Teams Shouldn’t Follow the Red Sox Template

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Much to the chagrin of Scott Boras teams are increasingly shying away from overpaying for players they believe are the “last” piece of the puzzle and doling out $200 million contracts. This realization spurred Boras’s reaction to the Mets, Astros and Cubs steering clear of big money players, many of whom are his clients.

Ten years ago, the Moneyball “way” was seen as how every team should go about running their organization; then the big money strategy reared its head when the Yankees spent their way back to a World Series title in 2009; and the Red Sox are now seen as the new method to revitalizing a floundering franchise. The fact is there is no specific template that must be followed to guarantee success. There have been teams that spent and won; there have been teams that have spent and lost. There have been teams that were lucky, smart or lucky and smart. Nothing guarantees anything unless the pieces are already in place.

The 2013 Red Sox had everything click all at once. They already had a solid foundation with Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury. They were presented with the gift of financial freedom when the Dodgers took the contracts of Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez off their hands. Bobby Valentine’s disastrous season allowed general manager Ben Cherington to run the team essentially the way he wanted without interference from Larry Lucchino. John Farrell was the right manager for them.

To think that there wasn’t a significant amount of luck in what the Red Sox accomplished in 2013 is a fantasy. Where would they have been had they not lost both Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey and stumbled into Koji Uehara becoming a dominant closer? Could it have been foreseen that the Blue Jays would be such a disaster? That the Yankees would have the number of key injuries they had and not spend their way out of trouble?

The players on whom the Red Sox spent their money and who had success were circumstantial.

Mike Napoli agreed to a 3-year, $39 million contract before his degenerative hip became an issue and they got him for one season. He stayed healthy all year.

Shane Victorino was viewed as on the downside of his career and they made made a drastic move in what was interpreted as an overpay of three years and $39 million. He was able to produce while spending the vast portion of the second half unable to switch hit and batting right-handed exclusively.

Uehara was signed to be a set-up man and the Red Sox were reluctant to name him their closer even when they had no one left to do the job.

Jose Iglesias – who can’t hit – did hit well enough to put forth the impression that he could hit and they were able to turn him into Jake Peavy.

The injury-prone Stephen Drew stayed relatively healthy, played sound defense and hit with a little pop. The only reason the Red Sox got him on a one-year contract was because he wanted to replenish his value for free agency and he did.

Is there a team out there now who have that same confluence of events working for them to make copying the Red Sox a viable strategy? You’ll hear media members and talk show callers asking why their hometown team can’t do it like the Red Sox did. Are there the players out on the market who will take short-term contracts and have the issues – injuries, off-years, misplaced roles – that put them in the same category as the players the Red Sox signed?

Teams can try to copy the Red Sox and it won’t work. Just as the Red Sox succeeded because everything fell into place, the team that copies them might fail because things falling into place just right doesn’t happen very often. Following another club’s strategy makes sense if it’s able to be copied. What the Red Sox did isn’t, making it a mistake to try.




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ALCS Prediction and Preview: Boston Red Sox vs. Detroit Tigers

Cy Young Award, Games, History, Management, Players, Playoffs, Stats, World Series

Boston Red Sox (97-65) vs. Detroit Tigers (93-69)

Keys for the Red Sox: Take advantage of the Tigers exhaustion; get into the Tigers bullpen; keep the games close late.

The Tigers just finished getting through a long and tough series against the Athletics. They’re a veteran team that’s probably half-relieved to have gotten through the ALDS and half-emotionally exhausted from the difficulty they had winning the series. If the Red Sox jump out and hit them immediately, the Tigers might conserve their energy for the next night.

The Tigers have the advantage in starting pitching, but when it comes to the bullpen the Tigers don’t have a trustworthy closer. Jim Leyland will push his starters as far as he can.

If the games are close late, the Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit is not battle-tested in the role and might crack.

Keys for the Tigers: Ride their starters deep; jump on the Red Sox questionable middle-relief; hope that Miguel Cabrera’s legs are feeling better.

The Tigers have a significant starting pitching advantage and have to use it. In the ALDS, Leyland mistrusted his bullpen to the degree that he used probable AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer in relief. His starters have not been babied by being yanked at 100 pitches. They have the ability to go deeper into games and will be helped by the cool weather and the post-season adrenaline.

The Red Sox middle-relief core is supposed to be “better” with Ryan Dempster out there. That’s not my idea of better and he’s the type of pitcher the Tigers will hammer. Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Franklin Morales and Brandon Workman aren’t a who’s who of great relievers either.

The Tigers have a lineup full of bashers with Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter buttressing Cabrera, but Cabrera is the hub around which the Tigers offense is built. If he’s still compromised – and there’s no reason to think he won’t be considering his inability to move in the ALDS – then they might struggle to score.

What will happen:

Game three is almost as if the Red Sox are punting it, scheduling John Lackey to pitch against a hot Justin Verlander. The first two games have evenly matched starting pitchers. David Ortiz is 3 for 3 with two homers in his career against game one starter Anibal Sanchez. The Tigers will be very careful with Ortiz and that puts the rest of the lineup, specifically Mike Napoli, on the spot. If the Red Sox lose one of the first two games, they’re going to be in serious trouble with the game three matchup.

The Red Sox lineup is built on walks, power and being greater than the sum of its parts. The Tigers lineup is overall superior with their ability to hit and hit the ball out of the park. While Benoit is not a trustworthy closer, Koji Uehara’s longball troubles bit him in the ALDS. With this Tigers lineup, it has a good chance of happening again. The Red Sox will have to use Uehara. If the Tigers get depth from their starters, Leyland won’t hesitate to let them finish their games.

As much as a positive influence John Farrell has been on the Red Sox this season, he’s still does a large number of strange strategic things. The advantage in managers falls to the Tigers.

The Tigers have to win one of the first two games. If they do that, they’re going to win the series. And they will.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN SIX

ALCS MVP: PRINCE FIELDER




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ALDS Playoffs Preview and Predictions – Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays

Games, History, Management, Players, Playoffs

Boston Red Sox (97-65) vs. Tampa Bay Rays (92-71)

Keys for the Red Sox: Score a lot of runs; don’t rely on their starting pitching; get the Rays’ starters pitch counts up and get into the bullpen; don’t let Farrell’s mistakes burn them.

The Red Sox led the American League in on-base percentage and runs scored. Much has been made of their “top-to-bottom” lineup, but a lot of their success was based on circumstance. Yes, they have guys who hit the ball out of the park and work the count in David Ortiz, Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino. Yes, they have grinders and fiery players like Dustin Pedroia, Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp. Yes, Jarrod Saltalamacchia had a big power year.

That said, the Red Sox took great advantage of teams with bad pitching. When they ran into teams with good pitching – teams that weren’t going to walk them and give up homers – they had trouble. The Rays aren’t going to walk them and give up homers.

The Red Sox starting pitching has been serviceable, but not superior. They have a starting rotation of a lot of impressive names who have also benefited from the Red Sox run-scoring lineup and solid defense.

The Rays’ starters have a tendency to run up high pitch counts. Manager Joe Maddon showed that he was willing to push his starters in the post-season with David Price’s complete game in the wild card tiebreaker. The Rays bullpen has been shaky and I certainly don’t trust Fernando Rodney. If the Red Sox can have a lead or keep the game close late, they’ll score on the Rays’ bullpen.

Farrell deserves immense credit for the Red Sox turnaround. It can’t be forgotten, though, that everything worked out right for them this year. Farrell still has his strategic missteps and in the post-season, they’re magnified.

Keys for the Rays: Get depth from their starters; keep the Red Sox off the bases and in the park; rely on Evan Longoria.

Maddon is deft at handling his bullpen, but it’s always better to not have to put the game in the hands of Rodney, Joel Peralta and the rest of the mix-and-match crew he has out there. Price pitched a complete game dancing through the proverbial raindrops against the Rangers. Matt Moore racks up high pitch counts by the middle-innings. Maddon will push them, but he won’t abuse them. If he has to remove them, then a bullpen-based game is to his disadvantage.

The Red Sox look for walks and pitches they can hit out of the park. If you don’t walk them and get the breaking ball over, they’re not going to be able to hit their homers with runners on base.

