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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The Red Sox-Dodgers Trade, Part IV—For The Teams, For the Players

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Let’s look at how this affects the teams and the players.

For the Dodgers

The Dodgers are under new ownership and GM Ned Colletti got the nod to go for it now and boy, is he. After trading for Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, and Joe Blanton, he also claimed Cliff Lee on waivers only to see the Phillies pull him back. There’s a difference between “wanting” and being “willing to take”. Colletti wanted Adrian Gonzalez and was willing to take Josh Beckett in order to get it done. Lest anyone believe that the Dodgers weren’t serious about their willingness to take on heavy salary as Colletti claimed both Gonzalez and Beckett. Had a deal not been consummated, there was a real possibility that the Red Sox would simply have given Beckett to the Dodgers. Not so with Gonzalez. Carl Crawford will be in left field for the Dodgers at some point in 2013 replacing the rotating list of names that included Marcus Thames, Juan Rivera, Bobby Abreu and now the pending free agent Victorino, who most assuredly won’t be back with the Dodgers in 2013.

The Dodgers needed a power-hitting first baseman to replace the light-hitting James Loney; they went after Gonzalez several times when he was still with the Padres; and Beckett is an extra arm in the rotation with post-season success in his past. They have the money and the desire, nor did they give up their top prospects to get this done.

For the Red Sox

This is a housecleaning and fumigation.

Naturally, as is the case with this current Red Sox group, there was additional controversy when closer Alfredo Aceves threw a tantrum and stormed out of manager Bobby Valentine’s office after Andrew Bailey was used to close a game instead of Aceves. It was obscured by the magnitude of this trade, but was a symptom of what’s gone wrong in Boston not just since Valentine took over, but going back to last season. On that note, Aceves is not the long-term Red Sox closer. Bailey is. I don’t think anyone should get worked up over the happiness or unhappiness of a useful journeyman with a long history of injuries like Aceves.

Gonzalez was a bad fit in Boston. He’s quiet and religious and was reluctant to step to the forefront as a leader.

Crawford was miserable and injured.

Beckett had behaved like a spoiled rotten brat and a bully.

Whether the Red Sox are going to keep Valentine for the second year of his contract remains to be seen, but this trade was an admission that they couldn’t go forward with Valentine or anyone else and maintain the construction of the roster and the hierarchy of the clubhouse as it was. They cleared out $261 million and left themselves flexibility to alter the on-field product as much as the poisoned off-field perception that has exemplified their team since 2011.

Let’s say the Red Sox were unable to make a trade like this and they gave in to the complaints of the players regarding Valentine. Then what? What if they hired another manager and that manager irritated the veteran players in a different way. What if he was strategically inept; soft on discipline; unable to handle the media; or what if they just didn’t like him? Then what? Were they going to give the babies another pacifier and fire him too?

They could’ve stuck a mannequin in a Red Sox uniform at the corner of the dugout with the words NOT VALENTINE stitched across his shoulder blades and until those players found a mirror and chose to act and play like professionals, it wouldn’t have made one bit of difference this season or next.

They made a bold decision to cut ties with players who no longer wanted to be with the Red Sox or shouldn’t have been with the Red Sox in the first place. Now they can move on and start again.

Adrian Gonzalez

Gonzalez is a West Coast-type who will be much better off as the silent and powerful lineup partner to Matt Kemp. As gifted a player as he is, he does not want to be the vocal leader. But if he was truly behind the text message to Red Sox ownership complaining about Valentine, then he has to make a decision: either he wants to be a representative of the team and lead or he wants to sit in the background and be left alone and do his job. He can have one or the other, but not both.

Gonzalez will be playing for a kindred spirit in manager Don Mattingly. Gonzalez has been a key member of three separate teams that collapsed in September to blow playoff spots that should have been sewn up. Mattingly’s Yankees teams were forever in turmoil and didn’t turn the corner until Mattingly’s career and greatness were dismantled by injuries. Mattingly wasn’t a vocal leader either in spite of being the captain of the Yankees and when he tried to be, it came out as awkward.

Gonzalez will revert to the MVP-candidate he was with the Padres, back on the Coast he never should have left.

Josh Beckett

It wasn’t his behavior that was the biggest problem with the Red Sox. That’s saying a lot considering how out of shape he was; how unwilling he was to acknowledge any more than the tiniest bit of responsibility nor regret for the Red Sox coming apart under Terry Francona and his part in the debacle.

