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.

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A Bad Week For MLB’s Radical Right

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Political ideologies aren’t judged on their tenets, but on their representatives. Because we see the front people of their particular positions as extreme and overtly unlikable, the entire platform is poisoned because of personality and presentation.

It’s with that in mind that it makes many self-proclaimed conservatives—in statements and action—in MLB look hypocritical.

Three such individuals have found themselves in the public eye this week for various reasons that run the gamut on the scale from the overreaching, delusional businessman; to the ignorant and mouthy; and to the disturbing.

Here they are.

Curt Schilling’s video game company goes under.

Rhode Island has had a very public shortfall in their pension funds to retired city workers in the municipality of Central Falls, but the state had enough money to guarantee loans worth $75 million to Schilling’s video game company to lure them from Massachusetts.

Schilling, whose right wing politics were fodder for ridicule during his career, was playing the big businessman running a fledgling and hit-or-miss enterprise of creating video games and it collapsed without warning in a most embarrassing fashion.

I’m trying to reconcile how Rhode Island found the money to make that loan guarantee to Schilling and his video game company. Was there a coherent plan that made it a decision with solid foundation that simply failed or was the Republican governor of the state,  Donald Carcieri, trying to use Schilling’s star power to get himself reelected? Was Carcieri himself hypnotized by Schilling’s presence? Or was it bad business?

Possibly all of the above.

Carcieri lost and the business has gone under.

You can read the details here on Boston.com and decide for yourself.

Luke Scott has a lot to say.

Having first come under fire for his insistence that President Obama is not an American citizen, Luke Scott of the Rays is no stranger to controversy for his statements. Earlier this year, he said some none-too-flattering things about Fenway Park calling it a “dump”. Last night in the ninth inning of the Rays’ 7-4 win over the Red Sox in Boston, Franklin Morales drilled Scott. The benches emptied and there was a lot of shouting and shoving but no punches thrown.

Ostensibly the incident was in retaliation for Burke Badenhop hitting Dustin Pedroia in the sixth inning. Naturally Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine couldn’t resist stirring the cauldron by saying, “Maybe it was the Ghost of Fenway Past remembering he bad-mouthed all our fans and our stadium, directing the ball at his leg.”

Did the Red Sox pop Scott because of Pedroia or was it because of what he said about Fenway?

I’m inclined to think that it was a combination of the two and Scott was conveniently (or inconveniently for him) batting in the ninth inning of a game the Red Sox were likely to lose. They had the opening and took it. Morales didn’t throw at Scott’s head, so I don’t think this is that big of a deal; certainly not worth the war of words that’s not going to stop anytime soon as long as the managers are involved.

The Thong Song seems so long ago for Chad Curtis.

The journeyman Curtis had found a home as a useful extra outfielder for the Yankees and contributed many clutch hits to the 1998-1999 World Series winners. But because he made the mistake of choosing to take on Derek Jeter when Jeter was joking with Alex Rodriguez (then of the Mariners) during a bench clearing brawl between the two clubs, he was run out of town following the 1999 season.

Traded to the Rangers, Curtis again found himself talking about things other than baseball when he objected to teammate Royce Clayton playing Sisqó’s Thong Song in the Rangers’ clubhouse.

It doesn’t make much difference now, but Curtis happened to be right in both cases.

It was entirely inappropriate for Jeter to be standing in the middle of the field chatting with A-Rod while Joe Girardi was brawling with Frankie Rodriguez and Don Zimmer was staggering around on the field as if he was having a heart attack. Since it was Jeter, his behavior was sacrosanct even when he was wrong. Curtis called him out publicly and was dealt away.

As far as the Thong Song goes, if children are allowed in the clubhouse or there are religious people who object to certain content, that has to be taken into account for the sake of the group. Curtis didn’t like it and had a right to express that.

But Curtis’s presence in the news today is a typical political scandal as he has been charged with sexual misconduct for inappropriately touching two teenage girls at a Michigan school where he was volunteering.

“Inappropriate touching” could entail any number of things. Who knows if it’s true? If it is, listening to the Thong Song might’ve been a better alternative to the urges that caused Curtis’s behavior and all three of the above cases are prime examples of why athletes might be better served to keep their political affiliations more ambiguous or be quiet about them entirely.