Longoria lives for the spotlight. He wants people to be talking about him on social media and over coffee the next morning. If he hits and the Rays pitch, they’re tough to beat.

What will happen:

As incredible as Koji Uehara has been as the Red Sox closer, his longball tendency concerns me. He’s never faced this kind of pressure before and all the strikeouts in the world aren’t going to help him if the home run ball bites him at an inopportune moment.

I don’t trust the Red Sox bullpen; I don’t trust their starting pitchers; and I don’t think they’re going to hit with the authority they did during the regular season, nor are they going to have the runners on base to put up crooked numbers.

The Rays are playing with a freewheeling abandon that comes from the top. Maddon is a superior strategic manager to Farrell and has greater experience in post-season games. Farrell will make a game-costing gaffe at some point in this series.

There’s a strange love-fest going on with the Red Sox outside their fanbase and I’m not sure why. There’s an idea that because they had a collapse in 2011 and a rotten year in 2012, that they’ve “earned” this season and it’s going to end in a championship.

The playoffs have a tendency to provide an electroshock rude awakening. Sort of like a sting from a ray.

PREDICTION: RAYS IN FIVE




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David Ortiz’s Response to Bobby Valentine

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Bobby Valentine must’ve experienced culture shock and felt lonely on the moral high ground. He’s never been there before.

During his barnburning tour after being fired by the Red Sox, Valentine unloaded on the deserved—bench coach Tim Bogar and the interfering and unsupportive front office; and the undeserved—Red Sox DH David Ortiz. After Valentine’s interview with Bob Costas on Costas Now (I discussed it here), Ortiz stayed quiet when Valentine accused him of quitting on the season. Clearly the slugger was waiting until his contract extension with the Red Sox had been completed before replying. As opposed to Valentine, Ortiz is a better cultivator of his image and able to show discipline. He would’ve loved to retort immediately, but didn’t.

You can read Ortiz’s comments here on Boston.com.

Valentine is incapable of functioning as a sympathetic figure. From the time he took the Red Sox job, he was in a dreadful position in part because of his reputation and in part because of the Red Sox disarray. They never gave him a chance; the team was badly overrated at the start; and the season came ended inevitably with the club 69-93 season and in last place. Whether Valentine was the manager or not, this result was unavoidable. He would’ve gotten a pass from baseball people who still respected his experience and savvy and possibly gotten another chance. Maybe.

But in true Bobby V style, he thoughtlessly chose to validate why many of the players didn’t trust him and tried to get him fired by taking one player who did give him a chance and impugning his character and professionalism.

Was Ortiz concerned about his contract? Knowing he’s been going year-to-year and wouldn’t get more money on the market than he would from the Red Sox, did he want to avoid giving them a reason to tell him to take a hike by showing loyalty with the manager they airdropped onto their sinking ship? Of course. Ortiz has been far more intense, cognizant of his image and invested in himself than the affable face he presents to the public would suggest. That competitiveness is a significant part of why he was able to transform from the player the Twins didn’t give a real opportunity to play every day and released into the basher he’s been with the Red Sox. In the Reggie Jackson tradition, he’s a recognizable star simply by uttering his nickname, Big Papi, because of the big hits he’s accrued and that personality.

Whatever the reason—selfish or not—Ortiz supported Valentine. This multiplies what Valentine did as wrong and is fully in line with the Valentine method of detonating a bridge as soon as he finishes crosses it. If he had any shot of managing in the big leagues again, it likely disappeared as soon as the ill-advised comments about Ortiz came out of his mouth because he’s not worth the aggravation, mutiny and fallout.

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Blame for Bobby Valentine’s Red Sox Failure Extends Worldwide

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Bobby Valentine was fired as manager by the Boston Red Sox yesterday with approximately $2.5 million remaining on his 2-year contract. He’s taking the fall for what wasn’t simply an organizational set of problems, but for issues that extended far beyond Boston and were negatively influenced by people, perceptions, and circumstances. Valentine certainly bears a portion of the responsibility for what went wrong in his dream job that rapidly—immediately–degenerated into a nightmare, but there’s plenty to go around.

Let’s look at the map with percentages as to who’s at fault.

Boston, MA

The Red Sox were in total disarray after their collapse in September of 2011. Manager Terry Francona’s contract options were not exercised (technically he wasn’t fired, but he was fired); GM Theo Epstein left for the Cubs shortly thereafter; and the roster was essentially stagnant with owner John Henry slamming shut the vault that had bought and paid for Carl Crawford, John Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

They had a choice: either hire one of the names that GM Ben Cherington preferred like Gene Lamont or Dale Sveum, or do as team CEO Larry Lucchino wanted and hire the polar opposite of Francona and a big name, Valentine. Lucchino was reestablishing his power with the departure of Epstein and, as expected, got his way. This implication that had the Red Sox hired one of Cherington’s choices as manager, everything would’ve been okay, is ridiculous. The team needed structural changes on the field—changes they didn’t make. Such maneuvers would’ve been nearly impossible to construct with other clubs and sell to their fanbase and media, but they could’ve done something to break from the past by dispatching a veteran or three.

I understand why they did what they did with Valentine, but do they? Are they willing to admit it and look into the mirror? Does the Red Sox front office know what they did wrong and why it didn’t work? That it was a huge gaffe to drop Valentine into that toxic stew without altering the ingredients by getting rid of Josh Beckett over the winter? That saddling Valentine with coaches that were a sure bet to undermine him would serve nothing apart from giving the players a sympathetic ear to complain to and the media an “unnamed source” through whom the players could anonymously air their gripes? That these coaches would play clubhouse politics to expand their own influence and possibly become the manager of the team themselves?

The transformation from intelligent and comprehensive decision-making that was implemented under Epstein was gone in favor of spending on free agents and making headline-worthy trades for big names to keep up with the Yankees.

After the 2011 debacle, rather than formulating a cogent plan that may or may not have included Valentine, everyone was looking out for himself. Lucchino with his freedom from Epstein to do what he preferred and have the world know he was in charge again; Cherington going along to get along and letting Lucchino have his way; Valentine for not making sure he wasn’t surrounded by a pack of Judases; and the players for behaving as spoiled, entitled brats.

35% at fault

Arizona

I’m sure Francona, observing the Red Sox train wreck from the ESPN booth and his Arizona home, was amused and satisfied at the 69-93 record and last place in the American League East that the Red Sox “achieved”. Not to imply that Francona wanted the Red Sox to disintegrate as they did, but the implosion somehow validates that the 2011 collapse was not the fault of the former manager when, in part, it was. Francona’s lackadaisical discipline and inability to stop the breakdown of intensity; stem the rise in overwhelming arrogance; and harpoon the sense that because the Red Sox had become such a machine over the years that they were automatically anointed a spot in the post-season, made 2011 inevitable. Francona had been there too long; the team had become complacent under his leadership; and his refusal to appear at the Red Sox 100th anniversary celebration and then decision to show up in a passive-aggressive display of selfishness against Lucchino while he knew the difficulty Valentine was having only exacerbated the situation.

His looming presence as a popular and well-liked person who happened to be in the ESPN broadcasting booth shadowed Valentine and the Red Sox. The idiotic entreaties from the likes of Ken Rosenthal and now others that the Red Sox bring him back are similar to a divorced couple that splits and only remembers the good times and not the reasons they broke up in the first place.

Francona is a good, but not great manager who will do well if he has the players to win. Put him in a rebuilding project such as the Indians and he’ll revert to the, “nice guy, okay enough manager…I guess” individual he was with the Phillies when all he did was lose. He got the Red Sox job because he was willing to take short money for the opportunity, he was agreeable to Curt Schilling whom the Red Sox were trying to acquire, and he would adhere to stat-based principles and do what the front office told him. In short, he was the opposite of Grady Little. The concept that he’s more than that because he was the manager of a loaded Red Sox team is a concocted story that will be proven to be false if he does indeed go to the Indians. (I don’t think he will. He’ll wait out the Tigers/Angels/Dodgers/Diamondbacks jobs.)

12% at fault

Toronto, Canada

The Red Sox are enamored of John Farrell. They wanted him a year ago and didn’t want to surrender what the Blue Jays supposedly asked for (Clay Buchholz) in compensation for their manager. Farrell desperately wants to go back to Boston and he is the next manager of the Red Sox, for better or worse.