It was Beckett’s frequent injuries and rancid performances indicative of someone who was saying, “Get me outta here,” in multiple ways.

I’m not prepared to say that Beckett, with his declining velocity, doughy midsection, and injuries will be what the Dodgers want: a post-season performer and ace who loves the spotlight. In fact, I’d expect something close to what he was with the Red Sox for the rest of 2012 at least. Perhaps Kemp and Mattingly can convince Beckett to show up in shape in 2013, but it’s no guarantee.

Carl Crawford

He was terrible offensively. He was terrible defensively. He looked unhappy. And he was constantly injured.

Crawford was a true 5-tool player with the Rays who degenerated to nothing almost immediately upon pulling a Red Sox jersey over his shoulders. Another bad fit who was something of a redundancy with Jacoby Ellsbury already in the Red Sox outfield, Crawford couldn’t get used to the scrutiny that he never experienced in Tampa; and he couldn’t get the hang of the Green Monster.

Crawford’s struggles are one of the reasons that those who criticize Jim Rice as a bad defensive player as an absolutist declaration of his poor Hall of Fame credentials are leaving out facts as convenient to their argument. Rice was a left fielder for the Boston Red Sox meaning that he had to learn to play the quirks and angles of that wall. He did it as well as anyone and found himself on the outside looking in at the Hall of Fame because he wasn’t Dave Winfield defensively.

Crawford might eventually have learned to handle Boston and overcome his injuries to again become the player he was, but this opportunity was too good to pass up for the Red Sox.

As for the Dodgers, they’re getting a great player who can still be a great player once he’s healthy and happy in Southern California.

Nick Punto

Yeah. It’s Nick Punto. He can do some useful things here and there I guess.

James Loney

When Mattingly took over as Dodgers manager I was sure that he was going to exert the same pressure on Loney that Lou Piniella did on Mattingly to turn on the inside pitches and hit for more power. Mattingly did and became an MVP and megastar. Loney got worse under Mattingly.

He’s a first baseman who doesn’t hit for any power at all and is a short-term guest for the Red Sox as a free agent at the end of the season. The Red Sox might spin him off somewhere by August 31st.

Allen Webster

Webster is a right-handed starting pitcher who was picked by the Dodgers in the 18th round of the 2008 draft. He’s put up solid numbers in the minors and, after having watched a YouTube clip of him appears to be a control-type righty with a mechanical, slightly across-his-body motion. Judging from that, he’s a back-of-the-rotation starter and not someone about whom anyone should get into a twist about surrendering…or acquiring.

Ivan de Jesus Jr.

The son of former big league shortstop Ivan de Jesus, De Jesus Jr was the 2nd round pick of the Dodgers in 2005. He’s 25 and was stagnating as a 4-A player. Perhaps he can be a useful utility player.

Jerry Sands

Given the proliferation of statistics, there’s an idea that a player like Sands needs little more than a chance to play and he’ll replicate his massive minor league power numbers with a different organization. Sands has been a big-time power hitter in the minors for the Dodgers (functioning in the light air of Albuquerque) and never gotten a legitimate chance to play in the big leagues.

Think about this for a second. The Dodgers have had a gaping hole in left field going back years and refused to give Sands a chance to play. Doesn’t it make sense that the Dodgers would know more about Sands than some guy studying Sands’s stats and determining that “all he needs is a chance”?

He’s big and he’s righty. Maybe he can benefit from the close proximity of the Green Monster.

Rubby De La Rosa

The Dominican righty is recovering from Tommy John surgery and has put up big strikeout numbers in the minors. The 23-year-old is poised and polished and has a clean motion. Of all the prospects sent to the Red Sox, the one with the highest upside is De La Rosa.

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The Red Sox-Dodgers Trade, Part III—Ned Colletti’s Style On A Larger Scale

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Because Frank McCourt is gone and the Dodgers have a new ownership that’s going all, all, all out to win by taking on massive contracts, players whose reputations had diminished to nothing, and the injured, it’s seen as a change in strategy from the past. Those who believe this nonsense are parachuting in with a perception based on nothing since they don’t know the history and didn’t bother to engage in the simple act of fact-checking of Ned Colletti’s tenure as Dodgers’ GM.

