The Red Sox Should’ve Just Paid Papelbon

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Misunderstanding the value of a closer is the Red Sox blindspot.

Adhering too strictly to theories, stats and factoids about closers, the Red Sox have repeatedly made the same mistakes by going back to where their hearts and minds and supposed logic reign instead of where reality and how baseball actually works. They cling to an ideology, occasionally bow to need and concede the point that a legitimate closer is necessary while still holding true to the fanaticism of not paying for saves.

But they are paying for saves with currency other than money and, in retrospect, the $50 million guarantee Jonathan Papelbon received from the Phillies would have been better spent by the Red Sox to keep him rather than do what they’re currently doing, having just acquired their third replacement for him in one year. $50 million is a lot of money, especially for a closer, but here’s the tree of what the Red Sox have spent so far in getting Papelbon’s replacements:

Andrew Bailey

Bailey was acquired from the Athletics and earned $3.9 million in 2012. He spent most of the season on the disabled list with thumb surgery—an unforeseen circumstance to be sure and one that played a large role in the sabotaging of the 2012 season.

To acquire Bailey and Ryan Sweeney however, they surrendered Josh Reddick and two minor leaguers. Sweeney was paid $1.75 million in 2012. Sweeney is a good defensive outfielder in both right and center, but received 219 plate appearances, provided 0 homers, and a .263/.303/.373 slash line, making him nearly worthless at the plate.

Josh Reddick

Reddick earned $485,000 from the Athletics in 2012 and hit 32 homers with 11 stolen bases in 12 attempts and won a Gold Glove in right field for the AL West champs. The Red Sox could certainly have used Reddick in 2012, but they clearly misjudged him, used him as a chip to get a closer and replaced him with Cody Ross.

Cody Ross

Because of his feistiness and everyman likability, Ross became a popular player with the Red Sox and their fans in his lone season as their right fielder. Like Reddick, he could play center field in a pinch; like Reddick he had pop (22 homers), but with no speed and average defense in right field. He cost them $3 million and departed as a free agent for an inexplicable $26 million from the Diamondbacks. To replace Ross, the Red Sox signed Shane Victorino.

Shane Victorino

The Red Sox signed Victorino to a 3-year, $39 million contract. Keith Law referred to Victorino as a “fourth outfielder,” which is absurd. Victorino is a good player with a great attitude and clubhouse presence. He’s versatile and can play both right and center field, is a switch-hitter with power and speed. Victorino gives the Red Sox the freedom to consider trading Jacoby Ellsbury before his heads into free agency after the 2013 season.

That sort of sounds like what Reddick added, except with Reddick they’d have spent around $37.5 million less.

The separate tree to replace Bailey, who replaced Papelbon goes something like this:

Jed Lowrie

Lowrie is an average defensive shortstop at best, but he hit 16 homers with a .769 OPS in 387 plate appearances for the Astros in 2012. He earned $1.15 million last season. The primary Red Sox shortstop, Mike Aviles, had a solid defensive season and hit 13 homers while being paid $1.2 million. It’s a wash on the field, but the Red Sox could’ve gotten something more useful than Melancon for Lowrie.

Aviles was traded to the Blue Jays for the rights to manager John Farrell, whose hiring will be eventually seen as a mistake if he actually has to do some managing rather than sit there and look managerial. Given this roster, his stern face and ability to deal with the press won’t be enough.

Melancon was shipped along with Jerry Sands and Ivan De Jesus Jr. (two players the Red Sox got from the Dodgers in their salary dump/clubhouse enema deal sending Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford to Los Angeles) to the Pirates for Joel Hanrahan.

Mark Melancon

Melancon made $521,000 in 2012. He had closed for the Astros and was acquired to be a set-up man/backup closer for Bailey just in case Bailey got hurt. But when Bailey got hurt, the decision was made (by manager Bobby Valentine or someone in the front office) to use Alfredo Aceves as the closer.

Aceves was, to put it lightly, not Papelbon. As gutty and useful as Aceves was in 2011, he was equally inconsistent, difficult and contentious with management and teammates in 2012.

Melancon? He got off to a dreadful start and wound up back in the minors. When he returned, he pitched better in a far less important role than as the set-up man. To acquire Melancon, the Red Sox gave up Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.

Joel Hanrahan

Now it’s Hanrahan who’s going to be the closer.

Hanrahan is a free agent after 2013, is arbitration eligible and set to make around $7 million next season. He’s probably better-suited than Bailey to the pressure of pitching in Boston as the closer for the demanding Red Sox, but he won’t be a known commodity until he performs. He’s never pitched for a team with these expectations and with free agency beckoning, he might try too hard and pitch poorly. Or he could be Brad Lidge, circa 2008 and be shockingly close to perfect. We don’t know.