That the Blue Jays are willing to let him go to a division rival should be a warning sign to the Red Sox that they may not be getting the problem-solver they’re looking for. Farrell is popular with the players, beloved by the Boston media, and a conduit to the memory of when the Red Sox were a championship team. But, as the Blue Jays and their fans will attest, his in-game managerial skills are lacking and the Blue Jays were an undisciplined and haphazardly run bunch that was expected to be much better than they were in 2012. His longing gaze back at Boston and that Boston was gazing back didn’t help Valentine either.

1% at fault

Chicago, IL

From poor drafts in 2008 and onward, to overpaying for free agents nationally and internationally, the 2012 Red Sox were largely put together by the current president of the Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein. Those are the same Cubs that lost 101 games under Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer, and the manager that Cherington preferred, Sveum. The Cubs were in need of a total overhaul and that’s what Epstein and his crew are doing, so he can’t be blamed for the monstrosity they were this season, but the 2012 Red Sox are absolutely Epstein’s responsibility. He decided to git while the gittin’ was good, but that doesn’t absolve him of the carnage that his acquisitions, signings, and failure to address lingering issues created.

Also in Chicago was Kevin Youkilis of the White Sox.

One of the seminal moments of Valentine’s downfall in Boston was his innocuous criticism of Youkilis early in the season in which he said he felt that Youkilis’s commitment was lacking. It was amazing how a presence like Youkilis, who had begun to be seen as a problematic clubhouse lawyer and divisive busybody in September of 2011, evolved into a rallying point for the Red Sox veterans to say, “See?!? Valentine’s a jerk!!”

Whatever the catalyst was of Valentine’s criticism and Youkilis’s eventual trade to the White Sox, was Valentine wrong?

The injury-prone Youkilis wasn’t hitting for the Red Sox, they had a replacement at the ready in the younger and cheaper Will Middlebrooks, and after Youkilis joined the White Sox, he was the same inconsistent, limited player he’d become for the Red Sox.

Youkilis was an outlet for strife within the Red Sox roster, but he was one of convenience.

30% at fault

Los Angeles, CA

Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Crawford were traded to the Dodgers in a salary dump that the Red Sox were beyond lucky that they were able to complete. Gonzalez was a bad fit for Boston due to his laid back West Coast personality and desire to be left alone to do his job. As the veteran leaders like David Ortiz got injured and Gonzalez was called to the forefront on and off the field, he was swallowed up, unable to come up with any legitimate, intelligent response as to why the club faltered in 2011 and was coming unglued in 2012 aside from referencing God.

Crawford tried hard, but was hurt. His deployment was a point of contention between Valentine and the front office with the random decision that he would play X number of games and get Y number of games off to account for an elbow that required Tommy John surgery.

Beckett is the epitome of the problem child bully who needed a smack, but no one in Boston willing to give him that smack. The one person that Valentine needed to come to an understanding with was Beckett. Or the Red Sox had to trade Beckett. Neither happened in time to save 2012, and when they finally traded Beckett in August, it was too late to do any good.

Is it fair to blame Beckett for not behaving as a professional and an adult when he’s never done it before in his entire career and it was up to the front office to accept that and get rid of him? Is it fair to blame Gonzalez for not being any more of a leader than he was with the twice-collapsed Padres clubs for whom he was also the centerpiece? Is it fair to blame Crawford because he was hurt?

Not really.

4% at fault

Stamford, CT

After waiting so long to get back into Major League Baseball as a manager, there has to be a sense of embarrassment for Valentine that he got the chance of a lifetime with a team that spends a lot of money and was rife with stars and that he “blew” it.

But did he blow it?

Valentine, being Valentine walked into the job with the knives already out to get him. The perception of him being a loud, arrogant, condescending, abrasive, micromanaging nuisance notwithstanding, it was up to him to get the players to take him at face value based on their dealings with him rather than dredging up old criticisms from those with an axe to grind such as John Franco, his deposed closer with the Mets.

Valentine saw how Francona became lauded and celebrated after breaking the “curse”; that it could have been him who was managing the Red Sox back in 2003 had he been willing to compromise on his principles and tell Lucchino during an informal chat that he disagreed with Little’s decision to leave Pedro Martinez in to pitch in that fateful game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. But he refused to criticize Little, wound up in Japan for several years, missed out on the Marlins and Orioles jobs and was left with one final opportunity.

Early in the season, had Valentine been the strategic wizard he was portrayed to be, then it might’ve been okay. But he was rusty having not managed in the big leagues for 10 years and in the American League for 20. In an apropos analogy considering Valentine’s bicycle spill in Central Park during the last series against the Yankees, managing is not like getting on a bicycle. Valentine tried and fell.

Valentine won’t regret taking the job, but he will regret not making a greater effort to get the veterans on his side; on not allowing coaches that he didn’t want and were likely to be undermining influences to be on his staff; and for not making a greater effort to dispel the aura than he carried around with him. Making the effort could have helped. Telling Beckett and others, “Listen, I’m sure you’ve heard all the stories about me. Some are true, some aren’t. But I was in my 40s then. I’m 62 now. This is my last chance. I know it, you know it. I wanna win. You guys wanna forget about what happened last year. Let’s work together to make it happen.”

Beckett would probably have still acted the way he did (and does), but Valentine could say he tried.

This was Valentine’s last shot. There are two strategies to take when facing a last shot: 1) go for the deep strike and say, “If I’m going down, I’m going down my way,” and make sure you’re comfortable with everything for better or worse; or 2) be conciliatory and agreeable, hoping it works out based on talent level and available money.

Valentine chose the latter with the results we see. He bears a significant portion of the responsibility and was jettisoned, but this was a combined effort from all over the map and top to bottom. No one should be spared from their part in the horror film that is the 2012 Boston Red Sox.

18% at fault

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The Red Sox-Dodgers Trade, Part II—The Red Sox Alter Their Reality

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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.

Easier.

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.

//

Larry Lucchino’s Letter to Red Sox Season Ticket Holders

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If Red Sox fans weren’t overly concerned about their club’s mediocre first half, clear lack of a coherent plan and inability of organizational factions to get on the same page, then the latest news should wake them up with the cold fear of a premonition of an oncoming natural disaster that they can neither avoid nor stop.

Team President/CEO Larry Lucchino sent the following letter to season ticket holders.

Dear Season Ticket Holder:

As we cross the midpoint of our 2012 season, we thank you for your loyal support thus far. We met many of you at our new spring home, JetBlue Park at Fenway South, and renewed more acquaintances as we opened the 100th Anniversary season at Fenway Park.  We sensed that the nostalgia touched you, and we hope to continue to celebrate this special anniversary from time to time throughout the year.

Our play on the field has at times tested the mettle of the faithful.  It could be maddening one day, enthralling the next day.  Along the way, we have seen our bullpen gel, young players emerge, and veterans lead.  We have watched the team coalesce into a close group.  Personalities are enhancing the chemistry, such as the cheerful Cody Ross, the friendly Mike Aviles, and the inspiring story of Daniel Nava.  Jarrod Saltalamacchia has shown power, in the clutch, worthy of an All-Star.  And as the talented Will Middlebrooks forced his way into the lineup, we bade farewell, with gratitude, to Kevin Youkilis, who helped us win two World Championships.

The one constant on the field has been our beloved Big Papi, David Ortiz.  How thrilled we were that our gregarious leader reached the 400-home run plateau in a career that we hope will forever be with the Red Sox.

The one constant off the field is that we have had a veritable All-Star Team on the disabled list.  As we begin the second half, we look forward to the return of the “varsity,” including Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Andrew Bailey, and the ever-dirty Dustin Pedroia.

While this infusion of such talent in late July may make other General Managers green with envy, you can be sure that Ben Cherington and his Baseball Operations Staff will approach the July 31 trading deadline with their tireless work ethic.  If someone can further help this club, and if the deal makes sense, we will be aggressive.  We want to play October Baseball this year.