Even when he was functioning under the disarray of McCourt, he was free with money and prospects operating under the mandated parameters from ownership. If the Dodgers were straddling the line of contender and also-ran, he erred on the side of aggression and brought in veteran players to try and win. You can read about Colletti’s trades here. The difference between then and now is that he has more flexibility to take on money. He exercised that flexibility by agreeing to this gigantic trade with the Red Sox in which the Dodgers acquired Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto for James Loney, Allen Webster, Ivan De Jesus Jr., Jerry Sands and Rubby De La Rosa.

It’s indicative of Colletti’s style and is not a simplistic “take veterans and take money for young players and ignore the future.” If you examine Colletti’s past, he’s never given up any prospects that are regrettable and would be redone if he had the opportunity.

To get Casey Blake, he gave up Carlos Santana, but apart from that he’s never given up anything of note. He was ripped for giving up Santana in that deal’s immediate aftermath, but Santana is a poor defensive catcher whose future is likely to be first base—at first base, he’s a replaceable part. Blake played well for the Dodgers for 2 ½ of the 3 ½ years he spent with them.

In the trades he made and offered to improve the club this year, Dodgers’ top prospect Zach Lee was off the table. It’s a hallmark of Colletti’s limits in trading. He won’t give up the entire house, but will give up what he feels he can replace.

If Colletti claimed Beckett to put an exclamation point on his seriousness in wanting to get Gonzalez, then it was a prescient tactical decision to get them. Beckett was getting through waivers and so was Gonzalez, but Colletti identified what he wanted and took steps to get them. He got the go-ahead from ownership to add this kind of payroll ($261 million to his team) and pulled the trigger. The Red Sox might’ve turned down an offer for Gonzalez alone, but if the Dodgers would take both Beckett and Crawford? They didn’t have a choice but to do it.

It’s safe to expect Gonzalez to be happier and more productive as a background personality and mid-lineup star; for Beckett to keep his mouth shut and behave more professionally (I think); and for Crawford to be relieved to be out of Boston and, once healthy, to return to something reasonably close to his Rays days in 2013 and beyond.

If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, and Andre Ethier are with the club as the foundation for the future and they have a supporting cast locked in as well.

Colletti’s more baseball-savvy than he’s given credit for and in spite of these risky financial and personnel moves, it was more than him agreeing to take the money in a desperate deep strike and spending spree as if he just won the lottery which, with the new ownership, he kinda did.

You can read Part I here and Part II here.

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The Red Sox-Dodgers Trade, Part I—Bobby Valentine’s Future

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I’ll function under the assumption that this deal will go through. The reporters are saying it’s kindasorta done; then not done; then done; then maybe done; then prematurely done; then done. They’re trying not to pull a Joel Sherman, vintage 2010, when he reported that Cliff Lee will be a Yankee (we’re still waiting), so the Dodgers-Red Sox trade could conceivably come apart. But it sounds as if everyone is motivated to make this happen. I’m moving forward as such.

The Dodgers-Red Sox trade reportedly goes as follows:

The Dodgers get: 1B Adrian Gonzalez, RHP Josh Beckett, LF Carl Crawford, and INF Nick Punto

The Red Sox get: 1B James Loney, RHP Allen Webster, INF Ivan De Jesus Jr., OF Jerry Sands, and RHP Rubby De La Rosa

Let’s take a look at its repercussions for teams, players, and people in separate postings and start with Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine.

This is a good sign for Valentine that he’s going to survive in his job and get the beginning of next season to see if the newly reconstructed roster responds to him. After this week’s firing of Bob McClure, he’ll have his own pitching coach (Bob Apodaca); he’ll have players over whom he has some power and, as a direct result, they’ll keep their mouths shut; and he’ll have say-so in the formulation of the on-field personnel.

This trade looks to be a tacit admission on the part of the Red Sox front office that they put Valentine in a terrible position with Terry Francona’s players, a group of arrogant and well-paid would-be or former stars who had the paycheck and history to ignore not only Valentine, but Francona, GM Ben Cherington, and CEO Larry Lucchino as well. It’s a bad sign when the ostensible bosses go up to a player like Josh Beckett and have to ask him to behave like a professional without knowing what kind of response they’re going to get.

You can’t go half-in with Valentine. He was straitjacketed upon getting the job and the roster and media were waiting for Valentine to say or do the wrong thing to jump all over him. If a team is hiring Bobby Valentine, they should expect to get Bobby Valentine and let him be Bobby Valentine. If the intention was for Valentine to come in and right the ship as it was without making significant changes to the personnel, then the Red Sox shouldn’t be surprised at what happened; that Kevin Youkilis had to go; that Beckett had to go; that they needed new players who were more pliable to Valentine’s style and couldn’t run to management and cry because of Valentine, begging for him to be replaced. Those who were complaining should’ve thought of this before they behaved unprofessionally under Francona.

