Red Sox Manager Search Will Be Different From Last Year

In something totally different in Red Sox Nation the Sox will be looking for the 2nd new manager in as many years.  After Terry Francona’s 8 successful years at the helm in Boston Bobby Valentine barely made it through the one.  So it’s back to the drawing board.  While the Red Sox will look to several of the managers that they did the last time around they will be taking a wholly different approach in the winter of 2012.

Valentine was a disaster in his year at the helm

The structure of the team is entirely different this time around.  Last year, in the wake of the September collapse and all that went down behind the scenes, the Sox were looking for someone stern and experienced who could keep the big contracts and big ego guys in line.  They looked early at some up-and-coming guys with less experience but they clearly valued someone who had been in a major league dugout before and narrowed the field down to Valentine and Tigers 3rd base coach and former Pirates and White Sox manager Gene Lamont.  Valentine won out in the end and as we saw the results were an utter disaster.  He attempted to overcompensate for the coddling ways of his predecessor and wound up alienating many members of the team before the season was even off the ground.  He never developed a great relationship with his coaching staff, even the ones that he chose himself.  In the end Bobby V. wasn’t the right guy for the job.

Fast forward to 2012 and it’s a whole different ballgame for Valentine’s future replacement.  Gone is 71 and 1/4 million dollars from the Red Sox 2013 payroll with the subtractions of Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto.  The big egos and big contracts have been reduced to John Lackey and, well, John Lackey.  Two of their three remaining productive hitters from last year’s lineup, David Ortiz and Cody Ross, have expiring contracts.  It’s a totally different landscape for the next Red Sox manager and one could make the argument that this situation is a much better situation for an up-and-comer to enter than the one that faced the new manager last season.  And for that reason the names that were not good enough for the Red Sox last season may look a lot more attractive this time around.

Alomar lost out to Francona in Cleveland but could be the right guy in Boston

Of the 4 guys that the Red Sox interviewed last season only 1, Cubs manager Dale Sveum, is not available.  Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin has been fired and doesn’t seem like he’ll be in the mix this time around.  That leaves two guys – Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. and Blue Jays first base coach Torey Lovullo.  You could make a serious argument that those 2 guys are 2 of the top 3 on the Red Sox list for their next manager.  Alomar lost out on the Indians job to Francona and looks to be the next big managerial candidate in the majors.  If not Boston he’s expected to be a contender for possible openings in Miami and Toronto.  Then there is Lovullo who spent a year as manager of the Pawtucket Red Sox.  With a younger generation of players coming up for the Sox it would be to Lovullo’s benefit to have familiarity with the Red Sox’ minor league system.

There are other names in the mix, chief among them former Sox pitching coach and current Blue Jays manager John Farrell.  I’d expect the Red Sox will spend the early part of next week surveying the situation with Farrell and the Blue Jays before deciding whether that avenue is one worth pursuing.  I don’t expect them to dance around with the Blue Jays for too long before moving on Farrell or simply moving on.  There are some pros and cons to bringing Farrell back but I’d rather get into that when its clear that he’s an actual candidate.  Of course there are other names being thrown around, perhaps former Sox players Mike Lowell or Bill Mueller.  Maybe Marlins bench coach Joey Cora who should be about ready to step out of Ozzie Guillen’s shadow after spending 9 seasons as his #2.  His brother Alex played in Boston for four years.

The picture should get a lot clearer early next week.  After all unlike last season when in late August replacing Terry Francona would have thought to be unheard of, the Sox brass has probably been looking to the future since as far back as July.  Either way remember the names Lovullo and Alomar.  They may have not had enough experience for management last year but the dynamic of the team has changed and Ben Cherington may see one of these two guys as the right man for the job this time around.

Follow me on Twitter

The Red Sox And Showtime’s “The Franchise” – A Match Made In Heaven

A major image crisis has emerged for the Boston Red Sox over the last 12 months.  Pretty much everyone from John Henry down to the clubhouse guys, with the exception of a few players, now seem to have a negative reputation in Boston.  The fans of Red Sox Nation are quickly becoming disenchanted.  They desperately need to do something to repair their image and it may take more than just becoming a winning team again.

Showtime could have a winner with “A Season with the Red Sox”

The people at Showtime developed a winning concept a few years ago when they created “The Franchise”, a show that piggy-backed off of HBO’s “Hard Knocks”, but instead of following an NFL team through just training camp it follows an MLB team throughout the entire season.  It is a great concept and it makes for really good TV.  Their problem is that in the first two seasons they followed two teams, the San Fransisco Giants and the Miami Marlins, that were out of the playoff hunt by the all-star break.  The most exciting thing about following these two teams in the last two months of the season was the trade deadline.  Now granted the Red Sox were pretty much out of the playoff race by the break as well but I’m guessing they could have kept us entertained quite a bit after the All-Star break.

