Rusney Castillo in left, Jackie Bradley Jr. in center and Betts in right. That is the most exciting outfield in baseball in more than a decade.

The planning for 2016 should also include somehow sending Ramirez out of town because apparently a Jeff Gillooly-style attack or a mafia-style demand that he retire both appear to be out of the question.

It should include a trade of Pablo Sandoval if the hefty third baseman doesn’t reintroduce himself to a treadmill any time soon.

More importantly, the plan should include signing a proven ace to lead the pitching staff. Please, please, please, Mr. Dombrowski, sign David Price or Johnny Cueto.

Don’t be fooled by Cueto’s awful numbers in Kanas City. The guy has the stuff to dominate in the American League. Price, though, would have to be the first choice given his proven record in the AL East.

Hopefully the Red Sox aren’t temped to trade for Matt Harvey. The last thing the Red Sox need is a player who will take himself out of the rotation in the middle of the playoff race.

Also, don’t even think about trading Bogaerts. Instead, the Sox should see if Scott Boras will be tempted by a monster contract offer to make sure the budding superstar finishes his career in Boston they way Fred Lynn and Carlton Fisk should have.

Give Travis Shaw a shot to play first, and let Brock Holt play third full time if the Panda won’t agree to lose at least 85 pounds.

With the return of Christian Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan under contract for one more season, the Red Sox are set at catcher. So, Blake Swihart could be sent down to Pawtucket for more seasoning, moved to first or, dare I say it, used in a trade to land some pitching.

Lastly — or maybe firstly — the Red Sox should remove the interim label and make Lovullo the manager. Offer John Farrell a job in the front office, where he might be better suited. It would probably also be better for his health, which should be the top concern.

With the addition of an ace to go along with a piece or three added to the bullpen, most Red Sox fans would feel very comfortable heading into 2016 with Lovullo sending out the same everyday players he’s been sending out the last six weeks.

Maybe they won’t win the World Series, and the might not even play in October.

But at least we’d know the Red Sox would be fun to watch from April through September.