All of this is without the horrific misjudgment the team made in trying to make Daniel Bard into a starter and succeeded in nothing more than popping his value like a balloon. Nobody even talks about him anymore, let alone mentions him in a prominent role as a reliever or starter.

Short of re-signing Papelbon, the easy move would’ve been to use the succession theory and simply insert Bard as the closer to replace Papelbon, but they didn’t do that either.

So let’s tally it up:

Hanrahan (±)$7 million + Ross $3 million + Sweeney $1.75 million + Victorino $39 million + Melancon $521,000 = $51.271 million

vs

Papelbon $50 million + Reddick $485,000 + Lowrie $1.2 million = $51.685 million

This is before getting to the Red Sox results in 2012; the dysfunction; and what they could’ve acquired in lieu of Bailey and Hanrahan if they chose to spend the money they spent and players they traded to get them.

Papelbon received a guaranteed $50 million from the Phillies with a vesting option making it worth a possible $63 million. If he reaches the appearance incentives in 2014-2015 to gain the vesting option, that will mean that Papelbon is healthy and pitching well, making the money moot because the club would be getting what they need from him.

The Red Sox never fully appreciated the value of having a pitcher who was automatically the ninth inning man. They’d underestimated the value of a closer in 2003 when not having one cost them the pennant and possibly the World Series; they accepted that they needed one in 2004 when they signed Keith Foulke, paying him $20 million for what amounted to one productive season. If you conducted a poll of everyone involved with the Red Sox from ownership on down and asked them if, prior to 2004, they’d make a bargain in which they paid any closer that amount of money for one season and were rewarded with a World Series, each and every one of them would’ve said yes without a second thought and been right to do it.

Any manager with experience and who isn’t beholden to taking orders from the front office or brainlessly attached to new theories will say that it takes a great deal off his mind to know that when he calls down to the bullpen, more often than not, his closer will be ready and willing to pitch and, the majority of the time, will nail the game down. The numbers of every game in which a club is leading in the ninth inning winning the game being X% regardless of who closes the game is separate from the sigh of relief self-assuredness the team as a whole feels when a Papelbon is out there.

Yet they still hold onto that ideology like it’s the last bastion of what they aspire to be.

A year after Papelbon’s outstanding rookie year in 2006, they put forth the farce of making him a starter before acquiescing to reality and shifting him back to the bullpen. In large part to Papelbon, they were rewarded with a World Series win in 2007.

Conceded the point; clinging; practically; financially; logistically; ideologically; injuries—there are so many words to attach to why the Red Sox run on this treadmill, but none cancel out that the simplest and smartest option would have been to re-sign Papelbon.

You can go on about his WAR being less than 2 wins in both 2011 and 2012, his failures late in the season of 2011 and how he was inaccurately perceived as a clubhouse problem. How inaccurate that was only became known in 2012 when it wound up being Youkilis, Beckett and the other malcontents who were the troublemakers and not Papelbon, who came to play every day.

You can mention the injury concerns, but as you can see in this posting on Fire Brand of the American League, the Red Sox medical staff hasn’t distinguished itself in a positive way in recent years.

You can talk about Papelbon “wanting” to leave or the clubhouse issues, but sometimes all it takes is a branch of communication and the expression from the club that they truly wanted him and said so. They never did. They constantly diminished his importance by refusing to give him a lucrative long-term contract to forego his arbitration years and free agency as they did with other young stars Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Kevin Youkilis. They gave Beckett a 4-year $68 million extension. They paid $106 million in total for Daisuke Matsuzaka. They gave Crawford $142 million. They gave John Lackey $82.5 million.

There was no money to pay one of the best closers in baseball over the past seven years? No financial wherewithal to pay one who had proven himself in the post-season where the true separation between the Mariano Rivera-type and the Joe Nathan-type is made? They were unable to provide a reasonable deal and tell Papelbon that they wanted him back? That was too much of a commitment?

The bottom line with Papelbon is that he was proven in the post-season, durable, able to handle the cauldron of baseball madness that is Boston, and they knew what they were getting without having to do a tapdance to replace him.

Hanrahan might work out or he might become another Bailey. They don’t know. With Papelbon, they did know. They just went cheap and retreated to their core beliefs of not paying for a closer while presenting a litany of excuses as to why they were doing it. All they succeeded in doing, though, was to cost themselves more money and prospects, simultaneously adding more questions to the ones that would’ve been answered had they just accepted reality and paid Papelbon to stay.

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The Red Sox, Hanrahan and “Stuff”

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For a team that has historically made clear that they don’t think much of designated closers, the Red Sox acquire an awful lot of them. Occasionally the operative term is “awful.”

It’s not so much that they keep trading for closers simultaneously to making the point of not paying money for saves, it’s that last winter they acquired Andrew Bailey to be the “ace” out of the bullpen and Mark Melancon to back him up, but that they gave up “stuff” to get them and turned around a year later, giving up more “stuff” (including Melancon) to get Joel Hanrahan to replace Bailey. Eventually, that pile of “stuff” could wind up having been better used if the Red Sox had kept them (Josh Reddick) or used them in different trades to fill other holes.