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Blame Valentine All You Want, But This Team Isn’t Very Good

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The biggest mistake is thinking the 2012 Red Sox would be any different with Gene Lamont as manager.

It was only one game and every team gets shellacked once in a while so the Red Sox 18-3 loss to the Rangers, in the cosmic scheme of things, isn’t that big of a deal.

The bruises from that beating will dissipate quickly; the foundational problems aren’t so easily covered up.

The scrutiny placed on Bobby Valentine for innocuous comments about Kevin Youkilis have brought to the forefront the concerns that baseball people have had about Valentine since his rise to prominence in late-1980s with the Rangers: great strategic manager; polarizing character; very difficult to deal with; a magnet for trouble.

It’s only 11 games into the season and there’s plenty of time for every team with the talent to right their collective ships, but the question for the Red Sox isn’t Bobby V. The question is whether they’re actually talented and deep enough to get themselves straightened out.

Those who are wondering if Valentine is going to last the season are ignoring what’s led to this shaky start and caused the upheaval in the front office and dugout to begin with.

Their bullpen is bad. The starting pitching is short. They have black holes in the lineup. And they have veterans that may be on the downslide.

Whether it was Terry Francona and Theo Epstein or Valentine and Ben Cherington presiding over this group is irrelevant.

Of course, if Epstein had stayed, the roster would not look like this. It’s doubtful Epstein would’ve traded Marco Scutaro and the bullpen/starting rotation would probably be drastically different. That’s not saying Epstein had all the answers because he was the one who put together the team from 2011 that was expected to challenge the 1927 Yankees as the greatest of all time and was a dysfunctional, indifferent, fractured crew that undermined their “beloved” manager Francona and got him fired.

Those that are complaining about Valentine should’ve considered the alternatives before they sabotaged Francona.

Athletes are notorious for not thinking through consequences and if they were winning and getting away with poor behavior while they had a playoff spot seemingly locked up, there was no reason to change in September as their world came undone.

So now it’s Valentine’s baby. The manager had to essentially grovel for forgiveness from Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia for a comment about Youkilis that most close Red Sox’ observers have said might’ve been better left said privately, but isn’t wrong.

The Red Sox from 2003-2011 can be considered something of a modern day dynasty. They won two championships which, with the tiered playoff system and three short series, is a lot. They were in contention every single year. Boston became a destination for players not just because of money; it became a destination because of the chance to win and the passion surrounding the club—passion that was once drenched in negativity and shifted into an expectation of winning.

Drunk with success (and possibly buzzed from clubhouse beer), they grew complacent, spent money unwisely and aged quickly. Epstein and Francona are gone and Larry Lucchino interfered with the preferred template of Cherington who, rightly or wrongly, is looking increasingly like a figurehead, implementer and conduit to what his bosses want.

The joy from the Fenway Park anniversary celebration and a couple of wins against the Yankees this weekend will make Red Sox Nation feel a bit better, but they won’t repair the fundamental issues that plagued the team during and after the collapse.

This is how it goes as structures age.

And when they age and decay, they have to be rebuilt.

This wasn’t simply predictable. It was inevitable. No matter who was running the team, it was unavoidable.

No one should be surprised at anything that happens now.

Anything.

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For Better Or Worse, This Is Why Valentine Was Hired

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For some players, criticism serves as motivation. It’s up to the manager to determine which players can handle being called out publicly, yelled at in front of others and which need the smoother, more gentle approach.

Bobby Valentine is under fire for his comments about Kevin Youkilis. You can read the story here on ESPN.com.

Valentine said:

“I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason,” Valentine said. “But [on Saturday] it seemed, you know, he’s seeing the ball well, got those two walks, got his on-base percentage up higher than his batting average, which is always a good thing, and he’ll move on from there.”

Is there a big controversy about these comments? Are they on a level with Valentine, as Mets’ manager, openly suggesting that Todd Hundley was partying when he should’ve been sleeping?

These media storms were regular occurrences with Valentine. It’s an old-school method from an old-school manager and that’s what the Red Sox wanted when they hired Valentine.

The “let them be” approach of Terry Francona was credited with the Red Sox rallying from a 3-0 deficit in the 2004 ALCS; it was credited with them rallying from a 3-1 deficit in the 2007 ALCS. They won the World Series in sweeps after both pennants.

