Red Sox

69-93

With the firing of Bobby Valentine yesterday, the Red Sox finished up 2012 with their worst record since I’ve been a fan of the team (or since my birth). Any it really felt as bad as you might think. It was a hopeless, miserable season and it really felt like that from day one.

I’d like to take credit in predicting the outcome of the 2012 season when Bobby V was hired, but that was really a lay-up. Seriously, he wore a mustache made of eye-black strips in a dugout, seriously.

Given the Punto trade this summer, providing the Red Sox with great salary flexibility, and having no manager, the Red Sox are a tabula rasa. GM Ben Cherington has his hands full given that the 2 best free agents are both highly dubious choices for Boston in Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton. So the farm system and creative trades will probably be the primary source of a re-load.

Here’s my 2012 opening day line-up:

cf – Ellsbury
2b – Pedroia
3b – Middlebrooks
dh – Ortiz
1b – Mike Napoli
rf – Ross
lf – Kalish
c – Lavarnway
ss – Iglasias

Not a great line-up by any means but probably the best we can expect next year. I fully expect both Ortiz and Ross to be re-signed and the Red Sox might just take a flier on a mid to high level FA in Napoli. Why Napoli? He has a 1.075 OPS against the Red Sox, so taking him off the opposition’s team is a good first step. Secondly, he has a 1.107 OPS at Fenway. Just a guess though.

More important is the progress of the minor leaguers. It would be nice to think that Jackie Bradley Jr. might make a late season appearance and perhaps even Bryce Brentz.

The Rotation is also in need of major help, what with Matsuzaka a free agent (thankfully) and the Punto trade relieving us of Beckett. 2013 might look like this: Lester, Buchholz, Doubront, Morales and, and…

Of course there is the issue of the next manager. John Farrell is the leading candidate but he only won a few more games than did the Red Sox, so why is he the best choice? I’m not saying he isn’t, I’d just like to hear why they think he is.

More to come.

Be Careful What You Wish For

A colonic? An exorcism? A purge? All of the above?

After months of uninspired play and over the top drama, the Red Sox have basically hit the reset button with their roster. Dan Roche is reporting that a deal sending Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Doegers for a basket full of players, is done. Both Crawford and and Beckett agreed to waive their non-trade rights. The Red Sox are shedding $260mm in payroll meaning they have somehow gotten themselves out from under their 3 largest contracts in one trade.

So those of us who wanted a major shake-up, we’ve got it. My take:

Beckett – Hooray (or as he’d say Hooray beer…and chicken). Beckett is not a good pitcher anymore and his open disdain for anyone trying to hold him accountable was infuriating. He was sucking the Red Sox and their fans of life. His contract was going to haunt the Red Sox for two more years and having to replace a 5.00 era shouldn’t be tough. This is the best part of the deal.

Carl Crawford – He seems to be a likable enough fellow but his 1.5 years in Boston have been marked by mediocre play and injuries. At the time of his signing we all knew this was a terrible deal and the only way he could live up to it would be by hitting .315 with decent power, speed and fielding. A $20mm a year player needs to be elite and Crawford isn’t elite.

Adrian Gonzalez – This is the toughest part of the trade. Gonzalez is an elite defender and when on, an elite offensive force. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been an elite offensive force over the past 365 days. Add to it various assertions and rumors that he was behind efforts to undermine his manager, He had to go.

All of this salary relief doesn’t mean the Red Sox will be good next year. In fact, the free agent pool looks to be thin and the main purpose behind this deal is to get back to player development which can be a slow, imperfect science.

Red Sox fans should be ready for what comes next. Plenty of rookies and growing pains. But if that is what it takes to be a better run team which has a handle on its ego, then I’m all for it.

Only thing to do now is to get a new manager and coaching staff in the offseason.

The Buffoonery Starts at the Top

The Red Sox this season aren’t just bad, they are pathetic, unlikable and do not have their finger on the pulse of the fan base.