The trade for Bailey was understandable. They needed to replace Jonathan Papelbon and Bailey wasn’t set to be a free agent until after 2014. In retrospect and considering the ancillary factors—the players they traded, the reluctance to waste a draft pick by signing a big name free agent, Bailey’s injury and Melancon’s failure—they would have been better off simply paying Papelbon. With Papelbon, at least they knew what they had and wouldn’t have gone through this level of histrionics to fill his underappreciated shoes.

The acquisition of Hanrahan is different from the one of Bailey in several ways. In this trade, they traded Jerry Sands, Ivan De Jesus Jr., Stolmy Pimentel and Melancon to the Pirates for Hanrahan and Brock Holt. They had acquired Sands and De Jesus Jr. in the August housecleaning that dispatched Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto to the Dodgers and the club had no future plans for either of them, so trading them for Hanrahan makes sense.

Hanrahan doesn’t have the injury history that Bailey does and he’s a short-term solution with free agency on the horizon after 2013. If they’re struggling as a team and he pitches well, they can trade him at mid-season. Once he enters the free agent market, they can keep him for another year if he accepts their qualifying offer or they can get a draft pick when he signs elsewhere.

Teams are increasingly reluctant to surrender draft picks or overpay financially for “name” closers, but the Red Sox keep giving up assets to get them.

For all the talk of GM Ben Cherington now being in charge of the operation, evidenced by the hiring of “his” manager, John Farrell, and the flurry of “character” players he’s signing on short-term deals to improve a toxic clubhouse, he should not get a pass for 2012, nor should the disastrous product be labeled the sole responsibility of former manager Bobby Valentine. Valentine was a part of the problem, but not the problem. The same foundation of players from the 2012 club behaved as abhorrently as they did when the team collapsed in 2011 and forced the departures of Terry Francona and Theo Epstein.

Nothing’s been solved. They’re just making changes. Sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

The 2013 Red Sox are more palatable and are being credited for the new atmosphere, but in spite of media accolades they’re still not much better than they were and the talk that they’re returning to what built their championship clubs is inaccurate, because that’s not what they’re doing at all.

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Off Season Losers In Retrospect

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Several days ago I listed the off season winners in retrospect discussing teams and the moves they made this past winter. Now it’s time for the losers.

New York Yankees

Acquired: Michael Pineda, Raul Ibanez, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Jose Campos

Subtracted: Jorge Posada, A.J. Burnett, Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi

The YES Network website still hasn’t mentioned Jose Campos since he got hurt. For that matter, nor have they mentioned Manny Banuelos’s recent injury. Maybe they haven’t been informed yet. Yeah. That’s it.

The trade of Montero and Noesi for Pineda and Campos is an absolute and utter disaster—a fireable offense for GM Brian Cashman.

Kuroda’s been good and unlucky.

Pettitte’s unexpected return has been a bolt from the blue and Ibanez has contributed the power I expected.

It’s fine to talk about them “having” to get rid of Burnett, but they’re paying him; they got low minor leaguers for him; he’s pitching well for the Pirates; and the players the Yankees got haven’t played yet in 2012. Had Pettitte not returned I guarantee there would be people now lamenting the loss of Burnett.

Guarantee.

Boston Red Sox

Acquired: GM Ben Cherington, Manager Bobby Valentine, Andrew Bailey, Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Mark Melancon, Nick Punto

Subtracted: GM Theo Epstein, Manager Terry Francona, Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scutaro, Josh Reddick, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek

It’s only when you look at the list above all at once do you realize how rancid an off-season the Red Sox had. Never mind the exchange of GMs/managers. Had he stayed, Epstein probably would’ve had better success fending off the advancing power grab of Larry Lucchino but it would’ve taken a Herculean effort for Epstein to prevent the mediocrity that the Red Sox have become.

I’m sick of seeing Francona complaining about how he was treated in Boston. If it weren’t for the Red Sox, the hot chicks to whom he’s sending candid photos of himself wouldn’t know who he is; not to mention would he not have two World Series rings and respect as a “great” manager—which he’s not.

Bailey got hurt as Reddick is on his way to making the All Star team and has been the Athletics’ best player. Melancon is back in the minor leagues; Shoppach is on the trade block; Ross was playing well before he got hurt; Punto is Punto.

No one’s saying they should’ve overpaid to keep Papelbon, but giving Scutaro away for a journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen made no sense.

Detroit Tigers

Acquired: Prince Fielder, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Collin Balester

Subtracted: Wilson Betemit, Brad Penny, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Joel Zumaya

Fielder and Cabrera are doing their jobs at the plate and more. The porous defense created by the signing of Fielder and shifting of Cabrera to third base hasn’t been as catastrophic as expected. That’s unless the pitching staff has it in their heads that they have to strike out more hitters or pitch differently to prevent balls from being hit to the right or left sides of the infield—highly unlikely.

