Judging by their actions in recent years of chasing championships at the expense of sanity and common sense and the magnitude of the contracts on their ledger, the conventional wisdom was that the Red Sox would keep the players they had and move forward. They would patch the holes with tape, placate the whiny veterans by changing managers, and concede to having a team in 2013 that was barely distinguishable from the 2011-2012 squads that embarrassed themselves, their organization and their fanbase with unprofessional, self-centered, obnoxious, and disinterested behaviors and hope that they’d somehow take advantage of the second Wild Card to make a playoff run.
Of course there wasn’t going to be a playoff run. When a team collapses amid turmoil and doesn’t drastically change the personnel, it has one way to go: down. That Larry Lucchino was reveling in the departure of Theo Epstein and that he once again held certain sway over the personnel only sped the decline. No one knew who was in charge; what strategies were being deployed; whether the inmates were running the asylum and their disdain for manager Bobby Valentine would predicate a managerial change because it’s easier to hire a new manager than it is to try and get rid of massive contracts for declining players.
That’s been the hallmark of the Red Sox behaviors and player acquisitions since the winter of 2006-2007. It worked in 2007 as they won a second World Series. In 2008, they made it to game 7 of the ALCS. In 2009, they won 95 games but were bounced in 3 straight games by an Angels team that was running on emotion from the death of Nick Adenhart and having had enough of being a punching bag for the Red Sox.
In 2010, they maintained that grinding, gutty persona that had brought them the first championship and had down-and-dirty players who you’d have to kill to make them quit like Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia leading them on the field even though they didn’t make the playoffs; they won 89 games with rampant injuries and a patchwork lineup as their template of on base percentage, power and pitching was still intact, coupled with the steady guidance of manager Terry Francona.
In 2011, they morphed completely into a mirror image of that which they despised more than anything—the Yankees. They spent, spent, spent to fill their holes by trading for Adrian Gonzalez and signing Carl Crawford to join with the remaining star-caliber players. So blinded by the splashy acquisitions, the Red Sox were ludicrously compared to the 1927 Yankees. They started poorly, righted the ship, then collapsed in September amid more injuries—expected occurrences with a veteran roster in the age of drug testing and banned amphetamines—and to make matters worse acted as if they didn’t care. Off the field, the players didn’t like each other, were not cohesive, and behaved as if their playoff spot was a divine right because they were expected to be so good; because the backs of their baseball cards were so gaudy.
We know what happened. Amid chicken, beer, and arrogance, the season came apart at the seams in September of 2011. Following the exodus of Francona and Epstein came the contretemps, blame, pure absence of accountability, the power vacuum and grasping for control. This led to the hiring of Valentine, the players squawking, more injuries, dysfunction and a team that was unlikable on and off the field, one that didn’t understand what it was that made them good nor what it was that made them bad.
Gonzalez is a star player who, in retrospect, was a bad fit for Boston and the poisoned Red Sox culture. As a quiet, subdued, religious person, he constantly appeared uncomfortable as the center of attention. As the star player on not one, not two, but three teams that have collapsed out of playoff spots and one who referenced “God’s plan” when the Red Sox were bounced last September, it was clear that the acquisition had been a mistake. Gonzalez is not a leader, nor is he made to be the “man”. He’s a great player as long as there’s a David Ortiz, a Youkilis, a Pedroia to take the brunt of the media scrutiny. When the media comes to him to ask what happens, he’ll paw at the floor with his foot and utter clichés and religious invocations long enough until the reporter just wanders off. But they’re not going to wander off in Boston as they did in San Diego or as they will in Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, Matt Kemp is the out-front star and the media will leave Gonzalez alone in a way they never would have in Boston. In a way, Gonzalez exemplifies what the Red Sox have become.
Beckett had worn out his welcome in every single aspect. Apart from a rubbernecking at a car crash, “let’s hear what this idiot has to say”, John Rocker-style curiosity, we’ll wait for Beckett to unleash on Boston, on Valentine, on the media, on everyone. The one saving grace he’ll have is if the change in venue reverts him back to the solid pitcher he once was and, the Dodgers hope, a post-season ace.
Crawford is a good guy and, when he’s healthy, a terrific all-around player. He, like Gonzalez, was ill-suited for Boston, tried too hard and got hurt. Also like Gonzalez, he doesn’t need to be the center of attention.
The Red Sox played checkbook, brainless rotisserie baseball in the winter of 2011-2012, drew accolades from all quarters for their aggression but abandoned what it was that helped them build an annual championship contender using intelligence, numbers and good old fashioned instinct, continuity (will this guy fit in Boston?), and scouting acumen.
They became the Red Sox of the 1990s or the Yankees of the 1980s and it showed on and off the field.
The Red Sox had two choices: move forward with the players and the immovable contracts, fire Valentine, give the toy to the tantrum-throwing baby that had become the club’s roster and shut it up, or do what they did. They were lucky that the Dodgers have a new ownership that is willing to do something this lunatic; that in order to get Gonzalez (who they claimed on waivers), the Dodgers were willing to take on both Beckett (who they claimed on waivers as well), and the injured Crawford. They were also lucky that the no-trade clauses in the contracts of Crawford and Beckett weren’t hindrances because they wanted to get out of Boston just as desperately as the Red Sox wanted to be rid of them.
The amount of money the Red Sox cleared—$261 million after this season—will allow them to sign players who will fit into what Valentine wants (if they keep him); who will act as if they’re there to play baseball and not bully the front office due to contractual obligations, veteran status, and threats; to re-sign Jacoby Ellsbury and, rather than chase the same stars as the Yankees and overpay to do it just to keep up and one-up, will go back to doing it the way they did it between 2000 and 2010. Most importantly is the off-field dynamic. Red Sox fans cheered for these players wearing Red Sox uniforms, but they didn’t like them—they were unlikable. I’ll discuss the prospects they got in the trade in an upcoming posting, but the players they got are secondary to the message that was sent loudly and clearly with the players they got rid of.
Now they can freshen the polluted air of the attitude of Beckett, the reticence of Gonzalez, and the injuries and desire to depart of Crawford. They sent the message to the players that regardless of how much they complain, they’re not going to decide who the manager is. They got rid of Francona through their actions; they’re not going to get rid of Valentine through holding their breath until they turn blue.
The Red Sox front office could’ve accepted their future, looked at those onerous contracts, shrugged and moved on, keeping on doing the same things and praying for a different result. They didn’t. When the Dodgers’ GM Ned Colletti claimed Gonzalez and Beckett and called to discuss a deal, they didn’t pull the players back and say, “Forget it.” They listened and they acted. They’re more likable, have money available to change the roster and the culture, and have stuck to a principle that looked to have been abandoned and was part of the rise of the Red Sox from for the decade prior to 2011—if you don’t like it here and don’t want to be here, we’ll accommodate you and find people who do.
They’re a better team and, more importantly, a better organization for not bowing to expediency and accepting reality. They changed it. Rightly or wrongly, successfully or unsuccessfully, at least they can look into the mirror. And at least when they look, they’ll no longer see the Yankees.
Self-respect is important too.