Meanwhile, as you come to Fenway Park throughout this season, we hope you will come early—the secret to fully enjoying a sports venue.  Now “A Living Museum,” Fenway Park probably leads the league in bronze plaques and commemorative displays along the concourses.  Enjoy them at your leisure early, well before the escalation of excitement as game time approaches.  And as always, if you have reactions, suggestions, or ideas that will make the ballpark experience even better, we invite you to send them to fanfeedback@redsox.com.

By the way, if we’re in your neighborhood for a visit during “Acts of Kindness Month” this month, please come over and say hello.  We enjoy listening to you, and we enjoy talking baseball with you.  We’re your biggest fans.  So, on behalf of John Henry, Tom Werner, our partners, and our entire organization, we thank you again, and we look forward to seeing you at Fenway Park.

Keep the Faith,

Larry Lucchino

I’ll ignore the obvious laughlines like “cheerful Cody Ross,” “friendly Mike Aviles,” and “the return of the ‘varsity’”. What would concern me if I were a Red Sox fan is that Lucchino is sending a letter like this out in the first place and is implying that the Red Sox are going to be “aggressive” at the trading deadline in order to play October baseball this year.

There are times to be aggressive and there are times to hold one’s fire, wait and let things play out without chasing the past—a past that had the Red Sox in legitimate title contention for almost the entire decade of 2000 to 2011. I don’t see this letter as an organizational boss assuaging the concerns of an angry (and somewhat spoiled) fanbase. I see it as the man behind the scenes putting his voice out there in the public and pulling levers to make sure he’s having a significant influence in team construction.

This is a problem that’s been ongoing since the departure of Theo Epstein and will continue until owner John Henry steps in and lets someone—anyone—take charge as he did with Epstein. The letter is not baseball related and coincides with the series of decisions that were made last winter to try and patch over the issues that caused the self-destruction on and off the field of a club that, before the fact, was compared to the 1927 Yankees.

There’s no one in charge and willing to say, “I’m in charge.” Cherington’s certainly not running things because if he was, Bobby Valentine would not be the manager. And that’s not a defense of Cherington’s preferred choices because neither John Farrell nor Dale Sveum are lighting up the world with their baseball brilliance as the respective managers of the Blue Jays and Cubs.

Lucchino wanted Valentine, again, to have a “name” to replace Terry Francona and lay down the law that the lack of discipline that was blamed for the club’s demise last season wouldn’t happen again. Naturally Valentine has butted heads with the veterans and his almost immediate battle with Youkilis greased the skids for Youkilis’s departure from the team. Not that that’s a bad thing. Even though they gave him away, they probably should’ve traded Youkilis over the winter to shake things up before the inevitable happened with Valentine.

Lucchino sending out this letter to keep the season ticket holders happy is indicative of a fanbase that’s gotten so greedy that they’re blind to the reality that they’ve become mirror images of that which they despise more than anything: the Yankees. Do they need to be given assurances that the Red Sox are going to try and win? Wasn’t the breaking of The Curse in 2004 and another championship 3 years later enough to keep them happy for awhile? To maintain loyalty and, even if the team isn’t performing up to expectations and lofty payroll, ensure that the season ticket holders will keep their plans intact due to reciprocal appreciation?

Like him or not, Lucchino helmed the rise of the Red Sox and was a major part of turning Fenway Park into a rebuilt place to be where the tickets were hot rather than an aging and dilapidated relic with players, coaches, managers and front office people who only cared about themselves. If a lean year or two is necessary for the greater good and to prevent the whole thing from crashing to the ground, isn’t it worth it to accept that and say, “We’ll take an 81-81 season if it means we’ll be contending for a title in 2014 or 2015”?

Epstein was a check on Lucchino. Cherington can’t be that same check. Now there’s no one in command and no single voice to put a stop to a lunatic maneuver designed to steal the headlines for a week, perhaps help the club win 2 more games than they would have otherwise and wind up in the exact same position they would’ve been in had they been prudent and held onto whatever assets they surrendered to make that incremental and meaningless “improvement”.

As the head of the organization, Lucchino is addressing fan concerns and trying to please his customers, but the customer isn’t always right and because the fans want the Red Sox to do something drastic doesn’t mean it’s wise. There’s a difference between compromising within reason for the constituency and compromising for expediency and self-immolating in the process. If he’s going to try and make sure his word is proven true and Cherington and the baseball people are forced to do something they don’t want to do, it’s only going to make the current predicament worse. Except now it won’t be short-term, it will be long term, deep and that much harder to dig their way out of.

//

American League Mid-Season Award Winners

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Normally I don’t like doling out awards for half-a-season, but everyone else does it so someone has to do it right when they’re more than likely doing it wrong.

Here’s the American League along with the people I selected in my book before the season started.

MVP

1. Mike Trout, OF—Los Angeles Angels

The Angels recalled him in what appeared to be a desperation maneuver similar to the way the Yankees recalled Robinson Cano in 2005. The difference being no one knew who or what Cano was. That’s including the Yankees since they’d offered him to the Rangers in the Alex Rodriguez trade a year earlier and the Rangers said no.

Trout was a star-in-waiting and has delivered. It’s no coincidence that the Angels’ ship righted when Trout joined the team and provided what the front office wants with pop and what manager Mike Scioscia wants with speed and defense.

2. Josh Hamilton, OF—Texas Rangers

In May it looked as if Hamilton was going to make a viable (and ironically a presumably clean) run at the “legit” home run record of 61.

No, I don’t advocate an asterisk or blotting out of the Barry Bonds record, but it can be discussed as if the modern records were achieved dubiously. Hamilton’s faded in June and July.

3. David Ortiz, DH—Boston Red Sox

Without him the Red Sox would probably be 4-5 games under .500 and pretty much buried.

4. Robinson Cano, 2B—New York Yankees

Quite simply there is nowhere to pitch to him to consistently get him out. With A-Rod, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira degenerating into one-dimensional, occasional threats, without Cano and Curtis Granderson the Yankees would be a pedestrian offensive club, if that.

5. Mark Trumbo, OF/1B/3B/DH—Los Angeles Angels

The day is going to come when he hits a ball and it never comes down.

Before the season I picked Jose Bautista. He’s having a big power year with 27 homers but his other numbers are down and the Blue Jays are a .500 team.

Cy Young Award

1. Justin Verlander, RHP—Detroit Tigers

He’s leading the Majors in strikeouts, innings pitched and has 5 complete games. For the second straight season the Tigers would be non-contenders without him and in 2012, they haven’t been all that good with him.

2. Chris Sale, LHP—Chicago White Sox

There are seamless transitions to the starting rotation from the bullpen and there’s blossoming into an ace. Sale has done the latter.

3. Jered Weaver, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

He’s 10-1 with a 1.96 ERA.

4. David Price, LHP—Tampa Bay Rays

He’s leading the league in wins and has the ability to dominate every time he goes out to the mound.

5. Jake Peavy, RHP—Chicago White Sox

Peavy is almost—not quite, but almost—back to the dominant pitcher he was in his best years with the Padres. His fastball isn’t as fast and his stressful motion is a constant concern for another injury, but he and Sale have saved the White Sox.

My preseason pick was Price.

Rookie of the Year

1. Mike Trout, OF–Los Angeles Angels

See above.

2. Jarrod Parker, RHP—Oakland Athletics

He has a great hits/innings pitched ratio of 65/85, has 67 strikeouts and only allowed 4 homers.

3. Will Middlebrooks, 3B—Boston Red Sox

Middlebrooks’s emergence expedited the departure (and essentially giving away) of Kevin Youkilis.

4. Jesus Montero, DH/C—Seattle Mariners

He’s struggling in his rookie year, but has 20 extra base hits while learning to catch a good pitching staff.

5. Addison Reed, RHP—Chicago White Sox

His ERA was blown up by one awful game in which he allowed 6 earned runs, but he’s stabilized the White Sox closer’s role and without him they wouldn’t be in first place.

My preseason pick was Montero.

Manager of the Year

1. Robin Ventura—Chicago White Sox

The absence of managing experience at any level made me a skeptic, but his laid back attitude is diametrically opposed to the former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen which has relaxed the clubhouse from its hair-trigger and has notably helped Adam Dunn and Alex Rios.