Last year the Red Sox had all the ingredients to win again and didn’t. Francona’s hands off approach was blamed.

Was it because Francona was too soft?

Was it because they had too many players who were more interested in selfish pursuits than forging bonds with teammates?

Or did they hit a bad patch with injuries and poor play at the wrong time?

Whatever it was, Valentine is the opposite of Francona in temperament and tone. He’s an experienced baseball man as a player, coach, manager and broadcaster and if, after watching Youkilis from afar, observing him this spring and over the first 10 games of the season he saw something different in Youkilis’s intensity, it’s not out of the realm of reason to openly question him to light a fire and get him playing angry.

In the above-linked story, Dustin Pedroia defended Youkilis and said the oft-repeated phrase, “That’s not the way we go about our stuff around here.”

The way they did things ended 2011 in embarrassment, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’re changing the plot in 2012.

Valentine couldn’t care less what the players think of him as long as there’s a unity of purpose. If that means the unity was borne from hatred of him, he’ll live with that if it results in wins on the field.

It was a strange time to do it since the Red Sox are playing well, but that too might’ve been intentional.

Or he might’ve said something that he felt would be innocuous and was blown out of proportion.

Does it matter?

Like the hiring of Valentine, the only way to know if it succeeded will be in hindsight. If Youkilis goes on a tear starting now, the perception will be that it was Valentine’s comments that motivated him. Youkilis will scoff at the notion, but much like the idea that these comments are that serious, reality is irrelevant.

It’s a tactic. Because it’s Valentine, the masses are overreacting as if they were waiting for something like this, heard it as the loud pop of a starting pistol and exploded out of the blocks as fast as they could. Social media and the proliferation of commenters exacerbates the issue in ways unheard of when Valentine was last managing in the big leagues in 2002.

Either way, it’s why Valentine was hired—to stir things up in ways Francona never did.

Maybe it’ll work. And maybe it won’t.

That it happened at all shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who’s watched and listened to Bobby Valentine over the past 25 years. Perhaps the Red Sox selected him over the other candidates because those other candidates would’ve been happy to have the job and done whatever they needed to do to keep the peace including enabling the players like Francona did.

Valentine, as his comments prove, won’t.

He’s not Francona.

That’s why they hired him.

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Radio Appearances and International Disarray

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Terry Francona went on Michael Kay’s ESPN radio show in an apparent attempt to do some damage control to repair his fading image as the innocent bystander in the Red Sox’ 2011 collapse and only succeeded in making things worse.

You can read about the appearance here on ESPN.com.

In the piece, it’s revealed that—shocker!!—Francona is working on a book with none other than reporter Dan Shaughnessy who also happened to pen the piece in which Francona aired his reasons for not attending the 100th anniversary celebration to commemorate Fenway Park.

I’m not sure which upcoming book is going to fire more vendetta-tinged salvos, Francona’s or Tony LaRussa’s.

For someone who’s viewed positively throughout baseball for his good guy persona, Francona is doing his best Gary Sheffield impersonation.

Those who remember Sheffield know that whenever a reporter needed a hot story, all he had to do was walk over to Sheffield and ask him about something that he’d insisted he wasn’t going to talk about. Sheffield would invariably reiterate that stance…then go into a long-winded rant about precisely what he said he wasn’t going to discuss. Sheffield’s reputation made it easy to dismiss his complaints whether they were valid or not. Francona’s the opposite.

Francona backtracked on his decision to go public with his gripes and then snatched Kay’s bait like a starving shark.

Here’s a clip from the above-linked ESPN article:

Kay also asked the question many around Boston have been wondering: “As you sit back on Thursday, April 12, and the Red Sox are 1-5, is there a part of you that’s absolutely elated?”

Francona laughed at first, but then said: “I wouldn’t say elated. I know what you mean, though. You know, everybody has human emotions … there are so many people there that I’ve gone through so many things with, that I care so much about. You know, somebody asked me yesterday and I said ‘I hope (Dustin) Pedroia hits 1.000 and I hope (Jon) Lester wins every game.’ … At the same time, I recognize the way things ended there didn’t make me very happy. And actually really hurt me. And I’m aware of that also. So, you try to balance it a little bit. But being vindictive is not a good way to go through life. And I hope I’m not that way.”