The Tigers are 5 games under .500 because their pitching has been bad. The off-season isn’t a failure because of the signing of Fielder, but 5 games under .500 wasn’t what Mike Ilitch had in mind when he paid all that money to sign a huge bat like Fielder to replace Victor Martinez and team him with Cabrera.

Minnesota Twins

Acquired: GM Terry Ryan, Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll, Jason Marquis, Ryan Doumit, Joel Zumaya

Subtracted: GM Bill Smith, Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Kevin Slowey

Terry Ryan was supposed to come back into the GM’s chair and start doing things the “Twins’ Way”. Well, that “way” is no longer working. The reason that vaunted “way” worked in the past was because they had talent on the roster and a club that was built for how Ron Gardenhire managed.

That’s no longer the case.

Marquis was released. Carroll hasn’t hit. Willingham’s been fantastic. The Zumaya signing was worth a shot I suppose, but he got hurt again. What he needs now is a friend—a real friend—to tell him that it’s over and he should retire before he damages himself permanently.

Maybe that’s what the Twins need too.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Acquired: GM Jerry Dipoto, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Chris Iannetta, Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins

Subtracted: GM Tony Reagins, Fernando Rodney, Jeff Mathis, Tyler Chatwood

Pujols has started hitting and the Angels will rise and fall on what he does, but the uncharacteristic decision on the part of the Angels to depart from the template they’ve adhered to for a decade has led to this disconnect between GM Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia and the club.

Scioscia’s hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, was fired against Scioscia’s wishes. They never took serious steps to bolster the bullpen and had too many players for too few lineup spots.

Owner Arte Moreno made maneuvers that were not team-related, but related to the TV deal he wanted to secure. And he did.

They did business like the 1980s Yankees and they’ve been playing and behaving like the 1980s Yankees. The one thing that will save them is the thing that was lacking in the 1980s: the Wild Cards.

Cincinnati Reds

Acquired: Mat Latos, Ryan Madson, Ryan Ludwick

Subtracted: Ramon Hernandez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, Edgar Renteria, Francisco Cordero

The Reds are in first place and playing well no thanks to Latos (he’s been horrific); Madson (out for the year with Tommy John surgery); and Ludwick (.205/.290/.402 slash line with 6 homers in a homer-friendly home park).

It’s not as if they needed Alonso with Joey Votto ensconced at first base. They have a young catcher in Devin Mesoraco so they didn’t really need Grandal. And Volquez has been consistently inconsistent and injured since his great rookie year with the Reds.

But the winter moves are what’s relevant here and if they’d held onto the players they traded for Latos (and I’m not retrospectively ripping the deal since I thought it was good for both sides), they could’ve gotten mid-season help rather than an in-season nightmare.

Milwaukee Brewers

Acquired: Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, Norichika Aoki, Jose Veras, Brooks Conrad

Subtracted: Prince Fielder, Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee

Ramirez is starting to hit and will hit put up numbers by the end of the season. We’ll never know whether the improved defense and pop from Alex Gonzalez and a full season from Mat Gamel would’ve made up for the loss of Fielder because both blew out their knees within days of each other.

It’s not really anyone’s fault. They did the best they could under their financial and practical circumstances.

St. Louis Cardinals

Acquired: Manager Mike Matheny, Carlos Beltran, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist

Subtracted: Manager Tony LaRussa, pitching coach Dave Duncan, Albert Pujols, Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Nick Punto.

So wait…now that the Cardinals are at .500 and freefalling it’s been miraculously discovered that the transition from a Hall of Fame manager/pitching coach combination to a manager who’s never managed before anywhere wasn’t going to go as smoothly as it did when they got off to a hot start?

That replacing Pujols wasn’t as simple as signing Beltran and moving the now-injured 36-year-old Lance Berkman to first base?

Shocking.

Colorado Rockies

Acquired: Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez, Jeremy Guthrie, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Colvin, Jamie Moyer

Subtracted: Chris Iannetta, Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom, Ian Stewart, Seth Smith

The starting pitching has killed them.

They loaded up on starters, but it hasn’t been enough as Drew Pomeranz got hurt and they gave Moyer 10 starts. It hasn’t helped that Hammel has been very good for the Orioles while Guthrie has been terrible for the Rockies.

Cuddyer has been everything advertised. Scutaro and Hernandez haven’t.

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Bard’s Start Complicates Matters

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Daniel Bard made his first major league start against the Blue Jays last night and the line was ugly: 5 innings; 8 hits; 5 earned runs; 1 walk; and 6 strikeouts. He threw 96 pitches and 65 strikes and didn’t allow a homer.