2. Buck Showalter—Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles are playing Buckball.

3. Bob Melvin—Oakland Athletics

Having that team with their ballpark issues and influx of youngsters has proven Melvin to be what he always was: a good manager.

4. Joe Girardi—New York Yankees

Girardi’s never gotten the credit he’s deserved. They’ve survived the aforementioned decline of A-Rod and the season-ending injury to Mariano Rivera.

5. Ron Washington—Texas Rangers

No he’s not a strong strategic manager, but the players play hard for him and they win.

My preseason pick was Manny Acta of the Indians.

//

Mid-Season Trade Candidates—Kevin Youkilis

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Name: Kevin Youkilis
Tale of the tape: 1B/3B; 33-years-old; bats right; throws right; 6’1”; 220 lbs.
Contract status: $12 million in 2012; $13 million club option for 2013 with a $1 million buyout.

Would the Red Sox trade him?

Barring injury to Will Middlebrooks, Adrian Gonzalez or David Ortiz, they’re going to trade Youkilis somewhere.

What would they want for him?

Whatever they can get.

Perhaps they can move him for a player who’s not performing well with his current club but could be of use to the Red Sox like a Grant Balfour or Ryan Roberts.

Even if they pay the rest of his 2012 salary, they’re not going to get much of a prospect for him.

Which teams would pursue him?

The Orioles have been mentioned in certain circles, but I doubt the Red Sox are going to trade him in the division.

Casey Kotchman has been a disaster with the Indians and they could slot Youkilis in at first base. The AL Central is winnable for them and Youkilis might be a change-of-scenery player who goes on a tear (if he’s healthy) once he’s out of Boston.

The White Sox have been playing Brent Morel and Orlando Hudson at third base and neither one has hit or played particularly good defense.

It would be an admission that they were wr-wr-wr-wrong (think Fonzie from Happy Days), but the Tigers could get Youkilis and put Miguel Cabrera where he belongs—in the DH spot.

Gaby Sanchez has been atrocious for the Marlins but putting Youkilis in that hair-trigger clubhouse is a bad idea.

The Phillies might make one last desperation move on Youkilis to try and save the season before taking offers on Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino.

The Pirates are an intriguing option because they’re hovering around contention and could use a veteran with name recognition and send a signal that they’re serious about winning without giving up the farm.

The Cardinals could use insurance for their questionable status at first base as they wait (hope) for Lance Berkman to come back; David Freese has had frequent injuries in his career and Youkilis is insurance for that.

It would be an odd acquisition for the Cubs, but Theo Epstein knows Youkilis and they’re not giving up on 2013 in spite of the rebuild they’re planning. They can try and steal a Wild Card next season while simultaneously stocking the farm system by trading other veterans on their roster.

Both the Dodgers and Diamondbacks could use a corner infield bat.

The Athletics would be a weird landing spot but given the bizarre moves made by Billy Beane—clearing out the house of his starting rotation and closer and signing Yoenis Cespedes and Manny Ramirez—maybe he’d like to get his hands on the player he coveted back when Moneyball was believed to be reality. The Greek God of Walks was almost an A when Beane was taking the Red Sox job and Paul DePodesta was going to be the new A’s GM. Youkilis was the compensation for Beane being let out of his A’s contract. But Beane backed out on the Red Sox and Youkilis became a star in Boston.

The A’s need a first baseman and with their young pitching and needs at first and third base, they could trade for Youkilis and renegotiate his 2013 option to sign him for a couple of years. He might be rejuvenated as a fiery leader and dirt-caked, win at all costs type to show the young team how it’s done.

//

Boston Red Sox—Book Excerpt

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Boston Red Sox

2011 Record: 90-72; 3rd place, American League East

2011 Recap:

Before the season, absurd projections were made that the Red Sox were going to challenge the 1927 Yankees as one of the best teams in history.

While that was ludicrous, they had put together a roster that should have guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. They got off to an atrocious 2-10 start, but righted the ship and, on August 31st, were in first place in the AL East by 1 1/2 games and in playoff position by 9 games.

All seemed fine.

Then the wheels came off.

Beset by injuries, dysfunction, arrogance, teamwide factions, disinterest and the onrushing Rays, the Red Sox collapsed.

Losing 20 out of 27 games, they still went into the final series against the woeful Orioles leading the Wild Card by one game. They lost two out of three as the Rays swept the Yankees with the final punctuation on the Red Sox’ disastrous self-destruction coming almost simultaneously as closer Jonathan Papelbon blew the save with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth inning while, in Tampa, Evan Longoria homered to beat the Yankees and send the Rays to the playoffs while the Red Sox endured the ridicule and resulting reverberations of drastic changes to the entire structure of the organization.

2012 ADDITIONS:

GM Ben Cherington was hired.

Manager Bobby Valentine was hired and signed a 2-year contract.

Pitching coach Bob McClure was hired.

C Kelly Shoppach signed a 1-year, $1.35 million contract. (Rays)

RHP Mark Melancon was acquired from the Houston Astros.

RHP Andrew Bailey was acquired from the Oakland Athletics.

OF Ryan Sweeney was acquired from the Oakland Athletics.

RHP Chris Carpenter was acquired from the Chicago Cubs.

INF Nick Punto signed a 2-year, $3 million contract. (Cardinals)

OF Cody Ross signed a 1-year, $3 million contract. (Giants)

RHP Clayton Mortensen was acquired from the Colorado Rockies.

RHP Aaron Cook signed a minor league conract. (Rockies)

RHP Carlos Silva signed a minor league contract.

RHP Vicente Padilla signed a minor league contract. (Dodgers)

2B Brad Emaus was acquired from the Colorado Rockies.

RHP Ross Ohlendorf signed a minor league contract. (Pirates)

RHP Sean White signed a minor league contract. (Rockies)

RHP John Maine signed a minor league contract. (Rockies)

RHP Garrett Mock signed a minor league contract. (Blue Jays)

RHP Billy Buckner signed a minor league contract. (Rockies)

2012 SUBTRACTIONS:

GM Theo Epstein resigned to take over as President of the Chicago Cubs.

Manager Terry Francona’s contract options were declined.

Pitching coach Curt Young left to rejoin the Oakland Athletics.

RHP Jonathan Papelbon was not re-signed. (Phillies)

SS Marco Scutaro was traded to the Colorado Rockies.

INF Jed Lowrie was traded to the Houston Astros.

RHP Kyle Weiland was traded to the Houston Astros.

OF Josh Reddick was traded to the Oakland Athletics.

C Jason Varitek retired.

RHP Dan Wheeler was not re-signed. (Indians)

RHP Tim Wakefield retired.

OF J.D. Drew was not re-signed.

LHP Erik Bedard was not re-signed. (Pirates)

LHP Hideki Okajima was not re-signed.

LHP Dennys Reyes was not re-signed.

LHP Trever Miller was not re-signed. (Cubs)

2012 PROJECTED STARTING ROTATION: Josh Beckett; Jon Lester; Clay Buchholz; Daniel Bard; Daisuke Matsuzaka; Andrew Miller.

2012 PROJECTED BULLPEN: Andrew Bailey; Mark Melancon; Alfredo Aceves; Michael Bowden; Felix Doubront; Matt Albers; Franklin Morales; Chris Carpenter.

2012 PROJECTED LINEUP: C-Jarrod Saltalamacchia; 1B- Adrian Gonzalez; 2B-Dustin Pedroia; 3B-Kevin Youkilis; SS-Nick Punto; LF-Carl Crawford; CF-Jacoby Ellsbury; RF-Ryan Sweeney; DH-David Ortiz.

2012 PROJECTED BENCH: C-Kelly Shoppach; OF-Cody Ross; OF Darnell McDonald; INF-Mike Aviles; OF-Ryan Kalish; C-Ryan Lavarnway.

2012 POSSIBLE CONTRIBUTORS: RHP Carlos Silva; RHP-Aaron Cook; RHP-Junichi Tazawa; 1B-Lars Anderson; SS-Jose Iglesias; LHP-Rich Hill; 3B-Will Middlebrooks; 2B-Brad Emaus; RHP-Bobby Jenks; RHP-John Maine; RHP-Sean White; RHP-Vicente Padilla; RHP-Billy Buckner; OF-Jason Repko.