If it seems like a risky proposition to put these Red Sox players behind a camera in the clubhouse and beyond it’s because it is.  God forbid things get even worse next year it will be embarrassing for the Red Sox but, hey, at least it will make for some compelling TV.  But it’s easy to see that the potential reward far outweighs the risk.  The Red Sox need an image clean-up and while there is a lot of work to do behind the scenes between now and opening day there may not be a better way to introduce the new Red Sox to Red Sox Nation than by putting them on “The Franchise”.  What better way to introduce a new manager to the Red Sox faithful, particularly if he is a young less well-known up-and-comer?  What better way for the fan base to feel more comfortable about it’s own players by actually seeing who they are off the field?  Too many times do you hear a fan or a media-type talk about a player like they know them personally.  None of us truly know any of these guys personally but at least if we got a peak of how they carried themselves behind the scenes then we might feel more comfortable about making a judgment on them.

Superstars like Jose Reyes showed their human side on “The Franchise”

Many new players have not been fully embraced by Red Sox Nation in past years, particularly ones with larger contracts.  I can’t help but think that maybe Red Sox Nation would have embraced Adrian Gonzalez a bit more if they knew a little more about him.  There will be a new generation of Red Sox players coming up next sure.  Guys like Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Lavarnway and Felix Doubront will all have prominent roles with the team.  The Sox will have to go out and bring in some role players to fill in their roster as they retool it.  They’ll also have to bring in veteran pitching.  And of course there is the manager.  The question of Bobby Valentine’s impending exit from Boston is becoming more of a “when” rather than an “if” which means that the Red Sox will likely have their 3rd different manager in 3 years.  Every time that these Red Sox owners have made a managerial change they have gone for the polar opposite of the guy they are replacing.  Look for a young less-known up-and-comer to replace Valentine.  It could be a tough place to break in for a guy like that in a market where a winner is expected year in and year out.  Getting to know the guy behind the scenes might make Red Sox Nation more comfortable with him early on.

If you watched this season of “The Franchise” you know a lot about rookie closer Steve Cishek, an unknown when the season began.  You might have a better view of highly-paid superstar Jose Reyes after watching the show and seeing him lead the Marlins with his jovial, laid back attitude.  You would have gotten to know role players like Justin Ruggiano and Greg Dobbs.  And of course you would have laughed at Ozzie being Ozzie.  At this point, with the exception of a few guys, I feel like I know the Marlins players more than I know the Red Sox guys from watching this season of The Franchise.

As I said before it’s a risky proposition for the Red Sox organization.  As a Red Sox fan it seems like a win/win.  If they are good and you love the team you will likely love them even more by going behind the scenes and watching how they turn the franchise around.  The love affair between the Red Sox and their fans that has been fractured over the past few seasons could be re-ignited.  On the flip side if the Red Sox have another disaster behind the scenes like they have had during the past two seasons then at least we will can still be entertained by the club.  For Showtime it’s a no-brainer.  Getting the Red Sox or the Yankees on “The Franchise” would be akin to obtaining the holy grail for Showtime.  The Yankees have no reason to do it but the Sox have plenty.  So why not?

Follow me on Twitter

Red Sox Complete Blockbuster Deal With The Dodgers…Now What?

Michael Silverman reported this AM that the Red Sox have completed a deal with the L.A. Dodgers to send 1B Adrian Gonzalez, LF Carl Crawford, P Josh Beckett and IF Nick Punto for 1B James Loney and minor league prospects P Allen Webster, SS Ivan DeJesus, OF Jerry Sands and a PTBNL which will turn out to be P Rubby De La Rosa.  It is a pretty shocking deal considering that the Red Sox had signed Gonzalez and Crawford to much fan fare just two off-seasons ago.  The Red Sox will get tremendous financial flexibility from the deal as they will pick up only $12 million of the $275 million tab that the Dodgers are taking on.

Both Beckett and Gonzalez are shipping out of Boston

A lot of people are celebrating this deal in Red Sox Nation but I’m not sure if I am one of those guys.  This deal comes with tremendous risk.  The Red Sox now have only 1 of their 4 most productive hitters this season under contract for next year (Dustin Pedroia).  Yes, the Red Sox shed a whole boatload of payroll in this deal but where is the money going to go?  The two biggest name free agents on the market, Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke, have tremendous off the field concerns.  And then there is the fact that it will take more than just this deal to change the culture.  The follow up is just as important – even more actually – than this deal which really should be the first shoe of many to drop.  Is Ben Cherington now empowered to build the team in his vision?  If so does that mean he can pick his own manager in the off-season or will Lucchino saddle him with Bobby Valentine for another year.

The Red Sox need to change the way they do business from the top down to the bottom.  They need to do more than trade just a few guys.  Let’s face it.  If you are hitting the reset button you need to fully change the culture and personality of this team.  That means Bobby Valentine needs to go.  They should bring in a young up and coming guy to be the new face of the team.  There were a few guys that they interviewed last year that they can revisit.  There are a few guys that they didn’t interview that they should look at.  One of the Cora brothers, Joey or former Red Sox Alex, would be a great fit with a young team either as manager (in Joey’s case) or bench coach (in Alex’s).  They need to let that new manager pick his own staff.  As I said they need Ben Cherington, and not Larry Lucchino, making ALL of the baseball moves.