But the bottom line of the boxscore is misleading. In fact, most of the runs were scored on placement rather than power. Bard’s biggest problem was the inability to throw his changeup for strikes.

Neftali Feliz made his first major league start as well and his line was far more impressive: 7 innings; 4 hits; 0 runs; 2 walks; and 4 strikeouts. He threw 108 pitches and 68 strikes.

Bard took the loss. Feliz got the win. In truth, they didn’t pitch all that differently. Feliz had better control of his changeup and worse control with his fastball and slider.

None of that is going to matter to those who’ve already made their minds up on how Bard needs to be utilized. Because he gave up 5 runs and the Red Sox bullpen is still in flux, the calls will continue to shift Bard into the closer’s role. After all, the argument will go, he lost and didn’t pitch “well”.

The results weren’t good, but Bard was good enough to win if he’d had some better luck.

There will be no such calls for Feliz to be moved back to the bullpen.

Why?

Because the Rangers signed a veteran closer, Joe Nathan, to take over for Feliz, there’s no debate as to Feliz’s role. He’s a starter, period.

The Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey, who got hurt; and Mark Melancon, who they don’t trust; and they’re trying Alfredo Aceves as the closer now in a desperation maneuver that’s probably not going to work.

With the Rangers depth in the starting rotation and inexpensive signing of Nathan, they don’t have to concern themselves with perception. The Red Sox don’t have that luxury in either area, so they’re going to endure constant demands to put Bard where he “belongs”.

There’s a dichotomy of purpose in Boston. On one hand, the players, coaching staff and manager want Bard to do well in whatever role he’s in; on the other, they might want to see him do badly enough as a starter that the front office has no choice but to sign off on the move that the on-field staff wants to make and switch him to the bullpen to insert veteran Aaron Cook into the starting rotation.

And don’t think Cook isn’t watching and waiting for his opportunity; if that means he’s silently hoping that Bard pitches poorly as a starter, so be it.

Cook pitched well in his first start for Pawtucket.

Bard’s work last night complicates matters and every game the Red Sox play—and every start Cook makes in Triple A—will be relevant to how the team moves forward.

All will try to twist the results in the direction they prefer and their agendas will lead them; but if Bard keeps pitching as he did last night, there’s not going to be an obvious answer. A decision will have to be made and they’re going to have to stick to it.

It’s not going to be simple one way or the other.

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The Negative Validation of Bobby V

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In his first opportunity to show that he’s learned from his mistakes, all Bobby Valentine proved was that he hasn’t changed.

He’s a great manager and a self-destructive force who will insist on going down his way.

That’s not a good thing.

Last season, when Terry Collins took over the Mets after a 10-year absence from managing in the big leagues, many who knew him and his intense, overbearing ways didn’t think there would be a “new” Terry. At the first sign of trouble, he’d revert to the raving maniac that polarized two talented clubhouses and labeled him as an impossible person to deal with.

Collins is still intense and fiery, but has toned down his act to discipline his clubhouse while not alienating it.

The Red Sox veterans viewed the hiring of Valentine with, at best, trepidation.

Throughout spring training the media tried to stoke the fires of controversy with everything Valentine did. From bunting to his lineup and bullpen decisions to the supposed “rift” between him and GM Ben Cherington, the traps were set for the “old” Bobby V—condescending, abrasive, uncontrollably arrogant, vindictive—to appear.

For the most part he kept himself in check.

But on opening day he reverted to the old Bobby V in one of the worst ways imaginable.

In the past, one issue he constantly had was the way he ran his clubs in a self-interested, paranoid, cold-hearted fashion.

The players didn’t trust him because he didn’t trust them.

The list of players with whom Valentine had public dust-ups included Todd Hundley, Pete Harnisch, Darryl Hamilton, Bobby Bonilla, Goose Gossage and David Wells.

Wells never actually played for Valentine.

Yesterday Valentine contradicted himself, the organizational strategy based on stats and told the players that he didn’t trust them to do their defined jobs.

One argument that stat people constantly use is to adhere to the percentages. That’s evolved into the rote maneuver of never using the “closer” in a tie game on the road unless they have no choice. Valentine had a choice.

Of course it’s ridiculous to cling to an ironclad strategy to be used in the face of reason, experience and situation, but the one thing Valentine did not want to do—on opening day!!!—is to give the veteran players a reason to start bashing him behind his back more than they already are.

By using Mark Melancon in the tie game and then panicking by yanking Melancon after, with one out, the next two Tigers’ hitters in the tenth inning got on base with balls that were conveniently placed and not hit hard, he told the players something they already suspected and were presumably whispering about from the time he was hired: he’s a mircomanager who won’t put the game in our hands.

Contrast that with Charlie Manuel—a manager the players love and run to play for.

