Evolving Red Sox still title threat

Boston Red Sox still could win AL East, if they make a few tweaks.

I actually think the Boston Red Sox can still win the American League East.

The Sox will need to get past all of their agendas and egos, but they still have talent — talent in the majors, talent on the disabled list, talent in the minors.

It’s a long season, folks. A period of adjustment is expected under a new manager, especially one as polarizing as Bobby Valentine. And the Sox continue to sort through options — left-hander Franklin Morales made his first start Sunday night, outfielder Ryan Kalish his season debut in center.

If right-hander Josh Beckett can’t stay healthy, the Sox indeed might be doomed. But here is my four-step program for a Red Sox revival — nothing fancy, just a series of fairly obvious moves that would help transform the club.

1. Put Daniel Bard back in the bullpen

A rival executive said it would be “the definition of stubbornness” for the Sox to give Bard another shot at the rotation. So why bother?

Yes, the Sox lead the majors with a 2.01 bullpen ERA since April 23. But think of how they could shorten games in the second half if their 'pen included Bard and a healthy Andrew Bailey, along with three other thriving right-handers: Alfredo Aceves, Vicente Padilla and Scott Atchison.

A week ago, the Sox also had three lefties, but with Rich Hill back on the DL, they will be down to one if Morales remains in the rotation. Not ideal, but Bard held lefties to a .539 OPS from 2010-11. Remember that guy?

2. Dump Kevin Youkilis

I say “dump” and not “trade” because a trade involves some sort of equivalent value. Maybe the Sox could add younger, more attractive players to a Youkilis package and get a legitimate return. But right now, such a move is difficult to foresee.

Rival executives doubt the Red Sox will be cornered into designating Youkilis for assignment — a spot will open with some other club, particularly if the Sox cover most of Youkilis’ remaining salary, which right now is just more than $8 million.

Purging Youkilis would increase the demands on rookie Will Middlebrooks, but it also would enable the Sox to stop playing Adrian Gonzalez in right field, which will be a necessity, anyway, as Cody Ross, Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury start to return from injuries.

Youk needs to go, sooner rather than later, for the sake of everyone involved.

3. Trade for a starting pitcher

Well, duh.

Even with the emergence of lefty Felix Doubront and recent improvements of left-hander Jon Lester and righty Clay Buchholz, the Sox are 12th in the AL with a 4.79 rotation ERA, ahead of only the Royals and Twins.

Cubs right-hander Matt Garza would be the most obvious fit — righty Ryan Dempster might be too big a gamble in the AL East — but other options could emerge as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaches.

A little creativity, please.

The Sox would need to part with one or more of their precious prospects — I would think about moving Ryan Lavarnway, given the performance of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and industry-wide shortage of catching.

In any case, this is a team with expendable outfielders, expendable relievers and the ninth-best farm system in baseball, according to Baseball America.

Figure it out.

4. Be patient

The New York Yankees can’t play much better than they have lately, and still Boston's deficit still is only 7-1/2 games, with nearly 100 to play.

This isn’t over. It isn’t nearly over.

The Sox are a work in progress, a team that will continue to evolve.

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