In a sense, I understand what the Red Sox were thinking when they hired Valentine in replacing the laid back Francona. In looking at the contract situations of the players they had, there was no way to get rid of them and simultaneously bring back players who could help them contend and more in 2012. They tried a different voice and hoped the players who undermined Francona would be shamed and embarrassed by what they did.

They weren’t.

They took a different strategy of exerting their will with Valentine than they did with Francona and achieved identical results except they’re the ones who are being cleared out. Instead of blatant disrespect and poor work ethic, hoping that talent would win out in 2011, they tried horrible body language, whisper campaigns and outright whining to daddy in 2012.

It’s difficult to distinguish the five months of 2012 from that fateful month of September in 2011. Combined, they set in motion the chain-of-events that culminated in this trade.

It still may not work with Valentine, but now he can quit the charade of skating around the problems that he presumably knew were there when he took over and he can be unfettered Bobby V. If he goes down, it’ll be his way. If that doesn’t work, so be it.

Valentine would tell you the same thing.

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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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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

***

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.

//

Hot Stove Losers, 2011-2012

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On Friday I listed the winners of the off-season. Now let’s look at the losers.

Boston Red Sox

It’s not the maneuvers they made that are specifically bad.

Confusing? Yes, trading Marco Scutaro to free up some money and then spending some of that money to sign Cody Ross while leaving shortstop in the questionable hands of Nick Punto, Mike Aviles and/or rookie Jose Iglesias was one of a long line of bizarre decisions, but none could be called “bad”.

My focus is on the perceived and practical appearance of disarray that’s taken hold in Boston since the departure of Theo Epstein.

Say what you want about Epstein and the moves he made, but you knew he was in charge.

Now, with Ben Cherington elevated to GM and Larry Lucchino clearly diving into the breach and interfering in team matters (Bobby Valentine would not be the Red Sox manager without Lucchino championing him), there’s a troubling lack of cohesion.

What you have is a team of well-paid stars whose behavior was enabled by a disciplinary lackadaisical former manager, good guy Terry Francona; a transition from a clubhouse dominated by Jason Varitek to…who?; a front office with multiple voices and philosophies trying to gain sway; and a polarizing manager who won’t want to blow what is probably his final chance to manage in the majors and working on a 2-year contract.

They haven’t addressed issues in the starting rotation other than hope that Daniel Bard can make the transition from reliever to starter and sign a bunch of low-cost veterans on minor league deals to see if they can cobble together a back-end of the rotation. But what happened with the Yankees and Freddy Garcia/Bartolo Colon in 2011 doesn’t happen too often, so the Red Sox shouldn’t expect to get similar renaissance-level/amazing rise performances from Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, John Maine and Clayton Mortensen.

There are more questions than answers with this team and the solution to what ails them starts at the top.

And at the top, it’s chaos.

Baltimore Orioles

Regardless of the ridicule his hiring received, Dan Duquette is a highly competent baseball man who never got the credit he deserved for helping put together the Expos of the 1990s or the Red Sox of recent vintage.

But the Orioles are devoid of talent, especially on the mound, and it doesn’t matter how qualified the manager (Buck Showalter) and GM are, you can’t win if you don’t have talent.

What the Orioles have to do is make the difficult decision to take their most marketable assets—Nick Markakis, Adam JonesJim Johnson and even Matt Wieters—and let the rest of baseball know that they’re open for business and willing to listen to any and all offers.

Whether owner Peter Angelos or Showalter will be on board with that is up in the air.

Oakland Athletics

So Billy Beane gets another rebuild?

How many is this now? Five?

The Athletics use a lack of funds and a difficult division—along with their GM’s increasingly ridiculous and fictional reputation as a “genius”—to justify trading away all of their young talent for the future.

That future is far away in the distance and contingent on a new ballpark that they hope, pray, plead, beg will one day come their way.

Here’s a question: why do the Rays, facing the same logistical issues as the Athletics, try and win by making intelligent, cost-effective moves with their players and somehow succeed while a supposed “genius” is continually given a pass because of a resume that is bottom-line fabricated from start-to-finish?