Fireballer Rubby De La Rosa is one of the prospects coming back to Boston

There are also still players that need to be moved for both on and off the field reasons.  If I see Mike Aviles and his .284 OBP start another game at shortstop for the Red Sox I will go nuts.  A lot of people are seeing a contract extension for Jacoby Ellsbury in light of the new-found payroll flexibility but is he really a great fit long term?  Will he be better for the money than Carl Crawford was assuming that he gets a similar contract?  I’m not too sure that the answer is yes.  Jarrod Saltalamacchia has become a leader for this team but he strikes out more than he gets on base.  The pitching needs some serious tweaking and that can start with hiring a competent pitching coach.  Lester has looked better in the past month so you hope that he has put his issues behind him and build the rotation around him and Buchholz.  Alfredo Aceves, who was angry that two-time all-star closer Andrew Bailey supplanted him as closer a night after he blew the game twice, should be on the next train out of here as well.  As I said this is a huge franchise changing deal but there is a TON of follow up work to be done.

1B Loney is likely just a rental player

Losing Gonzalez represents a major hit to the Red Sox’ productivity.  He is arguably the most productive hitter on the team with only David Ortiz having an argument to that claim.  Gonzalez plays Gold Glove caliber defense that enhances his productivity as well.  The Red Sox will not be able to match that productivity, at least not this year and maybe for several more to come.  They get back James Loney, a .250 hitter that seems to have peaked even though he is only 28 years old.  The two prizes in the deal are the two right handed pitchers.  23-year old Rubby De La Rosa is a fireballer who had Tommy John surgery a year ago.  He will have a chance to join the Red Sox rotation next season.  22 year old Allen Webster is probably an even better prospect who will likely start the year in AAA.  Both guys represent adding to a huge hole in the Red Sox system, high level pitching prospects who are at or on the verge of being ready for the majors.  They also get a potential outfielder in right-handed hitter Jerry Sands, whose power might translate well in Fenway.  Obviously dealing with prospects always comes with risk and it will be a few years before we see how these guys have turned out in Boston.

There seems to be a lot of excitement about this deal.  I will remain cautiously optimistic until I see the actual follow-up.  With all of the negativity around this team this can obviously work out to become a positive but I can’t shake the image of Larry Lucchino simply re-arranging the chairs on the deck of the sinking SS Bobby V.  Once I see that this revolutionary franchise changer is actually a revolutionary franchise changer then I will get excited.

Obviously there will be more on this deal as we get reactions, player profiles on the prospects, etc. so stay tuned.

Follow me on Twitter

Bob McClure Wasn’t Just A Scapegoat For The Red Sox

The McClure and Valentine marriage was less than a match made in heaven

The Red Sox fired pitching coach Bob McClure on Monday, just 122 games into his first season on the Sox’ staff.  He was the 3rd Red Sox pitching coach in as many years and his firing paved way for the 4th, assistant pitching coach Randy Niemann.  A lot of people are calling McClure a scapegoat for what’s gone on with the Red Sox this season but can you really be a scapegoat if you fail at your job miserably and are fired for it?  The thing that gets Bobby Valentine off of the hook for this one is that McClure wasn’t a Valentine hire.  You can’t say that canning McClure is Valentine trying to pin the troubles of the 2012 Red Sox on his pitching coach because, according to all reports, McClure wasn’t really Valentine’s pitching coach.

McClure was hired by the Red Sox organization last off-season before Bobby Valentine had even picked his coaching staff.  He was hired to be a organizational pitching instructor and not the major league staff’s pitching coach.  The official story given by Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine today, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, is that they interviewed a handful of potential pitching coach options and Bob McClure was added to the list as a dark horse and apparently “wowed” in the interview and was given the job over Valentine and Cherington’s original list of candidates.  That story sounds an awful like how Valentine himself was hired over the myriad of candidates that Ben Cherington interviewed in the early part of the process.  Does anyone care to guess who it was that pushed Bob McClure to the front of the line?  I’m guessing Larry Lucchino “suggested” to Valentine to hire McClure in the same way that he “suggested” to Cherington to hire Bobby V.

It seemed like a doomed situation from the get-go.  Bobby Valentine was saddled by a pitching coach that he didn’t pick and didn’t necessarily have any trust in.  McClure was tossed into a fractured coaching staff as a man on his own.  The other coaches that Valentine has had a frosty relationship with, bench coach Tim Bogar, hitting coach Dave Magadan, and bullpen coach Gary Tuck, are all Terry Francona loyalists.  McClure was coming into the situation cold.  The hiring of an assistant pitching coach, Valentine confidante Randy Niemann, certainly couldn’t have helped the relationship but these are adults that we’re talking about here and McClure was hired, and paid, to do a job.  A job that he apparently thought he could do while barely talking to the manager of the team aka his boss.  As much as I hate to say it that’s the 2012 Red Sox in a nutshell.