No, the Red Sox are not playing well. Yes, it’s natural for Francona to feel a certain amount of satisfaction that they’re going poorly without him. But this looks and sounds bad because it is bad in perception and practice.

Would the Red Sox be better with Francona? If Francona had stayed, Theo Epstein was going to stay as well, so the construction of the club would be radically different. We don’t know what they’d look like with a different GM and manager, who would and wouldn’t be on the team.

It’s a question that can’t be answered.

What he’s doing is distracting and unfair to the club that gave him an opportunity that other teams weren’t prepared to give him in a situation that was ready-made to win immediately.

It’s clearly intentional payback.

Regardless of how it ended with the Red Sox, Francona’s in a far better position now with a lot more money in the bank and industry-wide respect that wasn’t there when he was fired by the Phillies after a four-year tenure of 285-363.

He wasn’t hired by the Red Sox because they were expecting the reincarnation of Connie Mack. He was hired by the Red Sox because the Red Sox were trying to get Curt Schilling to agree to a trade to Boston and Francona was an agreeable choice to the pitcher; Francona was willing to take short money for the opportunity; and he would do what Grady Little didn’t do—take orders from the front office.

This labeling of Francona being a “great” manager is directly connected to the results he achieved. That Red Sox team in 2004 was very good and it wasn’t his mere presence that was the final piece in the championship puzzle. They would’ve been good with or without Francona.

The Red Sox have earned the right to celebrate their ballpark and try to right the ship on the field. Francona’s gloating makes him look petty and babyish and won’t be lost on any club that considers hiring him as their manager in the future. He may feel safe in his new broadcasting job and is trying to retaliate for the shoddy manner in which he was treated when the Red Sox let him go, but he’s making himself look terrible and it’s casting the Red Sox in a far more sympathetic light than they were in before.

Francona needs to shut up.

Period.

On another Red Sox-related note, the football club their ownership purchased that was supposedly siphoning money away from the Red Sox—Liverpool FC—has made their own change at the top. This clip is from the NY Times:

Liverpool dismissed its director of football, Damien Comolli, after criticism of his transfer strategy since he was hired 16 months ago. Liverpool has spent $183 million on players since Comolli joined the club, but expensive recruits like Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing have failed to impress.

You can read analysis of this maneuver here.

Is Comolli going to go on Kay’s show? Will he write a book?

The mess has gone international and it shows no signs of abating any time soon.

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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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Josh Beckett’s Ego Trip and Pending Collision

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Josh Beckett is incapable of saying he’s wrong.

He’ll dance around it. He’ll hem and haw and admit to making “mistakes”. But say the words, “I was wrong”? Beckett? Never.

You can read Beckett’s maintaining the Beckett line here on BostonHerald.com.

In truth, there’s a logical basis for Beckett and the Red Sox players to suggest that the beer, chicken and video game stuff that went on in the clubhouse during games weren’t a problem when the team was winning, so why should they have been a problem when the team was losing?

But that’s not going to be good enough for a media and fanbase that wants contrition. Even if Beckett doesn’t think he was wrong—and I guarantee you, he doesn’t—it wouldn’t hurt to apologize for aesthetic purposes and put the whole thing behind him; to say he’s going to be the good soldier rather than try to find a way to maintain his ego.

It’s a sign of overwhelming arrogance and personal weakness to never apologize; never admit wrongdoing; always find a caveat to defend oneself.

There’s no one left in the clubhouse to play the galvanizing, publicly diplomatic, privately intimidating leader. As he gained weight and lost playing time, Jason Varitek’s influence waned; it’s a good move for the Red Sox to let both him and Tim Wakefield go.

Dustin Pedroia was truly offended at the way Francona was treated; he could probably play the role of the clubhouse leader, but would he interfere if (when) Beckett and Valentine begin butting heads? Pedroia might pragmatically steer clear and let the situation resolve itself. That’s what I’d do.

Beckett is the self-important, arrogant and obnoxious alpha-male. Bobby Valentine is a loose cannon with some of those same traits. Valentine’s not going to let one wayward player ruin what’s probably his last chance at managing in the big leagues.