Let’s start from the top:

John Henry – Say what you will about his various distractions like Liverpool FC, Roush Fenway Racing, his family and his investment business, but I really do think Henry is trying to win. Some critics say he only cares about filling seats and making money and while I know he likes to make money, he wouldn’t have a payroll as big as the Red Sox do if he was only about the money.

Henry’s failure is that he has extended too much control to Larry Lucchino (more on him and others in a moment), whether that was intentional or otherwise is irrelevant. Lucchino has managed to meddle in the manager hiring process and in the baseball operations business. He effectively took out the legs of both Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine. Cherington didn’t get to pick the manager so why should the manager listen to Cherington when he knows he has Lucky in his back pocket? Valentine wasn’t Cherington’s pick, so why should Cherington go out of his way to help Valentine when he probably doesn’t trust him in the first place. Oh and by not letting Valentine hire his own pitching coach and bullpen coach, we’ve seen a grade school playground act materialize. Pitching coach and bullpen don’t like manager, so they don’t talk with him and vice-versa. I mean, what is this? Romper Room?

Lucchino – Things went well when the GM had more power and Lucchino was put in his place. I think Lucchino is a capable person but he is the President of the team not the GM. Leave Ben Cherington alone to do what he is paid to do. We’ve seen this before back when Theo Epstein quit the team, the first time. John Henry had to step in and make make sure Lucchino left Epstein alone to do his job. This needs to happen again. Henry has to step up to the plate and get tough with Lucchino.

Cherington – Not sure how much of this falls on him as he hasn’t accomplished anything as a GM and if he were to try the same thing Esptein did a few years ago, the Red Sox would let him walk and given his lack of tenure (unlike Epstein who had won a World Series), I’m not sure Cherington would ever get another chance to be a GM again and GM jobs don’t come up everyday. The courageous things to do would be to give Lucchino an ultimatum to bud out, but without a clear idea of whether or not it would cost him his job, I don’t blame him for not doing this.

Valentine – From day one we all knew he’d talk to much and he’s done that and more. He is passive aggressive and that has a way of rubbing players the wrong way. I’m really not too worried about what the players think in this instance, but Valentine’s style isn’t necessary what is needed in this clubhouse. That said, we knew from day one that he lacked support from some coaches, probably his GM and the players. The reason he hasn’t been fired is because he is buds with Lucchino.

There has been some interesting conjecture that Valentine was hired for one purpose, to make the players miserable so that starting in 2013, they’d do anything for Valentine’s ultimate replacement. There is even the notion that Valentine is in on it too. Lucchino is so smooth that he hired his buddy Bobby to make the players so furious and unhappy, that the next manager would be welcomed with open arms. Kind of like when they sacked Grady Little after 2003 and brought in Terry Francona. Although this argument falls apart a bit as Grady was a likable figure whose only crime was leaving in Pedro too long. And, aren’t we really giving Lucchino and Valentine too much credit for this kind of scheme?

The Players – They have become so unlikable that they somehow, some way have made Valentine a sympathetic figure at times…at times. Really, how is that possible? Dustin Pedroia got off on the wrong foot with his defense of Kevin Youkilis telling all who would listen that the way Valentine talked about Youkilis was “Not the way we do things around here.” Who the hell is Pedroia to tell the manager how things are done? How about shut up and play baseball and let the manager do things the way he wants them done?

Adrian Gonzalez has also come out of this looking pretty bad. Not only has he totally lacked any power this year, he is looking like a whiner. Whether the reports of him calling a players meeting with ownership to get Valentine fired are true or not, he hasn’t been a major disappointment this year and certainly doesn’t have the leadership skills to lead his fellow teammates to better on-field play. I’m not sure what is wrong with his game, but he is off about 150 OPS points from last year and drew zero walks from May 16 to June 10. He has let himself get distracted by this nonsense and to that degree I can’t blame him, but there are always going to be distractions and winners figure out a way around them. If he can just focus on being one of the best offensive and defense players no the field, he should be alright. Is that too much to ask?