McClure may not have liked Valentine but that’s not an excuse to have one of the worst pitching staffs in the league

McClure’s abrasive attitude may have been tolerable if the Red Sox didn’t have one of the worst pitching staffs in the league despite being one of the highest paid.  Jon Lester, who should have been in the prime of his career, went through one of the worst stretches that I’ve ever seen a pitcher of his caliber go through.  Josh Beckett has been mediocre throughout the season.  Clay Buchholz struggled mightily throughout the beginning of the season.  Where were the adjustments?  Daisuke Matsuzaka?  That was another failed experiment.  Felix Doubront had a great start to the season but, again, when he hit the wall where were the adjustments?  What is the point of a pitching coach if not to help the pitchers make adjustments needed to succeed?  Simply put Bob McClure didn’t get the job done.  Now Bobby Valentine will get a month to work with his hand-picked guy, Randy Niemann, as he fights to retain his job for next season (which is another story for another day).

Bob McClure is really a symbol of what was wrong with this team in 2012.  Is Bobby Valentine an attention whore whose sarcasm and brashness doesn’t play in today’s baseball?  Absolutely.  Is that an excuse for guys to sit down on their jobs while getting paid lots of money?  Of course not.  McClure is just the first shoe likely to drop as a result and it’s honestly hard to feel bad for him regardless of how much of a jerk Bobby Valentine is.  The sad part is the true picture of the 2012 Boston Red Sox is starting to show.  It’s a team that was so fractured that only 3 players (Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz) and 1 coach (Alex Ochoa) even gave an attempt to unit the players and the coaching staff.  And in this day and age, in this city, with this media and fan base, 4 guys isn’t nearly enough.

Follow me on Twitter

How Should The Red Sox Handle Carl Crawford’s Injury?

Crawford looks more comfortable in Boston this year but there is no sense delaying his Tommy John surgery

The Red Sox signed Carl Crawford to a monster contract before the 2011 season and Crawford had a disappointing first year in Boston.  He hit only .255 and stole only 18 bases, well below his career totals when he was in Tampa where he regularly terrorized the Red Sox.  Crawford was anxious to make Red Sox Nation forget about his poor first season but a series of injuries delayed his comeback until July 16th.  Word was that even though he was healthy enough to play that he would eventually need Tommy John surgery on his elbow, likely at the end of this season.  So the question now is – at what point does Crawford shut it down and get the surgery?

Crawford has played much better this year than he did last year with the Red Sox.  In his 24 games since he has come of the DL he is hitting .258 with 3 home runs and 13 RBI.  He is hitting much better at home than on the road though which is something that he needs to fix.  The problem for the Red Sox is that even with Crawford back in the lineup the Red Sox are still sputtering around the .500 mark.  The Sox have not put out their best lineup all season and when they lost 3B Will Middlebrooks for the rest of the year it meant that they won’t at any point.  At some point David Ortiz will be back in the lineup but by then it will be far too late for the Red Sox to get back into contention.  One might say that the Sox should shut Crawford down and get the surgery now.

There is a lot of different information about exactly how long it takes a position player to recover from Tommy John surgery.  Despite Rob Bradford of WEEI’s claim that it takes just as long for a position player to recover from Tommy John surgery as a pitcher, meaning 10-12 months, the numbers simply don’t back that up.  Two position players got Tommy John Surgery last August, Padres OF Brad Hawpe and Reds SS Zach Cozart.  Both players were cleared for full baseball activity by mid-February, almost 6 months to the day from the time of their surgery.  So even if Crawford were to wait until the end of the season to get the surgery he would likely be able to be cleared for baseball activity before opening day.  However if he shuts down at the end of this month and gets the surgery then he should be healthy enough to participate in spring training next season.

One other thing is that Crawford is still “likely” to need the surgery which sounds like a final decision has yet to be made.  Why is there still doubt that the procedure would have to be done?  I’m not sure but it doesn’t make sense for him to “probably” need Tommy John surgery for 3 months and then all of a sudden not need it.  My money is that he will get the surgery at some point in the next few months and will hopefully feel a lot better and more comfortable as a result.

At this point the Red Sox should re-evaluate the decision at the end of the month.  If the Red Sox are still at or under .500 then they should shut Crawford down and have him get the surgery.  A surgery in early September means that he should be able to resume baseball activities in early March and would be more healthy going into next season then he was this season.  He doesn’t need to try and rush to get back to the team like he did this year.  Hopefully with his major injury concerns behind him he can relax and get back to being the Carl Crawford that we expected when he signed here last off-season.  There’s no need for false hope at this point.  This season is lost, it might be time to start looking towards the next one.

Follow me on Twitter

At What Point Is Larry Lucchino’s Job With The Red Sox In Jeopardy

The Red Sox have been an unmitigated mess since last September 1st.  They have changed managers.  They have changed general managers.  They have turned over the roster some.  The one constant throughout all of the mess has been Red Sox ownership – John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino.  Henry, of course, is the point and money person.  Werner is the marketing and TV guy and since they are still making money hand over fist from ad revenue and ticket sales I’d say he’s not the problem.  That leaves the baseball guy – Larry Lucchino.