FANTASY PICKS: C-Ryan Lavarnway; 1B-Adrian Gonzalez; RHP-Clay Buchholz; LHP-Jon Lester; C-Kelly Shoppach.

MANAGEMENT:

In the aftermath of the Red Sox signing of Carl Crawford and trade for Adrian Gonzalez along with the ridiculous concept of the Red Sox being among the best teams in history, no one—no…one—could have foreseen what happened.

Of course, they could’ve missed the playoffs as a matter of circumstance, but 90 wins is still pretty good regardless of expectations. If you’d been told before the season that not only would the team completely collapse in September, but GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona would both be gone by November and the new manager would be Bobby Valentine, you’d label the individual informing you of the logically inexplicable turn of events as hopelessly insane.

After their run of success, how could one bad season result in the departures of both Epstein and Francona?

Here’s how:

Francona had options in his contract for 2012 and 2013; both had to be exercised simultaneously and following the way the team came apart on and off the field, in part because of the freedoms accorded to the veterans by the laid back manager, upper management had every right to examine whether or not they wanted to go forward with Francona or bring in a new voice.

As poorly as Francona was treated as his reputation was impugned by the whispers of prescription drug problems contributing to his inability to get through to the players and seeming inability to connect and rein them in, someone has to be held responsible for a bad ending. While the prescription pill stuff was the expected sliming of a former employee done as a matter of course by anonymous, paranoid spin doctors in the Red Sox front office, Francona didn’t deserve a pass for what happened, two World Series wins or not.

Everyone liked and respected Francona, but 8 years in one place—especially a pressure-packed atmosphere with the expectations in recent years exploding into a World Series or bust mandate—is too long. No one wanted to see Francona’s health compromised and once the supposedly mutual decision was made that the parties would go their separate ways, Francona appeared relieved. You don’t want to see a guy drop dead from stress.

Once Francona was out, the Cubs came calling with a request to speak to GM Theo Epstein to take over as their new team president.

Epstein had achieved something that no other executive had been able to accomplish by not only getting the Red Sox their first World Series win since 1918, but he made them the hot ticket in town with a packed house every night.

He’d consolidated his power over the organization but the expectations were suffocating for Epstein as well.

He couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without being recognized. The drive to compete with the Yankees took precedence and rather than do what Epstein wanted and build a team that could compete and do so under reasonable payroll, it became an annual competition of who could buy or trade for the bigger names.

It was a case of diminishing returns were anything other than a World Series was a disappointment.

Much like Francona, this is not to absolve Epstein of blame for what happened. He brought in John Lackey, Carl Crawford and Bobby Jenks—all expensive disasters. This was his team as well. After so much success and demands on his time and personal life, it’s entirely understandable that a relatively young man who’d yet to turn 40 might want to do something else and engage in a new challenge. The Cubs are as big if not bigger challenge than the Red Sox were when he took over.

Both are gone and the Red Sox are in utter hierarchical disarray with no one person in clear command.

Epstein’s longtime assistant Ben Cherington was hired to take over as the new GM. Cherington began his career working in the Red Sox front office under former GM Dan Duquette and learned his lessons well under Epstein, but now it’s unclear as to who’s actually running things.

CEO Larry Lucchino had lost the power struggle to his former protégé Epstein after Epstein’s tantrum and “resignation” following the 2005 season. Marginalized, Lucchino was held at bay for six years and when the opportunity arose to jump back into the fray, he grabbed it.

Ask yourself this: if Epstein had stayed on to finish his contract with the Red Sox sans Francona, would he have hired Bobby Valentine?

You know the answer is absolutely not.

But that’s exactly who the Red Sox hired after interviewing such qualified candidates as Pete Mackanin and Dale Sveum.

None of the managers they spoke to had any legitimate buzz.

But Valentine is friends with Lucchino and was considered for the job after Grady Little was let go following the 2003 season. Valentine spoke with Lucchino and refused to criticize Little for the Pedro Martinez ALCS situation; Valentine felt it cost him a shot to interview for the job.

Eight years later, Cherington found himself interviewing and nudged to hire a polar opposite to the calm and uncontroversial Francona.

Valentine is that polar opposite.

As for player moves, they’ve been haphazard.

Allowing Jonathan Papelbon to leave without even making an offer was in line with the Red Sox template of not overpaying for saves. It was probably time for the team and Papelbon to part ways in their hot and cold relationship.

Cherington traded Jed Lowrie and pitching prospect Kyle Weiland to the Astros for set-up man Mark Melancon; acquired Andrew Bailey from the Athletics; strangely traded Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen in order to free up $6 million, then used $3 million on a decidedly non-Red Sox-type player, Cody Ross.

The vault that was wide open and ample for Epstein is no longer so for Cherington. To make things worse, he hired a manager he clearly didn’t want and is proverbially wiping the back of his neck to pat dry the damp mist of Lucchino’s breath and unwanted interference.

This is not what he envisioned when he became a GM.

Bobby Valentine is back.

After flirtations with the Mets, Marlins and Orioles following stints in Japan and working for ESPN, Valentine got himself a high-profile job that fits his controversial personality and winning resume.

No, he wasn’t the choice of the GM.

No, the players weren’t happy when he was hired.

Yes, he was forced to take a 2-year contract making it imperative that he wins immediately.

But at least he’s getting an opportunity.

The positives with Valentine: he’s a brilliant strategic mind; he generates attention; he doesn’t care what people say about him; he’s intensely loyal to players he believes in; and doesn’t allow criticism to affect what he does on or off the field.

The negatives with Valentine: he’s calculating with the media and occasionally brutal with players who he can’t use; he grates on opponents so they want to beat him and his team that much more badly; he carries a reputation as a paranoid and self-centered entity; two of his Mets teams in 1998 and 1999 collapsed (the 1999 team recovered); he’s been away from big league competition for a long time and it might take time for him to get back into the managerial frame of mind—time the Red Sox, in an impossible division and needing to get off to a good start after the collapse and rampant changes—might not have.

Valentine always knows what the other manager is going to do and knows every rule in the book better than the umpires do. The players were upset at his hiring, but they should’ve thought of that before they betrayed and undermined Francona. Now they have to deal with Valentine and it’s their own fault.

The Red Sox have made a great show of banning beer in the clubhouse.

It sounds cliché, but it comes down to “enjoying responsibly” and the Red Sox didn’t enjoy responsibly. They were given a privilege of having beer in the clubhouse; they abused the privilege; the privilege was taken away.

There’s no reason for there to be beer in the clubhouse anyway. It’s their place of business and they’re there to work. Period.

STARTING PITCHING:

Josh Beckett was the ringleader of the group of starting pitchers who spent time in the clubhouse eating fried chicken and allegedly playing video games and drinking beer during games.

I find it hard to believe that these things haven’t been going on for years, so to take the team’s collapse and assign blame to any one individual for what was decidedly a team effort is stupid. If they got away with it while the team was winning, then there’s no reason to say “this is why” when the team was losing.

That said, it’s a negative on Beckett that he chose to behave this way when it was clearly bothering the manager and the team could have used some unity as the wheels came off.

Beckett, when he’s right, is a great pitcher; he’s also a frontrunning bully who tries to exert his will in an attempt to bolster his manhood. If anyone is going to butt heads with Valentine, it will be Beckett. And Valentine is not going to back down.

If an example has to be set with a veteran player to make sure everyone else knows that there’s a new sheriff in town, I’d put the word out to other teams that Beckett is in play for a trade if things start off badly.

I doubt the Red Sox, desperate to win to wash away the memory of the horrific end to the 2011 season, will do that. But maybe they should.

On the field, Beckett had a fine season with a 13-7 record in 30 starts, a 2.89 ERA, 146 hits allowed and 175 strikeouts in 193 innings.

He pitched very poorly in September when the team needed him most. And on his days off, he was in the clubhouse eating chicken and gaining weight.

He’d better show up to camp in shape and ready to play, but with Beckett and his attitude, I’d be ready for anything if I was Valentine—especially a fight.

Jon Lester was also involved in the clubhouse shenanigans, put on weight as the season went on and pitched poorly in September with a 1-3 record, an ERA near 5 1/2 and 35 hits allowed, 19 earned runs in 31 innings.