They’re going to clash.

This beginning is not a good sign for the 2012 Red Sox because if Beckett is intent on continuing to behave as he always has and tries to exert his will on Valentine, Valentine is not going to be conciliatory or back down as Terry Francona did.

And as long as Beckett is on his ego trip, it’s going to get messy. Fast.

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The Red Sox Out-of-Book Experience with Bobby Valentine

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The Red Sox made the smart and gutsy decision to shun the “middle-manager” nonsense that came en vogue after Moneyball and hired Bobby Valentine to take over as their new manager.

Here’s what to expect.

The beer and chicken parties are over.

The somewhat overblown Red Sox beer and chicken parties of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and their crew are referenced as the fatal symptoms of apathy under Terry Francona.

When Valentine’s name was mentioned as a candidate amid the “new sheriff in town” mentality, the 1999 NLCS card-playing incident is presented as an example of what went on with the Mets under Valentine.

What’s missed by those who constantly mention the Bobby BonillaRickey Henderson card game as the Mets dejectedly entered the Turner Field clubhouse after their game 6 and series loss is that Bonilla was gone after the season (at a significant cost to the Mets that they’re still paying); and Henderson was released the next May.

Those who expect Valentine to storm in and start getting in the faces of the players immediately are wrong.

He won’t tolerate any garbage, but it’s not going to be a both-guns-blazing, walking through the door of the saloon like Clint Eastwood bit.

He’ll try a more smooth approach at first, telling them what the rules are, what’s expected and demanded and what won’t be tolerated. If he’s pushed, he’ll make an example of someone and it’s going to happen fast.

This is not to say that he’s an old-school social conservative who’s going to interfere with his players’ personal business. Bobby V liked chewing his dip when he was managing the Mets; he treats his players like men; but if their off-field activities are affecting on-field production—as was the case with Todd Hundley and Pete Harnisch—they’re going to hear about it. It will be done privately at first, then publicly if it continues.

His big theme concerning the way the players behave will be “don’t make me look like an idiot”.

The stuff that went on under the watch of Francona was more embarrassing than damaging. If the players had been performing their due diligence in workouts and not been so brazen about their clubhouse time, it wouldn’t have been an issue. But because they so cavalierly loafed and lazed, seemingly not caring what was happening on the field, it snowballed and became a flashpoint to the lax discipline of Francona and festered into unnecessary problems.

Relationships with opponents, umpires and the media.

Valentine has endured public spats with many other managers and hasn’t shied from any of them, even suggesting they possibly turn physical if need be.

During his playing days, no one wanted to mess with Don Baylor. Baylor, who crowded the plate and steadfastly refused to move when a ball was heading in his direction, led the league in getting hit-by-pitches eight times. Valentine had protested a mistake the then-Cubs manager Baylor had made on his lineup card when the Mets and Cubs played the season-opening series of 2000 in Japan; Baylor made some comments about it; Valentine, who never brought the lineup card to the plate as Mets manager, did so in the first game of the Mets-Cubs series in May; Valentine asked Baylor if the two had a problem, Baylor said no and that was it.

This was indicative of the personality and gamesmanship of Valentine. Managers and players from other teams don’t like him, but he doesn’t care.

As Red Sox manager, he’s going to bait Joe Girardi; he’ll annoy Joe Maddon; he and Buck Showalter will glare at each other from across the field at who can be more nitpicky in a chess match of “I’m smarter than you”; he knows the rules better than the umpires and finds the smallest and most obscure ones to get an advantage for his team; he manipulates the media and his temper gets the better of him—he’ll say he’s not going to talk about something, then talk about if for 20 minutes; and his foghorn voice will echo across all of baseball to let everyone know the Red Sox are in town.

Francona was well-liked by everyone.

Valentine won’t be. And he doesn’t care.

Valentine can be annoying. He was a three-sport star in high school and a ballroom dancing champion, is married to his high school sweetheart and is still remarkably handsome even at age 61; he was Tommy Lasorda‘s pet in the minor leagues and his teammates loathed him—he grates on people because of his seeming superiority and perfection.

He’s not irritating people intentionally unless he thinks it will help him win a game—it’s just Bobby V being Bobby V.

The GM/manager dynamic.

Did new Red Sox GM Ben Cherington want Valentine?