Josh Beckett and Jon Lester – What can you say about these two? They have been terrible. The team is 16-28 when they pitch. Yes, 16-28 when the Red Sox 1-2 starters pitch. 42-33 when someone else starts. Wow, imagine if they were just average this year and this team would be considered a good team. Lord knows why they have been so terrible, but from a on field standpoint, they have been the number one reason this team stinks. It is a tired story, but Beckett’s attitude and commitment are definitely issues but his large contract makes them issues that are likely to stay.

At this point, CoolStandings.com has the Red Sox with a 0.4% change of winning the division and just a 6.2% chance at a wild card spot. I’m not being dramatic when I say this but the Red Sox season is over and now is the time to find out who has what for 2013. Who is a player? What rookies might come in handy next year and what players need to be jettisoned in the off-season (or during the waiver trade deadline period that ends this month).

It’s also time for John Henry to act like an owner and grab Lucchino by the lapels and tell him to stick to what he is good at and let Ben Cherington do his job. Once the line of command is reestablished, then and only then can the Red Sox operate like a well oiled machine. People like to know their role. They might not like their role but knowing what is expected and and who gives the orders helps things run smoothly. If Henry can’t do this, perhaps it is time for him to sell the Red Sox and let someone else have a turn. It starts at the top.

Johnny Pesky

Just a quick note about the passing of Johnny Pesky. If ever there was a Mr. Red Sox, it would be Johnny Pesky. Employed by the team for 70 years and working for the Red Sox in just about every thinkable manner, Pesky was engaging, humorous and helped bridge the generation gap for old Red Sox and modern day players.

What struck me about Pesky was just 10 or so years ago, I remember watching him talk in a private function room prior to a Red Sox game. He was energetic and full of enthusiasm for baseball. He never spoke an unkind word and was a fantastic ambassador for the Red Sox and for all of baseball.

As it happens, I’m fortunate to be taking in Bruce Springsteen tonight at Fenway Park. Do you know where my seats are? Right next to Pesky Pole. Farewell Johnny.

Much Ado…

Just like Peter’s excitement over the Yankees moves, the Red Sox acquiring Craig Breslow really doesn’t make me feel like the Red Sox have accomplished anything. Keep in mind, I think the Red Sox need a thoughtful, partial dismantling after all.

For Breslow, the Red Sox traded Matt Albers and Scott Podsednik. The most interesting part of acquiring the lefty Breslow is that if Ryan Lavarnway gets called up this year, the Red Sox will have two Yale grads on the active roster. Wonder if that’s ever happened before.

Albers was on the active roster, Podsednik was not. Also, with Ryan Sweeney busting his hand in anger, the Red Sox put him on the DL and recalled Ryan Kalish.

One additional late move, the Red Sox traded Lars Anderson for Steven Wright, the great Boston comedian and Red Sox fan. Wait, wrong Steven Wright. This one is a minor league pitcher and at 27 years old doesn’t qualify as a prospect. Not sure if this move will ever mean anything. Anderson seemed to have hit a ceiling and his power/on base capabilities never made it beyond Portland.

Just learned Wright throws a knuckle.

They Should Be Sellers

With the trade deadline fast approaching the Red Sox need to decide whether to be buyers or sellers. Like the Globe’s Nick Cafardo, I think they have no choice but to be sellers. As Cafardo points out, the Red Sox haven’t been to the postseason since 2008 and the roster as configured just isn’t working.

This makes Ben Cherington’s declaration that the Red Sox aren’t giving up so frustrating. This is a sub .500 team and while I don’t think a “blow it up” scenario is necessary, a “shake it up” scenario is necessary.

At all costs, I’d rid myself of Josh Beckett. There isn’t much market for Beckett, so he’d be a swap of bad salaries or they’d have to eat much of his salary, kind of like they did with Youkilis, oh, and Lugo and Renteria and the list goes on.

Also, what roles do Daniel Nava and Ryan Sweeney serve at this point? With Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and Cody Ross penciled in, Nava and Sweeney are spare parts.