Lester is one of the best pitchers in baseball when he’s right and seemed truly contrite (unlike Beckett) for what went on throughout the season and how they let Francona down.

Lester went 15-9 in 31 starts with 166 hits allowed in 191 innings. Lester with his fastball that can reach the mid-90s and array of ancillary pitches including a changeup, a cutter, a curve and a slider make him a Cy Young Award contender.

He’s going to try and make amends for last season and will have a big year.

The Red Sox vaunted medical staff misdiagnosed and mistreated Clay Buchholz’s back injury thinking it was a muscle strain when it was actually a spinal stress fracture.

Buchholz only made 14 starts, the last being in June. He was working to get back in time for the playoffs, but that was rendered meaningless.

Buchholz is potentially a top pitcher in baseball with two fastballs, both reaching the mid-90s; a cutter; a changeup; and a curve. At age 27, all innings constraints should be off and if his back is healthy, he’ll be back in the form he showed when he finished 6th in the AL Cy Young Award voting in 2010.

Daniel Bard is making the switch from being the set-up man (he too struggled badly late in the season) to a starter.

Bard was a starter in the low minors and terrible at it, but that was five years ago. He has the repertoire of pitches to make the transition if he gets his slider over and his changeup is effective. Bard needs to understand that he doesn’t have to throw the ball 98 mph to be a good starter and the Red Sox have had the experience in shifting a reliever into the rotation successfully with Derek Lowe.

Bard will be on an innings limit, but if the other starters are pitching well, he’ll be fine.

Valentine was one of Daisuke Matsuzaka’s biggest cheerleaders when he first came to North America and if anyone can get through to him, it’s Valentine.

Matsuzaka’s numbers have been somewhat respectable during his time with the Red Sox, but numbers don’t tell the whole story. He’s been a disappointment with his complaints about the training techniques in the States, hiding injuries and inability to throw consistent strikes.

Matsuzaka had Tommy John surgery last June and is, as of this writing, beginning his comeback by throwing off the mound in a bullpen session.

He’s in the last year of his Red Sox contract and perhaps pitching for Valentine—revered in Japan and with a working knowledge of the language—will help Matsuzaka redeem himself to a certain degree. The Red Sox are going to need him.

Lefty Andrew Miller was the 6th pick in the draft in 2006 and has bounced from the Tigers to the Marlins to the Red Sox. The talent is somewhere in Miller’s body, but he has to throw the ball over the plate. His height and motion make it difficult for him to maintain his mechanics and release point and if he’s unable to harness his stuff, I don’t know what you do with him because you can’t trust a reliever who can’t throw strikes and lefties have hit him as well as righties have in his career.

As of right now, the Red Sox will need him in the rotation as he competes for a spot with veterans Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla and John Maine.

BULLPEN:

Longtime closer Jonathan Papelbon was allowed to leave for the Phillies without the Red Sox making an offer.

There was talk that Bard would take over as closer, but they needed and wanted him in the starting rotation. Mark Melancon spent time as the Astros closer, but there’s a significant difference between closing for the Astros and closing for the would-be championship contending Red Sox. So they pursued the Athletics’ young reliever, former Rookie of the Year and two-time All-Star Andrew Bailey.

In acquiring Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney for Josh Reddick and two minor leaguers, the Red Sox got themselves a cost-controlled short reliever.

Bailey throws hard and has had elbow problems, so the only question about him is whether or not he’s going to stay healthy. Bailey’s already had Tommy John surgery and when he was out with an elbow strain early last year, there was fear that he was going to need to have the surgery again. He recovered with rest and saved 24 games.

Durability is going to be a problem. Papelbon pitched in around 65 games a season as the Red Sox closer and Bailey has been limited to 47 in 2010 and 42 in 2011 because of injuries. Also, he’s never pitched on a team or in a situation quite like that of the Red Sox. Trying too hard might be a problem.

Former Yankees farmhand Mark Melancon will replace Bard as the set-up man.

Melancon has a good arm, but his problem with the Yankees was that he never seemed to know where the ball was going.

The Red Sox acquired him for infielder Jed Lowrie and young pitcher Kyle Weiland. Melancon pitched well for the Astros and is predominately a ground ball pitcher with a hard sinker, so the Green Monster won’t be a large factor.

Righty Alfredo Aceves was called upon repeatedly in September and was invaluable as a long reliever.

Just as he did for the Yankees in their championship season of 2009, Aceves has a habit of entering games, pitching multiple innings and racking up wins in relief. He went 10-1 in 55 games (all but 4 were in relief) and pitched 114 innings, allowing 84 hits and striking out 80.

24-year-old lefty Felix Doubront could be a long reliever or spot starter. He throws two different fastballs—a four-seamer and a two-seamer—that reach the low-to-mid 90s and a curveball. His motion has a slight hitch and he throws slightly across his body on a stiff front leg making it difficult to pick up out of his hands. Once he gains some experience, worst case scenario, he’ll be a lefty specialist out of the bullpen.

Veteran Matt Albers appeared in 56 games for the Red Sox in 2011, threw 64 innings and struck out 68; it was the best strikeout season of his career. He’s a fly ball pitcher and is prone to allowing home runs (7 last season). He has to get his slider over the plate to be effective.

Lefty Franklin Morales was acquired from the Rockies in May and was solid against both lefties and righties with a mid-90s fastball and good control.

Righty Chris Carpenter was sent from the Cubs to the Red Sox as compensation for Theo Epstein. Technically, the Red Sox had to send a Player to be Named Later to the Cubs, but the deal was Carpenter for Epstein.

Carpenter is a former 3rd round pick of the Cubs who has a fastball that reaches the upper-90s and a hard slider. He’s 26, has pitched in 10 big league games and was a mediocre starter in the minors.

Hard throwing former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks was signed by Epstein to a 2-year, $12 million contract before last season and pitched poorly before going on the disabled list with a back problem that required surgery. Jenks had another surgical procedure in January and his return is in question this season.

LINEUP:

Jarrod Saltalamacchia finally had a healthy season and the switch-hitter hit 16 homers in 103 games sharing time with Jason Varitek behind the plate.

Now Varitek is gone, the Red Sox signed Kelly Shoppach to split the catching duties for 2012.

Saltalamacchia’s catching was an issue especially with John Lackey, but Lackey’s out for the season with Tommy John surgery and Valentine won’t put up with similar on-field bickering between his pitchers and catchers as Francona did.

Saltalamacchia doesn’t walk and was hideous batting right handed (.209/.252/.383 slash line). His throwing was serviceable with a 31% caught stealing rate and he led the league with 26 passed balls, but that’s misleading because he caught Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball in 28 of the pitcher’s appearances.

Adrian Gonzalez had an MVP-quality year in his first season with the Red Sox. He batted .338, had a .410 OBP, a .957 OPS, 213 hits, 45 doubles, 27 homers and 117 RBI. He also won the Gold Glove at first base and the Silver Slugger.

The 30-year-old Gonzalez has had an interesting time of it in pennant races. Twice with the Padres, the teams had playoff spots all but sewn up and blew them; then last season, he was right in the middle of the Red Sox’ collapse.

Gonzalez invited quizzical glances in the clubhouse and overt ridicule by the media and fans when he said the Red Sox gack was part of “God’s plan”.

If God’s up there, I seriously doubt he’s spending his time worrying about the Red Sox making or not making the playoffs. It would be of great concern to me that Gonzalez is referencing a deity as the “reason” his team completely collapsed in September. That’s not a leadership thing to say. The Red Sox were a team that was hungry for leadership last season and will be even more so with the departure of Varitek.

One player who gave everything he had on the field and was truly upset with the selfish behavior exhibited by his teammates that resulted in Francona’s departure was Dustin Pedroia.

Pedroia rebounded from his injury-ravaged 2010 season with 195 hits, 37 doubles, 21 homers, 26 stolen bases, an .861 OPS and his second Gold Glove award.

Pedroia exemplified the gritty, gutty, never-say-die Red Sox from 2007-2010. The newcomers and holdovers who didn’t take his lead should do so because if the Red Sox had all cared as Pedroia does, they wouldn’t have collapsed.