There will be an across-the-board series of analysis why he did and didn’t—most will detail why he didn’t.

But does it matter?

The whole concept of Valentine being impossible to handle, undermining, subversive and Machiavellian stem from his inter-organizational battles with Steve Phillips when the duo were the GM/manager combination for the Mets.

Valentine hated Phillips and vice versa; it wasn’t simply that Valentine hated Phillips as a GM, he hated him as a human being more.

But Phillips’s personal behaviors weren’t publicly known to the degree that they are now; it’s doubtful that Cherington will be stupid enough to get caught up in the number of foibles that have befallen Phillips and sabotaged someone who was a better GM than he’s given credit for and an excellent and insightful broadcaster.

Despite the disputes and cold war, something about the Valentine-Phillips relationship worked.

As long as there’s a mutual respect between Valentine and Cherington, what’s wrong with a little passionate debate even if it’s of the screaming, yelling and throwing things variety?

It’s better than the alternative of King Lear—the lonely man seeking to salvage what’s left of his crumbling monarchy—as there is in Oakland with Billy Beane; or what we saw eventually disintegrate with Theo Epstein’s and Larry Lucchino’s Macbeth and Duncan reprise with the Red Sox.

The only difference between the managers who are installed as a matter of following the script and out of convenience—as Francona was—and Valentine is that Valentine’s not disposable as the prototypical Moneyball middle-managers are and the Red Sox have to pay him a salary far greater than they would’ve had to pay Gene Lamont or Torey Lovullo.

In the final analysis financially, it’s cheaper to hire and pay Valentine than it would be to hire a retread or an unknown and run the risk of a total explosion of the team early in 2012 and having to clean house while enduring a lost season and revenues.

Valentine can tape together what’s currently there better than the other candidates could.

There will be disagreements and if Valentine has to, he’ll go over Cherington’s head to Lucchino or use the media to get what he wants. It’s Cherington’s first GM job; he won’t want to screw it up; plus, it’s a no-lose situation for him because if things go wrong, there’s always the head shake and gesture towards Bobby V and Lucchino to explain away what went wrong and why it’s not Cherington’s fault.

Even if it is.

Strategies.

Valentine isn’t Grady Little and won’t ignore the numbers; he was one of the first stat-savvy managers  who accessed the work of Bill James when he took over the Rangers in 1985.

That’s not to say he won’t make moves against the so-called new age stats that make sense on paper, but are idiotic or unrealistic in practice. He’s not going to demand his switch-hitters bat lefty against lefty pitchers because of an obscure and out-of-context number; he’ll let his relievers know what’s expected of them in a “defined role” sense (to keep the peace); and he’s going to tweak his lineups based on the opponent.

He doles out his pitchers innings evenly and finds players who may have underappreicated talents and places them in a situation to succeed—sounds like a stat guy concept.

Players.

With the Mets, there was a notion that Valentine preferred to have a roster of interchangeable parts with non-stars; functional players he could bench without hearing the entreaties that he has to play <BLANK> because of his salary.

Valentine might prefer to have a clear path to do what’s right for a particular game without having to worry about how it’s framed or answering stupid questions after the fact, but he dealt with his star players—Mike Piazza; Mike Hampton; Al Leiter; Robin Ventura—well enough.

What Valentine is truly good at is finding the players who have been ignored or weren’t given a chance and giving them their opportunity.

Todd Pratt, Rick Reed, Benny Agbayani, Desi Relaford, Timo Perez, Melvin Mora, Masato Yoshii were all Valentine “guys” who he trusted and fought for. All contributed to the Mets during Valentine’s tenure.

If anyone can get something out of Daisuke Matsuzaka, it’s Valentine; if anyone can put Carl Crawford in the lineup spot where he’ll be most productive—irrespective of Crawford’s personal preferences—it’s Valentine; and if anyone can work Jose Iglesias into the lineup without undue pressure, it’s Valentine.

Concerns.

While he managed in Japan for several years in the interim, Valentine hasn’t managed in the big leagues since 2002. Veteran managers sometimes hit the ground running after a long break as Jim Leyland did with the Tigers; or they embody the perception that they’ve lost something off their managerial fastball—I got that impression with Davey Johnson managing the Nationals in 2011.