Kelly Shopach has performed very nicely but with only a one year deal, serves no purpose. Ryan Lavarnway is a more than capable replacement.

I’d hang onto Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.

As for Crawford, I’d move him in a heartbeat but there really is no imaginable scenario where the Red Sox can move him without eating most if not all of the salary. It’s a shame.

This team is going no where fast and hasn’t show even slightest ability to dominate. Mix it up Ben and show us you have courage.

On another note, where has the OBP gone? The Red Sox are 11th in MLB in OBP with a .325. Starting ss is below .300 as is Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Adrian Gonzalez is at .333, an embarrassingly low number for a player of his calibre. Even more reaso to shake things up.

Happy 4th of July

Happy Independence Day. Thank goodness Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum saved us from those Aliens.

As we approach the All-Star break and the trade deadline, I got to thinking about what the Red Sox need to do. I think the answer is nothing. Let me explain. They have Andrew Bailey coming back which will allow Alfredo Aceves to return to the set-up role. They have Daniel Bard trying to work things out in Pawtucket and when he is on, he is one of the best set-up men in baseball.

They have Carl Crawford playing in rehab games and they have Jacoby Ellsbury playing in rehab games. The additions of 2/3 of the starting outfield, the closer and primary set-up man should be very good things. Of course Crawford’s only claim to being an elite player is that he is paid like one.

Other important moves for the Red Sox included getting Adrian Gonzalez back to being a good baseball player. At the moment, he is average with an OPS in the .700s. Again, he is being paid like an elite player but isn’t playing like one. Also, Jon Lester has been so very disappointing. Perhaps someone can figure out his problems.

The Red Sox have as much talent as any team in baseball, but they probably have more underperforming talent than any other team. And don’t whine about injuries. Take a look at the Yankees if you want a great example of overcoming injuries:

CC Sabathia – DL
Andy Pettitte – 60-DL (probably out for most of the regular season)
Mariano Rivera – Out for season
Joba Chamberlein – Out for season (or most of it)
Brett Gardner – Out until late July
Michael Pineda – Out for season

That’s 3/5 of the projected rotation on the shelf, a primary bullpen arm, a closer (best ever) and starting outfielder. They’ve had as many injuries as any team, yet they lead the AL East by 5 games and are playing .600 ball. Their stud first baseman is not playing up to expectations, their third baseman is getting old, their shortstop is playing wonderfully, but has tailed off of late. They know how to win, the Red Sox do not, it would appear.

Of interest is the Red Sox rotation: Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, Matsuzaka and Lackey. This was the projected 5 man rotation, and they all have long-term deals in place (or are in the midst of said long-term deal). On the other hand, Franklin Morales and Aaron Cook do not have long-term deals and are filling in admirably.

Perhaps the Red Sox strategy of locking up young players with fat contracts isn’t the way to go, especially when you take into account their character. To quote Dean Faber, “Fat and happy is no way to go through life son.” ***

I guess now that I am done rambling, my conclusion is that the Red Sox need to be sellers at the trade deadline. Partly out of necessity as they have too many players for too few spots, but also a major starting pitching change may snap some players out of their comfort zone. Yes, being traded when you make $12mm a year isn’t so tough, but it is tough on the player’s family and the desire to avoid that pain can be a major motivational factor. Shake it up Red Sox, because what you’ve been doing has produced a 42-39 record at the mid-point, that’s not going to cut it.

***edit/confession: I intentionally changed the Animal House quote as I thought it unfair to call Sox starters Fat, Drunk and Stupid. But I do confess to thinking it was Dean Faber when in fact it was Dean Wormer. Thanks for calling me out Peter.

Not So Home Cooking

Late last night, Aaron Cook pitched a 2-hit, 81-pitch shutout for the Red Sox in their 5-0 over Seattle. It was the kind of outing Red Sox starters are capable of but simply haven’t delivered in recent years. Why did it take an injury project type pitcher in Cook to finally have a Red Sox do this?