At What Point Is Larry Lucchino’s Job With The Red Sox In Jeopardy

Make no mistake, Larry Lucchino bought the Red Sox woes over the offseason when he placed organization mainstay Ben Cherington into Theo Epstein’s old role and then himself not only hired the manager he wanted, Bobby Valentine, but also added to the coaching staff as he saw fit by saddling Valentine with his own pitching coach hire, Bob McClure.  Lucchino bought this mess back in the off-season and now he must be held responsible for what has taken place since.

This isn’t the first time that Lucchino has pulled a power play.  He lost the first time around back in 2005 when Theo Epstein challenged Lucchino’s power by walking away from the organization for several months following the season (and his contract expiration).  Red Sox owner John Henry valued Epstein too much to lose him in a power struggle to Lucchino and brokered a deal to return Epstein to an organization that saw Lucchino’s power diminished.  Epstein went on to win another World Series as GM but the wheels came off the Epstein regime in 2011 and he jumped ship to the Cubs as a result.  This put Lucchino back into his familiar position of power and he exerted every ounce of it that he could.  As new GM Cherington was conducting an on-the-level search for a new manager Lucchino did everything he could to get his guy, Bobby Valentine, the job.

Henry trusts Lucchino put he needs to pull back his power now like he did in 2005

I don’t even blame John Henry for letting Lucchino take the reigns for this year.  The guy, like him or not, is  a proven baseball executive and has been one of Henry’s closest confidantes in baseball for over a decade.  But Lucchino should be subject to the same performance evaluations as anyone else and let’s call his performance exactly what it is – not very good.  Lucchino tried to put on his Theo Epstein hat and do his thing and he failed.  Lucchino, while a great executive and overseer, is simply not a day-to-day baseball guy.  As much as he wanted to be able to say that he could,  at the end of the day Lucchino is simply not a Theo Epstein.  Or a Pat Gillick.  Or a Billy Beane.  He’s not an exceptional baseball operations guy.  He’s just a good businessman who knows the business of baseball.

Now I’m not naive enough to think that Henry will simply dismiss Lucchino but it seems like the time is coming for an organizational overhaul.  That would mean a new front office and coaching staff.  If Henry was smart he’d find another guy out there who he could entrust the entire baseball operations to, like he did Epstein, and tell Lucchino that he needs to back off and let that person do his thing.  That means picking his own manager and letting that manager pick his own staff.  If Henry goes about things the wrong way then come next season Lucchino will still have all the power, Cherington will continue to be a paper GM and Valentine will still be the manager with a lame duck coaching staff.  Its clear that the changes that need to be made at this point are at the top.  It just depends on whether or not John Henry has the guts to implement them.

I don’t advocate making a move now as it will amount to once again putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound.  If the Red Sox fail to make the playoffs for the third straight year then it is clear that the Red Sox need to change the focus of the organization.  Bring a new set of eyes in and let them build around Pedroia, Gonzalez, Crawford, Buchholz and the prospects that they do have.

Follow me on Twitter

Is Bobby V. Getting Too Much Of The Blame?

Is Bobby V. Getting Too Much Of The Blame?

There has been a lot of talk in the media in the past few days about the way Bobby Valentine has handled the job as Red Sox manager this year, most of it being critical.  Gorden Edes really started the conversation yesterday morning when he published this article.  Edes’ article is a rather critical look at the communications problems hounding the Sox that included quotes from unnamed veteran players that say Valentine doesn’t have the support of “anyone” in the clubhouse.  Rob Bradford chimed in today with a look at the situation for Valentine’s perspective.  It seems that issues continue to plague the Boston Red Sox clubhouse and now the blame seems to be falling at the feet of new manager Bobby Valentine.

First off I realize that Bobby Valentine is probably not the easiest guy to get along with.  He’s got a big personality and he comes of as very arrogant a lot of the times.  He also probably came in with a chip on his shoulder having been out of the major leagues as a manager since 2002.  He was also brought in to replace a player’s manager and probably felt that he had to overcompensate for that by being the “bad guy” at times in the Sox clubhouse.  Secondly I realize that Terry Francona was one of the best managers in Red Sox history and insanely popular among players and fans alike.  It was a shame how it all ended for Tito here in Boston.  But let’s look at the reality of the situation here.

The Red Sox’ problems didn’t start when they hired Bobby Valentine.  They embarrassed themselves last season when they had one of the worst collapses in MLB history amid a myriad of problems in their clubhouse.  They are on the verge of missing the playoffs for the 3rd straight year.  Players are underachieving all across the board.  Now people are trying to convince us that it’s all Bobby V.’s fault.  The same Bobby V. that was working for ESPN while the team collapsed last September.  The same Bobby V. that wasn’t even in the country when the Sox failed to qualify for the playoffs two seasons ago.  Bobby V. may not have helped things when he was hired this off-season but it’s not like things were going great when he got here.

