BOSTON – Every once in a while you get a glimpse of what could have been, like when Jon Lester gives up just one run in seven innings to beat the Yankees in New York on Saturday. Lester, like Clay Buchholz, has regained his form and is 2-2 with a 2.93 ERA this month.

Then there are games like Sunday night, when Josh Beckett’s best wasn’t good enough and the Sox were beaten 4-1 to finish a 4-6 road trip into oblivion.

The Sox returned home with 40 games remaining and tough decisions looming.

Carl Crawford will have season-ending surgery on his elbow Thursday, and with any realistic hope of a postseason berth being left behind, it’s time to start making decisions for 2013.

Crawford has been playing with his injured elbow, but having surgery now to give him more time to get ready for next season is more important than having him in the lineup this season for games that won’t have an impact on the playoff race.

David Ortiz hasn’t played in more than a month and has been battling frustration over his ongoing Achilles soreness.

We’ve always assumed it was when, not if Ortiz would return this season, but now you have to wonder if he’s going to return anytime soon. It’s pretty clear the injury will not be fully healed this season, so why risk further damaging it?

There are bigger decisions to be made concerning Ortiz. How much will the Red Sox be willing to spend to keep Big Papi in uniform?

He’ll be looking for two years and more than $13 million a year. Two years ago those numbers seemed preposterous, but the past month has reminded us how vital Ortiz is to the Sox lineup.

Offense hasn’t been the problem in 2012. Although the lineup has been maddeningly inconsistent, it has scored enough runs to win. The Red Sox are third in the majors in runs, behind only the Rangers and Yankees.

As we’ve said all season long, it’s the starting rotation that has doomed this team.

Hours of airtime and pages of print have been devoted to detailing the troubles of Lester and Beckett. A team is only as good as the top of its rotation, and Boston’s best pitchers haven’t been good enough.

Buchholz and Lester should return to anchor the pitching staff in 2013, but where does GM Ben Cherington go from here?

It seems almost inevitable that Beckett will be traded this offseason. It won’t be easy. He’s due to make $15.75 million each of the next two seasons, and the Sox will undoubtedly have to eat much of that salary to move him.

Beckett could succeed with a National League team, much like A.J. Burnett has with Pittsburgh this season. Subsidizing him to pitch for another team would be a bitter pill for anyone to swallow.

Yet it seems Beckett has reached the end of his time in Boston, and that it would be best for both parties if he moves on this winter. Or, if he clears waivers, he could be traded by the end of the month.

Sox fans have identified Beckett as one of the leaders of the “beer and chicken” brigade that has underachieved for two straight seasons.

They put John Lackey in that group, too. Lackey hasn’t pitched this season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, but he has begun throwing rehab pitches. Fans have never been enamored by the former Angel, and if he returns and struggles next season it could get ugly early.

The front office would have to at least consider moving him this offseason, although there would be little market for a pitcher who missed an entire season and is due more than $30 million over the next two years.

The Sox need a housecleaning. They are still choking under the weight of bad, long-term contracts. Trading players with big contracts and eating their salary makes it very difficult to spend more money on new players.

Yet this team needs to earn back the trust of its fans, and clearing out underachieving players is the place to start.


Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.