Kevin Youkilis’s intensity was once seen as a thirst to win and his whining was a byproduct of that. When the clubhouse was imploding, it was just irritating.

Youkilis battled hip and back injuries and was in and out of the lineup in August and September.

He hit in some bad luck as his BAbip dropped to .296 from its usual .327+. He still hits for power and walks a lot. Youkilis has a $13 million club option for 2013 and if the teams gets off slowly or there’s chafing at Valentine’s methods, he could be one the players traded as an “example” that none of them are safe under the new regime.

Veteran Nick Punto won a World Series ring with the Cardinals in 2011 and is a serviceable defensive shortstop, but what was initially seen as a utilityman signing has suddenly become something close to the everyday shortstop with the strange trade of Marco Scutaro to the Rockies.

Punto is not an everyday player. He’s got some speed and is versatile, but he’s a bench player. I’m not sure what the Red Sox plans are for shortstop unless they’re hoping that young Jose Iglesias will be ready sometime around mid-season.

That’s highly unlikely and he’d better be completely ready because Valentine is not going to play a rookie shortstop while he’s working on a 2-year contract and has to win.

Carl Crawford was a pure and utter disaster in his first season in Boston. It wasn’t a case of inability to handle the pressure, but that he was pressing and trying too hard. He got off to a hideous start and, once the season started and it became clear that he was uncomfortable batting leadoff and the Red Sox didn’t know where to put him.

The Red Sox thought they were getting an offensive force with power and speed and Crawford only stole 18 bases and hit 11 homers, 29 doubles and 7 triples.

After the season, it was revealed in a radio interview with owner John Henry that he was cool to the idea of signing Crawford for $142 million, but Epstein wanted him and Henry signed off on the deal.

It was a nightmare all around and it’s got the potential to get worse because Crawford had arthroscopic surgery on his left wrist in January and is questionable for opening day.

I picked Crawford as the MVP last season and I was, um, wrong.

As bad as Crawford was, that’s how good Jacoby Ellsbury was.

Ellsbury nearly singlehandedly kept the Red Sox in the race in September and had an overall wonderful season finally fulfilling the potential everyone raved about from that combination of a sweet left-handed swing and speed.

Ellsbury was never known as a power hitter, but hit 32 homers in 2011. He bashed 212 hits, had 46 doubles and 39 stolen bases. He led the big leagues in total bases with 364, won the Silver Slugger and the Gold Glove in center field.

This was a remarkable turnaround from his hellish 2010 season in which his toughness was questioned when broken ribs were misdiagnosed and members of the organization thought he was intentionally staying out of the lineup.

Ryan Sweeney was acquired in the Bailey trade and will probably platoon with Cody Ross in right field.

Sweeney for his career has batted .296 with a .754 OPS in 1319 plate appearances vs righties. He’s a singles hitter which isn’t what you prototypically want in a corner outfielder. The Red Sox are making strange decisions in diminishing their offense at two positions—right field and shortstop—without adding any significant starting pitching.

David Ortiz did a lot of talking after the collapse and what he said kindasorta made sense. It was Ortiz’s argument that players had always been going into the clubhouse and eating chicken during games if they weren’t playing.

In a sense, he’s right.

Here’s the bottom line with the chicken and video games: if it’s just the starting pitchers who are doing it, no one’s going to notice nor care if they’re hanging around the dugout during games. Steve Carlton used to go into the clubhouse and sleep on days he wasn’t pitching. If the Red Sox had always done it and no one complained about it, why complain about it as if it was the cause of their losing.

Yes, it was a sign of disrespect to manager Francona, but if he let them do it for years, how could he turn around and tell them to cut it out after letting it go for so long?

And what would he have done if Beckett had told him to go screw himself?

Ortiz also made the mistake of speculating what life would be like if he went to play with the Yankees—a definite no-no in Boston.

What he should’ve done was shut up. And eventually, once he saw that no team was going to give him a multi-year deal, he wound up taking arbitration from the Red Sox.

They didn’t want to shell out for a new DH and Ortiz had nowhere to go.

The two sides agreed to a 1-year, $14.575 million contract to avoid arbitration.

He’s lucky the Red Sox needed him or he’d have gone the way of Varitek and Wakefield and been kicked out the door as part of the culture altering purge that was necessary to try and get things back in line.

BENCH:

Veteran backup catcher and respected veteran catcher Kelly Shoppach signed a 1-year, $1.35 million contract to share time with Saltalamacchia. Shoppach batted only .176, but he has pop and patience at the plate and threw out 41% of the runners who tried to steal on him in 2011.

Cody Ross signed a 1-year, $3 million contract. Ross is a feisty, tough player with power and is a good defensive outfielder who can play all three outfield positions. He’s not a prototypical Red Sox player because he doesn’t walk, but they needed a complement to Sweeney in right and Ross has a career .912 OPS vs lefties. Ross is a back-up-the-middle mistake hitter who can hit a fastball and will pull more than a few inside pitches over the Green Monster.

Darnell McDonald will see the bulk of the time in left field if Crawford is unable to go to start the season. The right-handed hitting McDonald was a scrapheap pickup for the Red Sox and has gotten big hits for them since coming over. He can play all three defensive outfield positions.

Mike Aviles will share duties with Punto at shortstop. Aviles was a longtime minor leaguer before getting a chance to play regularly for the Royals in 2010 and he batted .304 with 8 homers and 14 stolen bases in 110 games, mostly at second base. He’s a decent defensive shortstop and showed 15 homer power in the minors.

Lefty batting 24-year-old Ryan Kalish batted .252 and stole 10 bases in 179 plate appearances as a rookie in 2011. He’s got some pop in his bat and patience at the plate.

Ryan Lavarnway was pressed into service behind the plate late in the season as both Saltalamacchia and Varitek were down with injuries. The Yale-educated catcher hit 2 homers in the next-to-last game of the season to postpone was wound up being an inevitable end for the Red Sox. He had 32 homers in Double and Triple-A last season and if neither Saltalamacchia nor Shoppach are hitting and the Red Sox need offense, don’t be surpised to see them toss Lavarnway out there to see if he can spark the team.

PREDICTION:

Discombobulated.

That’s the one word that comes to mind regarding the Red Sox winter following the one word that comes to mind to describe their 2011 season: collapse.

Who’s running things? Is it Lucchino? Cherington? Henry? Valentine? Who?

The maneuvers the Red Sox have made this winter have taken a similar tone of not knowing what one side wants to do while the other side is making trade calls and another is courting free agents.

What was the purpose of trading Scutaro? Was Cherington forced to hire Valentine? Is Beckett going to behave himself or will he try to exert his will on Valentine?

Can Bailey close in Boston? Will Bard be able to start? And what if they can’t?

How will Valentine react with the first controversy that comes his way? And controversy is part of the Bobby V Package, so it’s not a matter of “if”, but “when”.

Already he’s been relentlessly tweaking the Yankees with snide comments about Derek Jeter.

The Red Sox’ veterans didn’t want Valentine. The media and fans, angered after the way the team exploded and imploded after the expectations of rivaling the 1927 Yankees want Valentine to storm into the room and start cracking heads.

He won’t do that at first.

He’ll try to get on the same page with the veterans and come to a consensus on how things are going to go to maintain the peace. But if someone pushes him—and someone will—Valentine’s going to slam down the hammer secure in the knowledge that Lucchino’s got his back.

Then it’s going to get messy.

Very messy.

There’s an absence of cohesion in Boston that hasn’t been seen since the days of Dan Duquette firing Jimy Williams and replacing him with Joe Kerrigan.

And that’s not a good thing.

Teams recovering from a nightmare like what happened to the Red Sox in 2011 generally have a hangover the next year unless drastic roster changes are made. The Red Sox have tweaked the roster and cleared out the manager, pitching coach and GM.

Now what they have is the last throes of an era degenerating into a shambles. Rife with contentious veterans and question marks all around, I don’t see anyone predicting 110 wins this year.

They made history in 2011, but it wasn’t how they intended.

What a difference a year makes.

This isn’t going to go well.

At all.

PREDICTED RECORD: 81-81

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Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way. It’s great for fantasy players and useful all season long.

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