Manuel was criticized in recent years because he stuck with Brad Lidge too long as closer when Lidge couldn’t get anyone out; for letting Jimmy Rollins run wild with his outrageous statements; for letting Ryan Howard swing on a 3-0 count in the NLDS last season with his team down a run and Howard in a horrific slump.

But for all of his perceived strategic lapses, the players know what they’re getting from Cholly privately because that’s what they get publicly.

Cholly’s got their backs because his actions are in the front.

He gives his players rope and if they hang themselves and the team with it, so be it.

Can Valentine say that?

Right off the bat, he’s telling Melancon, the entire roster and upper management that he doesn’t think much of a pitcher he’s going to need to do well if the Red Sox are going to contend.

This is not a defense of Melancon, who I think is mediocre, it’s a statement that even if they’d lost with Melancon (which they wound up doing anyway with “closer” Alfredo Aceves), it would’ve been a better conclusion because Valentine wouldn’t have immediately validated the players’ fears about him.

If the players believe the manager is out for himself—trying not to be criticized; always holding his finger over the panic button; nitpicking—they’re going to tune out and quickly look at their own situations superceding team goals.

With most managers it would be judged as one game in a 162 game season. With Valentine it’s a signal that he hasn’t changed; that he’s still going to ignore his mandate; that he’ll shun long-term harmony for one game desperation.

The Red Sox had better start winning games fast or by early May the ticking time bomb that is Valentine in that mercurial clubhouse will be set to detonate.

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With Bailey Out, Bard May Wind Up Closing

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Red Sox intended closer Andrew Bailey’s thumb surgery is set to cost him a large chunk of the season.

The Red Sox didn’t give up a ton to get Bailey and the decision to let Jonathan Papelbon go and replace him with someone younger and cheaper was one of the few things the club did this past winter that was in line with their original organizational theory hatched during the early years of Theo Epstein’s tenure: don’t overpay for saves.

That led to the hackneyed “bullpen by committee” in 2003 which likely cost them the World Series; and they were set to do it again in 2007 before Papelbon went to management and asked to be placed back in the bullpen.

But they altered the plot when they signed Keith Foulke for 2004 and left Papelbon where he belonged in 2007—in the bullpen.

The Red Sox won the World Series in both cases.

There’s a similar dynamic now with Daniel Bard.

They’re not identical, but similar.

Papelbon was being given an audition as a starter in the spring of 2007 and the Red Sox didn’t bother to go out and get a legitimate closer in the previous off-season so the hovering question was: if not Papelbon, then who?

Papelbon had saved 35 games as a rookie in 2006, so the Red Sox knew he could do it; Bard has struggled in his few auditions as a replacement closer and is now being tried as a starter in the face of organizational debate as to what his role should be.

In 2007, the Red Sox had the starting pitching depth to shift Papelbon back to the bullpen; now they can’t say the same with Bard.

They need him as a starter and they kindasorta have someone who’s closed before with Mark Melancon.

But a team with championship aspirations and two highly inexperienced starting pitchers in Bard and Felix Doubront backing their rotation shouldn’t feel comfortable with their circumstances.

It’s either keep Bard in the rotation and try Melancon as the closer for awhile to see what happens or move Bard to the bullpen, use Alfredo AcevesAaron Cook, Vicente Padilla and/or wait until Daisuke Matsuzaka comes back.

There have been renewed entreaties for the Red Sox to sign Roy Oswalt, but Oswalt’s not going to be ready to go until May and by then the team should have a gauge on where they are in the standings, on the field, with who they have and what they need.

Bard didn’t pitch particularly well as a starter in the spring and with the aforementioned wonderment as to his optimal role, there’s a chance that he could make a start or two in the regular season and be sent back to the bullpen to close.

The options are not dazzling, but the Red Sox may not have much of a choice.

//

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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Analyzing the Red Sox-A’s Trade

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Athletics trade RHP Andrew Bailey and OF Ryan Sweeney to the Red Sox for OF Josh Reddick, minor league 1B Miles Head and minor league RHP Raul Alcantara.

For the Red Sox:

After trading for Mark Melancon and claiming to be comfortable with him as their closer, the Red Sox were still loitering around Ryan Madson and Francisco Cordero and trying to trade for Bailey and Gio Gonzalez.

They needed a legitimate closer and starting help. With the trades for Melancon and Bailey, they accomplished both.

In a more understated fashion than the Rangers maneuver of signing Joe Nathan and shifting closer Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation, the Red Sox are going to attempt something similar with Daniel Bard. Bard was a starter in the minors, struggled when given the chance to close and had a brief slump at the end of the 2011 season as the set-up man that cost the club dearly during their September collapse. He’s 26 and in the same vein of limiting his innings as a starter, the Red Sox were able to build up his tolerance without indulging in the damaging charade the Yankees did with Joba Chamberlain; as he enters his prime years, Bard will be able to give them 180 innings and slowly build until he’s a legitimate, 200+ inning starter.