Yet we’ll again hear how Beane got the “right” players in dumping Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey.

Right players for what?

If the answer is losing close to 100 games, then he’s definitely succeeded.

Oh, they kept Coco Crisp and signed Bartolo Colon.

Beane deserves an Oscar more than Brad Pitt for maintaining the veneer of knowing something others don’t.

It’s a ruse and you’re a fool if you continue to fall for it.

Milwaukee Brewers

They understandably lost Prince Fielder because they couldn’t and wouldn’t approach the $214 million he received from the Tigers.

Signing Aramis Ramirez was a good decision and they kept their bullpen and starting rotation together, but their hot stove season was pockmarked with the failed(?) drug test of NL MVP Ryan Braun and possible 50 game suspension for using PEDs.

With the pitching and remaining offense in a mediocre division, they’d be able to hang around contention even without Fielder, but missing Braun for 50 games could bury them.

St. Louis Cardinals

You can’t lose three Hall of Fame caliber people and consider the off-season a success. Albert Pujols, Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan are all gone. Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran will offset the loss of Pujols…somewhat, but he’s still Pujols and fundamentally irreplaceable.

Mike Matheny has never managed before and it was the rebuilding aptitude of Dave Duncan that salvaged something out of the broken down and finished pitchers he continually fixed like an abandoned but still workable car.

LaRussa is the best manager of this generation.

A seamless transition? No way.

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Finding Reason with the Red Sox

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The Red Sox have seemed discombobulated since September and that didn’t change once the statuses of manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein were resolved.

(If you were in hibernation, they both left.)

There’s an air of dysfunction remaining as the continuity of maneuvers that was there under Epstein is gone.

Who’s in charge?

Is it new GM Ben Cherington?

Is it CEO Larry Lucchino?

How much say is new manager Bobby Valentine having in the team construction?

Does anyone know?

Epstein deserves a large portion of the blame for the way the team came apart in 2011. Going back as far as 2007, Epstein was purchasing products to impress his neighbors rather than adhering to a plan of attack. It worked in 2007 as they won the World Series, but in subsequent years it became a case of diminishing returns. They literally and figuratively got fat with a bloated payroll and disinterested demeanor.

Regardless of how you view Epstein’s tenure with the Red Sox—whether you think he received too much credit as a media creation backed up by money or was a true front office visionary—there was no question of who was in charge. Following his tantrum-fueled resignation after the 2005 season and eventual return, he won the power struggle with Lucchino.

It was Theo’s team.

Once Epstein left, Lucchino wasted no time in asserting himself with Cherington and whispering in the ear of owner John Henry.

The simplest question as to whom is truly running things was answered when Valentine was hired as manager.

Ask yourself this: Had Epstein stayed, would the Red Sox have hired Valentine?

No.

Cherington was Epstein’s protégé and he would’ve wanted to hire a manager who had less personality, a closed mouth and did what he was told by upper management.

That’s not Valentine.

The latest maneuver the Red Sox made is under scrutiny as they traded shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen.

This is a clear salary dump and the speculation has centered around freeing up money to sign Roy Oswalt and fill a glaring need in the starting rotation.

You may ask, why would a team like the Red Sox, with a $160 million+ payroll, be worried about the relative pittance that Scutaro is making in 2012, $6 million?

It’s clear by now that the vault is closed. Partially due to the new luxury tax rules that are coming into effect and partially due to the failures of the high-priced signings made by Epstein—Carl Crawford, John Lackey and Bobby Jenks—they’re not going to toss more money into the air to fix it anymore.

It comes down to this: they have enough offense to cover for a lighter-hitting shortstop than Scutaro and can get by with a combination of Mike Aviles and Nick Punto as long as they’re not utterly inept with the glove and bat. They need an arm and needed to clear some cash to get it, so they dumped Scutaro.

Some have suggested that they might shut their eyes and play rookie Jose Iglesias for his glove. I can tell you right now that Valentine is not going to play an untested rookie shortstop while he’s under the mandate to win and working under a 2-year contract.

It’s going to be the veterans Aviles and Punto and the Red Sox are going to make a move on a pitcher.

Would Epstein have done this?

It doesn’t really matter, does it?

Because he’s gone.

But that’s not the problem.

There biggest issue with Epstein’s departure isn’t that he’s irreplaceable; it’s that no one seems to know who’s in charge.

And it doesn’t appear as if the Red Sox know either.

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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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