Players have underachieved under both Valentine and Francona during the last 3 seasons

Would it have been better if they kept Tito?  Ask yourself honestly after seeing what’s happened in the clubhouse and on the field in his last two seasons, particularly last September, and tell me if the answer is really yes.  Would the Sox have been better off had they hired someone else as manager in the off-season?  Yeah, they probably would have but do you really believe that this team would be that much higher in the standings with someone else?

Here’s the situation – the players simply have to look in the mirror and ask themselves if they really want it.  They need to decide if they really want to turn the ship around.  They need to decide if they want to put that uniform on that says “Boston” on the front and represent this team and this city to the best of their abilities.  It’s put up or shut up time for these guys.  They were here last September, Valentine wasn’t.  They were here in 2010 when they didn’t qualify for the playoffs, Valentine wasn’t.  It’s on them to get us back there.  They need to go out there and get the job done.  I don’t care if they like Bobby Valentine or not.  In the end they’re playing for Boston, not him

Follow me on Twitter

Red Sox’ 2nd Half Begins Tomorrow Night

The second half of the MLB season begins tomorrow night in Tampa for the Sox with a big 3 game series vrs. the Rays.  As hard as it is to fathom the Sox could potentially pass the Rays in the standings with a sweep.  This weekend could very well determine the fate of the Red Sox’ 2012 season.  Here are 5 storylines to keep an eye on in the second half:

Ellsbury returns from injury Friday night

1. Can Jacoby Ellsbury boost the top of the Red Sox order?  Mike Aviles did a fine job earlier in the season at the lead-off spot and Daniel Nava held his own in the middle.  Neither guy is the pure lead-off threat that Ellsbury is.  Ellsbury will join the team Friday night in Tampa Bay for the first time since the home opener at Fenway back in April.  Ellsbury was an MVP candidate last season and don’t discount the fact that he now only has a year and a half to show that he can repeat the performance as he heads into free agency.  The Sox offense hasn’t been the problem but the lack of clutch hits and guys getting on base before the run producers in the Sox lineup has hurt them.  Ellsbury is the first step to recreating a top-to-bottom lineup that puts guys in the right spots.  Aviles and Nava will see better pitches in the lower part of the order and should be able to get on for the top of the lineup.  Of course he needs the shoulder to hold up first so we’ll see what this weekend brings.

Lester himself has expressed frustration in his sub par 1st half

2. What Lester and Beckett will show up in the 2nd half?  The numbers have been beaten to death over the All-Star break.  Combined they are 9-13 with an ERA over 4.50.  Beckett has been hampered with a shoulder problem for much of the year.  Lester himself just this week has expressed frustration in his own ability to get the job done.  The Sox need these guys to step up because there is nobody else to pick up the slack for them in the rotation unless a trade is made.  Lester in particular has been disappointing as he is only 28 years old and does not look close to the pitcher that he was in 2008-2010.  Pitchers generally don’t break down this early, especially big durable guys like Lester so you have to wonder what the problem is.  Is it the coaching?  A physical problem?  A mental one?  Whatever it is he’d better sort it out fast.

3. Can Carl Crawford contribute anything?  Crawford is staring down the possibility of Tommy John surgery on his arm in the off-season but word is he might have it sooner if he has too much discomfort.  Nevertheless Crawford is scheduled to play in Pawtucket tonight and is expected to join the big club on Monday for his season debut.  Again if Crawford is healthy he would lengthen the Sox lineup.  Then there is the issue of productivity.  Although he was productive at times last year Crawford couldn’t stay consistent.  Some though the pressures of the big market got to him.  Crawford is a hard worker and there’s been a lot of talk about how he’s been determined to make things work in Boston.  Obviously the injuries have not allowed him to prove anything.  At some point you wonder if the Sox just cut their losses and have him do the surgery now so he can be back for next year.  But at this point it looks like he is going to give it a go.

Gonzalez only managed to hit 6 home runs in the 1st half

4. Will Adrian Gonzalez’ power return?  The biggest mystery of the first half of the season is what happened to Gonzalez’ power.  Maybe it was the shoulder surgery, maybe another physical issue came up.  Maybe the pressure got to him.  Gonzalez was on a tear right before the All-Star break with an 18-game hitting streak that was snapped when he went 0-for-1 in 1 plate appearance last Sunday night.  I think Gonzalez was thinking too much about hitting the long ball.  Once he concentrated on simply getting hits they started to come in droves.  I think if he continues that approach during the 2nd half of the season then the home runs will start coming.  I expect a more productive 2nd half for Gonzalez and if Ellsbury is getting on in front of him it will create more RBI opportunities for him even if he is only hitting singles or doubles.

5. Will the Red Sox be buyers or sellers at the deadline?  We may know the answer to this question within the first week after the break.  If the Red Sox get off to a slow start they may be enticed to move a few pieces off for prospects.  Before we get into it they will not trade Lester, Pedroia, Ortiz, or any of the other big name players.  Guys like Mike Aviles, Kelly Shoppach, or Cody Ross could get moved.  There is already talk of trading Ryan Sweeney between now and tomorrow night to make the space for Ellsbury.  The Sox can trade off a few of their veteran bullpen arms and replace them with Clayton Mortensen and Junichi Tazawa.  Basically anyone who is blocking a young player with potential in the minors could get moved in order to get them some at-bats if the season is lost.