Of course, that’s contingent on him being good at it. Bard has a power fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s; a slider and a changeup—there’s no reason to think he won’t transition well to the rotation.

I wouldn’t trust Melancon as my closer. Bailey is a two-time All-Star and former Rookie of the Year who throws strikes, doesn’t allow many homers and strikes out around a batter-per-inning; the only concern with him is his troublesome elbow, but for two low-level minor leaguers and an extra outfielder, he’s worth it as a far cheaper alternative to the free agents that are still on the market.

Sweeney is two years older than Reddick (almost to the day) and is an up-the-middle/opposite field hitter who might benefit from the Green Monster. Reddick is better defensively and Sweeney is a more proven big league player.

As a win-now team with a new, veteran manager and clubhouse loaded with veterans, the two minor leaguers the Red Sox surrendered weren’t going to help this current group, so it made sense to deal them.

For the Athletics:

I went into detail about Billy Beane’s latest rebuild in my last posting.

Strategy aside, the return for Bailey seems a bit short. Two low-level minor leaguers for an in-demand, All Star closer? Elbow problems or not, the A’s could’ve held out and waited to see if something better came along.

Head will be 21 in May and is reminiscent of the return to the Moneyball storyline of slightly out-of-shape players who hit for power and get on base. He was a 26th round draft pick in 2009.

Alcantara has good numbers in the low minors, but he just turned 19.

Who knows?

Neither is close to the big leagues.

Reddick is an extra player who might blossom if given the opportunity to play regularly. He’s shown good pop in the minors and some speed. Truthfully, what difference does it make to the A’s whether they play Reddick every day and he turns out to be better suited as a fourth outfielder? Other than to raid them for veteran, mid-season help, no one’s paying much attention to them anyway.

This trade suits the purposes of both sides although at first glance the advantage goes to the Red Sox. The Red Sox get their closer; the A’s clear out another veteran for the future (somewhere off in the distance, presumably in San Jose).

On the “ridiculous analysis” front, in this posting on CBS Sports, Jon Heyman said the following:

All in all, this was new Red Sox GM Ben Cherington’s finest moment as GM(…)

Um. Yeah. I tend to agree. After being on the job a little over two months, it’s his finest moment just ahead of getting a new chair for his office and not drooling on himself during dinner at the winter meetings.

Bravo.

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The Red Sox Vault Is Closed

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After they spent big last winter to try and win in 2011, the Red Sox were seen to have filled all of their holes; built a run-scoring machine of a lineup; shored up their bullpen; and placed themselves in a position blow away the competition in both the regular season and the playoffs.

They didn’t.

The reasons for the downfall and collapse will be debated forever.

The likelihood is that one specific incident wasn’t the catalyst for the failure, but minute cracks that manifested themselves over time; cracks that were irreparable, exploitable and resulted in an embarrassing stumble and post-season bloodletting of departures, allocating of blame and alibis.

If the partings with Terry Francona and Theo Epstein weren’t enough, the Red Sox went in the opposite direction of what they’d done in the past by hiring Bobby Valentine as manager.

Valentine is decidedly not a middle-managing functionary in the Moneyball fashion who’s hired to implement front office edicts and do as he’s told for short money.

He’s going to let his feelings be known and do as he sees fit without relying on consensus and organizational planning to dictate which reliever he uses when, in writing the lineups or other on-field decisions.

In a similar vein, the Red Sox rampant spending is over.

They didn’t post a bid for Yu Darvish; they haven’t been mentioned as anything other than a historically wary “oh, them” option for the name free agents; and they’re making under-the-radar and cheap acquisitions to fill their holes.

They allowed Jonathan Papelbon to leave without a fight and have steered clear of the “name” closers.

They may be willing to sign a proven closer like Ryan Madson, but it’s not going to be for the $44 million he and his agent Scott Boras were requesting. He’ll be lucky to match Heath Bell’s $27 million over three-years from the Red Sox or anyone else.

The Red Sox have chosen a different route from the headline-grabbing Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez acquisitions of a year ago.

Mark Melancon is the newest addition to the bullpen via trade from the Astros for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.

They shunned a large expenditure on a DH as David Ortiz accepted their offer of salary arbitration.

They signed a competent partner catcher for Jarrod Saltalamacchia with Kelly Shoppach and a veteran utilityman Nick Punto to replace Lowrie.

Jason Varitek‘s and Tim Wakefield’s playing careers are done in Boston.

The vault is closed.

Rather than toss more money at their problems, the Red Sox are using a different strategy in hoping that Crawford rebounds; Clay Buchholz returns from injury; the bullpen survives without the intimidating closer (Madson or no Madson); and that Valentine is able to rein in a fractured and out-of-control clubhouse.