Valentine’s 61 and in good shape, but ten years is a long time to be away from the trenches.

There will be a honeymoon period with the media and fans, but like the Red Sox attempt to hire Beane to be the GM after 2002, how long is this honeymoon going to last if the Red Sox are 19-21 after 40 games with the expectations and payroll what they are.

It’s hard to stick to the script as the Yankees fans are laughing at them; mired in a division with three other strong teams in the Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays possibly ahead of them; and the fans and media are bellowing for something—anything—to be done.

Valentine’s Mets teams tended to fade, tighten and panic at the ends of seasons. It happened in 1998 and 1999; in 1999 they squeaked into the playoffs after a frenetic late-season run and, once they were in, relaxed to put up a good, borderline heroic showing before losing to the Braves in the NLCS.

There will be players who ridicule, mock and question him. John Franco took the opportunity to get his revenge against Valentine by helping Phillips’s case to fire him in 2002 because Valentine had taken Franco’s closer role away and given it to Armando Benitez while Franco was injured.

Will Beckett push Valentine so one of them has to go? I doubt it, but Beckett’s a bully and won’t like being told what to do.

Will Bobby Jenks‘s attitude or Kevin Youkilis‘s whining cause Valentine to call them out publicly?

Will it damage the team if there’s an early insurrection or will it embolden the front office that a stricter force was necessary?

The real issues.

It’s nice that the Red Sox have hired a proven, veteran manager; a known quantity; someone they can sell to the media and fans, but it doesn’t address the player issues that sabotaged the team as they collapsed in September.

John Lackey is out for the year with Tommy John surgery and they need starting pitching.

David Ortiz is a free agent.

They need a bat.

They have to hope that Crawford straightens out and becomes the player they paid for.

Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia have been enduring multiple injuries.

Clay Buchholz is returning from a back problem.

They don’t know who their closer is going to be.

More than anything else, the Red Sox 2012 season is going to be determined by how these holes are patched and filled.

But the manager’s office is taken care of and they’re indulging in an out-of-book experience in hiring Bobby Valentine.

And it’s a great move.

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This Is Not About Theo Epstein (That Comes Later)

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Panic abounds in Boston as the prospect of a trifecta of organizational dysfunction beckons. Following the humiliating collapse and requisite sniping, backbiting and blaming one another has come the departures of the two men who were out front of the Red Sox revival, manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein.

Never mind the fact that many managers could have and would have won with that roster full of talent; ignore that there are GM candidates everywhere and no one is irreplaceable, it’s a triple shot of torment to an organization that had grown so used to success that they’ve forgotten how expectantly painful it was to be a Red Sox fan.

Here are the facts with Epstein and the Red Sox: they were gutsy; they were lucky; they filled the front office with smart people; and they won.

Will Epstein have the same success with the Cubs?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Do you know how the Red Sox managed to draft Clay Buchholz? Dodgers scouting guru Logan White wanted to draft Buchholz, but was overruled by Paul DePodesta who wanted Luke Hochevar.

The Dodgers drafted Hochevar…and failed to sign him.

So the Red Sox got Buchholz.

They were lucky with David Ortiz, whom they signed as an “oh him” guy.

They were lucky that no one ever took them up on the multiple times they tried to dump Manny Ramirez.

They were lucky that the exalted genius Billy Beane turned down the offer to be GM after initially accepting. (Be funny if they hired him now!)

They were smart in ignoring conventional wisdom—Moneyball and otherwise—and wound up with the likes of Dustin Pedroia.

The key for the Red Sox was the utter ruthlessness with which they dispatched players who either wanted too much money or too many years as free agents or were no longer performing and were traded.

The dealing of Nomar Garciaparra in 2004 was an act of heresy; without it, they likely would not have won the World Series that year.

There never would have been a trade for Josh Beckett had Epstein not resigned in a power-grabbing snit after 2005; and with that trade came the MVP of the 2007 World Series, Mike Lowell—whom they were forced to take!

Letting Pedro Martinez and Jason Bay leave turned out to be prescient decisions that didn’t work out well for the players in any aspect aside from their pockets and has ended positively for the Red Sox.

The era of the rock star GM has created this concept of the all-seeing, all-knowing expert at the top of the pyramid. It’s nice, neat, salable and a load of garbage.

