Perhaps it wasn’t by design. It wasn’t supposed to end up like this. But here we are. And it’s the only way the Red Sox can play it.

By not trading their top two prospects in Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi in a blockbuster package that could have stolen away someone’s ace, the Sox are putting their faith in the current rotation. A vote of confidence, if you will.

Now that the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline has come and gone, Dave Dombrowski and Mike Hazen must play this one off as if this was their first choice, their priority, deciding that David Price is the ace of the staff who is fully capable of leading the team to the postseason, and ultimately, a World Series championship.

Again, this is the way they must now play it. Because, don’t believe for one second that it’s actually true.

This wasn’t their top priority. This wasn’t their first choice. If so, the Red Sox would have never even had a single discussion with the Chicago White Sox about Chris Sale.

During his trade deadline postmortem on Monday evening — that’s my description of his press conference, not his — Dombrowski said that he hadn’t talked to the White Sox since Friday. Those words contradicted reports that the Red Sox were still pushing hard for Sale up until the deadline on Monday afternoon.

Believe what you want, but if you actually think that the Red Sox didn’t at least check back in with the White Sox the day of the deadline, then you must also believe that Dombrowski doesn’t have a brain.

The Red Sox want Sale. Who doesn’t? Well, I guess those who got all worked up about his “character issues” when he cut up a couple throwback jerseys a few weeks back. Other than that very small group of clueless people, Sale has become one of the more highly coveted players in all of baseball. If not for his discounted contract at about $13 million a year through 2019, then most certainly for the 200 strikeouts he records almost every year as Chicago’s ace and as one of the game’s best starting pitchers at 27 years of age.

The problem is — and the reason why Sale is still in Chicago — the White Sox were asking for too much. That, of course, depends on who you want to believe, and also, what you consider to be “too much.”

Chicago has every right in the world to be asking for a King’s Ransom in return for Sale. And some reports had them asking for as many as five top prospects. Other reports also had the White Sox wanting a young roster player to go along with some of those top prospects. 

Me, personally, I would have given up a package that included both Moncada and Benintendi in exchange for Sale. But if the Red Sox weren’t willing to give up both of them, which is what I’ve heard, then you can file this one under  the “asking price was too high” category.

Since that trade didn’t go down, the Red Sox are now left with a rotation of David Price, Rick Porcello, Steven Wright, Drew Pomeranz, and Eduardo Rodriguez. That’s in a particular order. And in a perfect world, Rodriguez climbs the ladder to No. 2 in the rotation by early September, and Price pitches like he did in Los Angeles last week, for the rest of the second half.

But as you know far too well, the world isn’t perfect. And neither is the Red Sox’ rotation. Sale would have helped. He would have been the new ace. His presence would have taken a whole lot of pressure off someone like Price, who, at times, seems incapable of carrying the weight of “Red Sox ace” on his own shoulders.

Since Sale isn’t walking through that door — this season, at least — the Red Sox must spin this into something positive. They have to turn it into a vote of confidence for the current pitching staff. Dombrowski has to make it seem like he still believes in this rotation, and that, in fact, this group of starters was always the only group he ever believed in.

It might not be true. But at this point, it’s the only way the Red Sox can play it.

Listen to “The Danny Picard Show” every weekday at dannypicard.com & on iTunes. Danny can also be heard weekends on WEEI 93.7 FM. Follow him on Twitter @DannyPicard.