In years past, Epstein sought to build a team that would have a consistent pipeline of talent and operate under a need-based free agency/trade-style; as they grew more successful, the fan base, media and front office were unsatisfied with the peaks and valleys inherent with accepting down years as necessary to reasonably priced consistency and they became a carbon copy of their arch-enemies, the Yankees. As was the case with Mark Teixeira, it became a case of which team was going to pay more to get the quarry and anything short of a World Series win wasn’t good enough.

The Red Sox won the hot stove battle a year ago, but that didn’t equate into the expected regular season dominance and post-season glory.

Now they’ve stopped tossing money around and are going with cheaper alternatives and the hopes for a rebound of what’s already there.

Under new GM and Epstein protégé Ben Cherington, they’re refusing to spend wildly—which is what Epstein loathed doing in his early years running the team; this might be on orders from ownership and is preferable to the GM.

But they have spent and hired a different type of manager from their original template—that too is likely to have been done on orders from ownership; Cherington wouldn’t have hired Valentine if the choice were his and his alone.

It’s a mixture of old and new; it’s understandable; and it won’t work unless the highly paid players they already had do their jobs and Valentine is able to maintain a sense of discipline that disappeared under Francona.

Don’t expect splashy headlines this winter from the Red Sox because this is pretty much it.

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The Johnny Sain Travel Guide

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Here’s a quote from Ball Four by Jim Bouton:

Every once in a while there’s a guy that doesn’t fit into the coaching mold, a man with an original idea or two who’s not afraid to express them, a guy who would like to have some influence on the club. I mean a guy like Johnny Sain. And what happens to him? He moves around a lot. He has to, because as soon as he asserts himself the manager wants to get rid of him, no matter how good a job he’s doing. (Ball Four by Jim Bouton, page 287.)

I thought of this as soon as I read that Brad Arnsberg had been fired by the Houston Astros.

It’s hard to get a gauge on Arsnberg because there are publicly differing opinions about him.

After he was fired by the Marlins in their 2003 purge, he was savaged by the club for his reaction to the firing. It wasn’t temperamental owner Jeffrey Loria who made negative statements about Arnsberg, but respected GM Larry Beinfest who accused the former pitching coach of being unprofessional and bordering on violent to the point where he wasn’t allowed into the stadium to pick up his belongings—Sun Journal Story, 5.12.2003.

It certainly didn’t help Arnsberg’s cause that the Marlins went on to win the World Series that year with new manager Jack McKeon replacing Jeff Torborg and pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal replacing Arnsberg.

Moving on with the Blue Jays, Arsnberg was widely credited with the work of veterans Ted Lilly and A.J. Burnett, along with youngsters Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch; it’s not hard to look smart when working with Roy Halladay.

Arnsberg was basically pilfered by the Astros after the 2009 season. Star pitching coaches are generally in demand due to reputation and a prior record of success. Sometimes it works—as has been the case with Larry Rothschild and Rick Peterson; other times it hasn’t as was the case with Leo Mazzone.

It’s fleeting and based on results.

Or other factors.

The Astros pitched well last season. Brett Myers rejuvenated his career; J.A. Happ was solid after being acquired from the Phillies; Bud Norris has been good; Mark Melancon has blossomed.

Who knows what was going on inside the Astros organization and clubhouse? Did manager Brad Mills feel threatened by Arnsberg? Was there a falling out? Did they feel like doing something to try and wake up a struggling (and pretty poor) club.

“Philosophical differences” is a convenient excuse for a change and it’s of a similar vein to the “lack of communication” absurdity that’s often used when there’s no explicable reason.

I have no problem with a GM saying, “I wanted to make a change”. He doesn’t have to give a reason. He’s the boss.

But clubs don’t see it that way. They think they have to give something tangible to the media and “feeling like it” doesn’t cut it.

Years ago, when the Marlins had several pitchers on the disabled list with injuries to different parts of their bodies, I suggested that perhaps Arnsberg was the common denominator.

I’ve evolved from this view.

Very rare is it that a pitching coach will have training techniques that deviate from the norm so egregiously that pitchers will take part in them to begin with; and if they’re so unusual, it’s hard to see any manager allowing them to be utilized or the pitching coach to make it up to the big leagues.

It goes back to the Johnny Sain travel guide and the main tenet: don’t usurp the manager’s authority by disagreeing with him.

There are pitching coaches like this still floating around. Dick Pole has bounced from team-to-team, usually working for Dusty Baker. None other than Greg Maddux has said that it was Pole who taught him a great deal about the mechanics and mental aspects of pitching that Maddux used to forge a Hall of Fame career.

But Pole is as much-traveled as Sain was.

And Arnsberg is on the way to catching up to these men with their honorable, but short-lived reputations for accumulating frequent flyer miles and different mailing addresses.

Go along to get along or get fired for “philosophical differences” and “lack of communication”.

Some men are willing. Others aren’t. Those that aren’t tend to move around a lot and have extreme reputations. From the outside, this appears to be the case with Brad Arnsberg.

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