It will be an interesting few weeks between now and the trade deadline.  The Sox could be right back in the thick of things or you could be looking at guys like Jose Iglesias and Ryan Lavarnway getting time in the 2nd half of the season to groom them.  The biggest storyline of them all might be what will become of Bobby Valentine.  I don’t think he’s done the worst of jobs but if the Red Sox flop in the 2nd half you have to assume that his job will be on the line.  We’ll see starting tomorrow night how these guys will respond.

Follow me on Twitter

Morales And Cook Have Lifted Red Sox Rotation

At the beginning of the year the Red Sox rotation was failing them.  Daniel Bard was a disaster as a starter, Clay Buchholz looked to be struggling coming back from his 2011 back injury and Jon Lester was showing the same inconsistencies that he was last September.   Add in the fact that an aging Josh Beckett was starting to show durability issues and the Red Sox rotation looked to be a major weakness at the beginning of the season.  It’s rare that you have a season like 2004 when all of the Sox starters made every single one of their starts so starting pitching depth is important.  Give credit to Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine for identifying two guys that could, and have, helped out the Red Sox rotation.

Aaron Cook was as efficient as one could be Friday night in Seattle

First is Aaron Cook who was in the running for a starters job in spring training and pitched well but was not stretched out due to an injury and had to start the year in Pawtucket.  On May 5th the Red Sox called Cook up to replace an injured Josh Beckett and Cook was promptly spiked in the leg while covering home plate in the 2nd inning of that game.  He headed on to the DL for another month and a half.  When Clay Buchholz had to go on the DL with his stomach issues Cook was called on to take his place in the rotation.

Cook has made two starts in Buchholz’ absence and won them both.  He has pitched 14 innings in the 2 games, giving up 3 runs on 8 hits.  Cook’s good sinker has been on since he came off of the DL.  Of the 42 outs that Cook has recorded so far as as a starter over half have come on the ground ball.  Cook has only struck out 2 batters since he’s been back but he doesn’t really utilize the strike out.  Cook’s start Friday night against the Mariners was one of the most efficient starts I have seen in a long time.  He took care of the Mariners on 81 pitches and 2 hits, 1 of them being an infield single by Ichiro.  He pounded the strike zone and let the Mariners hitters make contact and let his infielders do the rest.  He only faced 1 batter over the minimum for the entire game.  Cook is the type of pitcher, with that biting sinker, that will go on long hot streaks.  If Cook can continue to pitch like he did Friday night it’s hard to see how the Red Sox wouldn’t use him somehow.

Morales has racked up the Ks since joining the rotation

Franklin Morales was acquired by the Sox last year from the Colorado Rockies for nothing but cash.  Morales did a fine enough job last season for Boston, finishing with a 3.62 ERA in 36 relief appearances.  Morales was supposed to be one of the late inning guys for the Sox this season but he struggled early like the rest of the bullpen did and was relegated into more of a middle relief role.  He is a guy who relies on control and has devastating strikeout stuff when he is getting the ball over the plate.  Bobby Valentine started to rely on Morales in the longer situations out of the bullpen and he began to stretch him out and eventually when Josh Beckett’s shoulder landed on the DL Morales got the call to take his spot in the rotation.

Morales has made 3 starts since being put into the rotation.  The Red Sox won the first 2 and lost the 3rd by a score of 1-0 against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez.  Morales has pitched 18 innings in his 3 starts.  In those 18 innings he’s given up 4 earned runs on 14 hits.  His most impressive stat is the 24 strikeouts that he has piled up against only 3 walks in those 18 innings.  Morales has been pin point with his control and when he gets ahead of hitters he has shown that he has the arsenal to put them away with his 95+ MPH fastball with a ton of movement to go with a devastating change-up that often catches hitters off guard.  Morales was actually a starter on the 2007 Rockies team that lost to the Red Sox in the World Series but he is currently enjoying his biggest success as a starting pitcher.  He looks to be filling the role that Alfredo Aceves did last year as the most versatile man on the Red Sox pitching staff.

Cook and Morales can help the Red Sox in several different ways from here on out.  Morales will stay in the rotation, at least for the short term but you may see him bumped a la Aceves last season when they need someone else in the bullpen.  Unlike last year however the bullpen has been great and unless they suffer a rash of injuries it doesn’t look like Morales will be all that needed in the pen.  With Felix Doubront coming back down to earth a bit Morales has become the Sox’ best strikeout pitcher in the rotation.  With his versatility he should not come off of the Red Sox roster for the rest of the year unless he is injured.