People don’t want the truth that Epstein was hired as a face of the franchise in part because Larry Lucchino didn’t want to do the GM grunt work. But the puppet started tearing at his strings quickly as his reputation grew and the struggle became an uneasy truce.

The Red Sox will get someone else if Epstein leaves. Presumably it will be someone intelligent and willing to listen to others—something that perhaps Epstein no longer wants to do.

It could be an inspired maneuver like the Rays decision to hand control over to Andrew Friedman; or it might be as disastrous as the Jack (Amazin’ Exec) Zduriencik tenure as Mariners GM.

Who deserves the credit or blame? The person who wrote the song? The guy who sang it? The producer? The background musicians or the promoters? Is it a combination?

Without Ed Wade and Mike Arbuckle, there’s no appellation of “old school baseball genius” for Pat Gillick with the Phillies.

Without Bobby Cox laying the foundation for the Braves of the 1990s, John Schuerholz is not heading for the Hall of Fame.

Without Gene Michael, there’s no Brian Cashman.

The line between genius and idiot is narrow and has little to do with the individual, but chance, circumstance, courage and support.

It could be terrible decision for Epstein to leave. Or it could be one for him to stay. But it can’t be judged now.

And life will go on.

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Red Sox Wallow In Self-Pity

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Jonathan Papelbon accepted “full responsibility” for last night’s loss.

Carl Crawford apologized to the fans.

Curt Schilling said he didn’t think the Red Sox were going to make the playoffs to which Terry Francona responded with an expletive and former Schilling teammates reiterated the in-one-ear-and-out-the-other nature of Schilling-speak.

All of this is fine.

It’s great.

But it doesn’t justify losing 2 of the first 3 games in a series with the Orioles; it doesn’t explain away a superstar-laden team—injuries or not—blowing a substantial playoff lead; and it doesn’t do any good to take responsibility when there are no consequences.

If Papelbon were to say he’d return his salary for the month of September; or if Crawford were to nullify the remaining years on his contract, then the acceptance of fault would actually mean something.

Unless there’s a trade-off accompanying these self-pitying statements designed for media and fan consumption, they’re just noise.

There’s a price to pay for winning and winning with a confidence bordering on arrogance. This sense of entitlement is natural to any fan base and club that has experienced sustained success; it stems from the top of the organization on down. With the accolades lavished on the entire Red Sox franchise from the way they rebuilt and created a cash cow after the wreckage of 86 years of futility, they—John Henry to Larry Lucchino to Theo Epstein and through the players—earned the right to strut.

But along the way, they—knowingly or not—morphed into some semblance of what they despised and envied for so long, the Yankees.

Big money; a desirable location; a chance to win; media and fan expectations such that anything other than a World Series win was cause for a bloddletting—all the character traits are in place. They’re mirror images of one another.

The annual failure they sustained for so long became an identity; they seemed to wallow in the pain as if it was a friend that would never abandon nor betray them.

2004 exorcised the demons. They won their second championship three years later. Suddenly an annual playoff appearance looked like a birthright rather than something to be achieved; the aura of hubris became more pronounced and widespread.

Schilling’s personality was part of the Red Sox culture in 2004 and 2007; the fiery leadership of Jason Varitek; the loudness of Dustin Pedroia; the “dirty job but someone’s gotta do it” tone of Kevin Youkilis; the bullying of Josh Beckett; the fist-shaking of Papelbon—these things invited a vitriol around baseball that couldn’t be counteracted by the professionalism and likability of manager Francona and Jon Lester.

You discover the underlying truth about any entity during times of struggle and the Red Sox are currently preparing themselves to lose; formulating how they’ll frame a catastrophic collapse after-the-fact.

It’s a resignation that no amount of team meetings, threats or oratories can overcome.

They have to win some games.

Responsibility?

Apologies?

Angry responses to obnoxious former teammates?

None of this is conducive to escaping the quicksand engulfing them.

They’re mentally reconciling with their current reality and it’s not doing any good.

This has become a self-fulfilling prophecy not seen in Boston since 2003 and 85 years before that when there was a ready-made excuse every single season.

“We’re cursed.”

The curse was broken.

What’s the excuse now?

Is there one?

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