In other news Darnell McDonald was designated for assignment so the Red Sox could make room to activate Josh Beckett. I hope Beckett realizes that the Red Sox are releasing one of the best character guys they have to make room for one of the worst character guys they have.

This starting pitching malaise seems to point to Beckett and his poor attitude. I think a trade deadline goal should be to trade Beckett. He’ll be hard to move with his no trade rights and high contract but I really think it needs to be done, as I suggested this off-season. As Michael Felger of 98.5 the Sportshub points out, all you’d need to do is replace a pitcher who has a 4.09 ERA over the past 3 seasons (2010-2012). That really shouldn’t be hard to do.

The Greek God Departs

Just 2 seasons removed from playing stellar baseball, Kevin Youkilis has been traded to the Chicago White Sox.

Youkilis is one of the poster boys for Money Ball, what with his high on-base percentage, and never give away an at bat approach. It is these characteristics that has made him popular not just with Red Sox management but also the fans. He’s always dirty, looks like an average slob (slightly more fit I’ll admit) and shows his emotions on his sleeve.

Kind of the exact opposite of J.D Drew, maybe that’s why we liked Youkilis so much.

Youkilis never got rolling in 2012 and his numbers reflected it. His walk rate and average way down, he never got untracked. With the emergence of Will Middlebrooks, something had to give. From a practical standpoint, no longer will Adrian Gonzalez need to play rightfield just to created space for Youkilis and now the infielders have a much stronger sense of who is playing everyday. Also, Middlebrooks is ripping it up with a .949 OPS vs. Youk’s .692.

Whether or not Youkilis has anything left in the tank remains to be seen, but the team has an able replacement and the time was right to move him, at the very least, for his sake. Youkilis was a bit player in the 2004 World Series run and a major player in the 2007 Red Sox run, he played hard for Boston and for that he is to be commended.

Reading a yahoo.com piece this AM (cannot find it now), the question came up whether or not Red Sox management/ownership,will rip him on the way out. I see no reason why they would. He played well, started to slow and was traded, a fairly usual set of circumstances. If there is a hatchet job on the way out, however, it’ll do a great deal to lessen my like of the Red Sox organization and hope for change.

Let’s hope both sides are off to bigger and better things.

Experiment Over

Daniel Bard was optioned to AAA today, ending, I hope, his run as a starter.

I’ve said since day 1 that I didn’t like this idea. You can read about it here, here and here. Not to pat myself on the back, as this had disaster written all over it. Bard was a failed starter in the minors and in spring training. Why did anyone think this outcome would be different?

I’m not sure what they have in store for Bard at AAA, but let’s hope it is to get his confidence back and to put him back in the pen where he can dominate. That’s where he’ll make his money.

As for the Red Sox, not bad of late. They aren’t in last place alone anymore. Tied with the Blue Jays in last at 2 games over .500, the Red Sox are only 3.0 games out of first. Either the AL East is really tough, or it really stinks.

What is great is that things have settled down quite a bit and Bobby Valentine has been left to manage his team. Gone, for now anyway, are the distractions and I think the players are just playing baseball. Will Middlebrooks has added some excitement and Felix Doubront is the best starter on the team at the moment. A youth movement of sorts. Speaking of the rotation:

ERA in 2012
3.75 – Doubront
4.26 – Beckett
4.79 – Lester
5.24 – Bard
6.58 – Buchholz
4.06 – AL Average

Yikes. Overall, a mess, but much, much better since May 1. The team ERA for March/April was 5.54, 3.93 for May and 3.12 thus far in June. Things are headed in the right direction.

If Bard is done as a starter, expect either Daisuke Matsuzaka or Aaron Cook to assume starting duties. I’d put Matsuzaka in the mix first as he’s pitched in Boston before and presumably has more to his fastball than does Cook. Not sure it is a big deal either way.

Looking ahead, we should start to see the injured troops getting back to good health. Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury are probably candidates for an early to mid July return while Cody Ross might be sooner. Andrew Bailey is likely an August return and Bobby Jenks might not return at all.

Orioles at Red Sox this week.