Ben and Bobby have decisions to make with Cook, Morales, and others

Cook is a different story.  He was the subject of trade rumors while he was in Pawtucket early in the season and may be the subject of them again.  If Cook can show that he is healthy and can contribute to a contending team, particularly in the National league then the Red Sox can move him for something of relatively good value.  It’s not bad to get a good return on a guy that only makes 5 or 6 starts for you so if someone hits you with a good offer you have to listen.  The Sox would still have Morales and Dice-K to go along with their original top 4 starters in the rotation and also have Clayton Mortensen and Aceves as back-up options if need be.

The Sox are best to ride both of these guys out while they’re hot and re-evaluate once we approach the trade deadline.  One thing for certain is that you always need starting pitching depth and Cook and Morales have provided valuable depth for the Sox rotation.

Follow me on Twitter

Red Sox Finally Climb Out Of Last Place

If someone told you at the beginning of the season that the Red Sox would be situated in last place in the American League East division from opening day until June 2nd you would have probably gone into full-blown panic mode.  The truth of the matter is that despite being in last place for two full months the Red Sox climbed up into 4th place last night and now stand only 2 games behind the 1st place Orioles and Rays.  They are only .5 game behind the Yankees at this point for 3rd place as well.  Such is life in the American League East this year.  No one team is much greater than the rest and once the Red Sox bounced back from a horrid start and the Orioles came back down to earth a bit the division has been bunched up together for the past few weeks and it will probably stay that way for much of the remainder of the year.

Things are looking up for Bobby V.’s Red Sox

One thing that’s for sure at this point is that it’s time for Red Sox Nation to give the devil its due.  Bobby Valentine has done a phenomenal job these past few weeks to get the Red Sox back into the AL East race.  He had a rocky start and he certainly heard it from the fans but after settling in Bobby V. has really found his groove.  He has had to maneuver around a minefield of injuries, many significant, and has done an excellent job.  He had what amounted to a patchwork bullpen at the beginning of the season after the injury to Andrew Bailey and ineffectiveness of Mark Melancon and has done an excellent job maintaining with what he has back there.  He’s worked well with the starting pitchers.  For the better part of the last month Bobby Valentine has seemed to push all of the right buttons and it’s time he gets his due.

Andrew Miller has become a key component in the Red Sox bullpen

The bullpen was a mess in the early going but Valentine and Ben Cherington never stopped trying to fit the right pieces in.  They weren’t afraid to admit a mistake when they sent Mark Melancon, who they traded two players for to become the primary set -up man, to AAA Pawtucket to get himself right.  They added Andrew Miller who has the big frame and arm but not the mentality to be a starter into the pen and he is enjoying a renaissance of sorts in his new role.  He stuck with Alfredo Aceves and Vicente Padilla even though they struggled in the early-going and they have become more reliable.  He has gotten used to the roles that he wants the pitchers to have and it’s worked out for the better.  He’s used Scott Atchison in a bridge role and he has responded with an early 0.89 ERA.  He uses Matt Albers primarily against righties late in games and Albers has a 1.32 ERA against them thus far.  Conversely he’s used Rich Hill as a lefty specialist and Hill has a 1.13 ERA against left-handed hitters for the season.  Whatever Bobby V. seems to do with the pen works these days and that’s a far cry from where we were at the beginning of the year.

Valentine has stuck with Nava who’s paid dividends

The injuries and spare parts in the lineup actually tailors more to Bobby V.’s managing style.  Valentine is not the type of manager to keep the lineup the same every night so it’s no surprise that he is mixing and matching with guys like Mike Aviles, Ryan Sweeney, and Daniel Nava.  Instead of replacing Jacoby Ellsbury with a permanent lead off hitter in his absence Valentine has done lead off man by committee which is probably a good idea since there is not a guy on the roster currently with extensive lead off experience with the exception of 36-year old Scott Posednik.  He’s shown faith in guys that have produced like a Daniel Nava.  Francona was a great manager but he tended to stick with the veteran players even if a younger guy was out-producing him.  Nava has been great, Will Middlebrooks has wrestled away a spot in the every day lineup and Mike Aviles has shown why neither Marco Scutaro or Jed Lowrie are missed in the Red Sox order.  No matter where they are in the lineup it seems like another role player or two is producing every game.

The Sox have been hot since Ortiz’ players-only meeting

Lastly the biggest improvement of the team from the start of the year comes in the chemistry department.  I’m not sure if they had to hit rock bottom to come up from the problems of last season but the Josh Beckett golf outing/David Ortiz meeting seems to have become the turning point in team chemistry.  The players seem looser now than they have for a long time.  Sure winning cures these types of things but they have seemed to have gotten over that hump and have come together as a team.  Whatever happened to team chemistry I hope it keeps up because these guys are playing like a team and winning games.

It’s amazing to think that this team was all bit written off a mere few weeks ago.  Now the starters are pitching better including Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard who both went through brutal stretches.  The bullpen is winning games.  The lineup, whatever it is for any given game, is producing.  Eventually guys like Jacoby Ellsbury, Cody Ross, Carl Crawford, and Andrew Bailey will be back.  There is still a long way to go and anything can happen but you can’t deny that there’s life in this team now.  You couldn’t say that about them a month ago.

Follow me on Twitter

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.