Quick Thoughts on Red Sox Game #1

The good news is that for the first time since 2010 the Red Sox started 1-0.  The better news is that for the first time since 2010 that the Red Sox will not be swept in the first series of the season.  The new look Red Sox offense put a ton of pressure on Yankees ace CC Sabathia and Jon Lester got his first opening day victory in three tries for the Red Sox.  Here are some quick, very premature thoughts on the first game of the season.

  • Lester was sharp in all but 1 inning

    Lester was sharp in all but 1 inning

    Jon Lester looked sharp in all but 1 inning but that 1 inning is a killer.  Last year the guy would just lose himself at times and that is what led to his downfall.  It happened again in the 4th inning but luckily he got it back in the 5th to finish out the start and get the win.  Lester needs to eliminate that problem inning because the bottom line is he’s piling up too many damn pitches early in the game.  He can’t rely on the bullpen all season long to clean up his messes.

  • All that being said above the Red Sox bullpen did a hell of a job cleaning up his mess.  It was an interesting strategy by Farrell to use virtually everyone but it worked out today.  Andrew Miller showed how maddening he can be by walking the first two and striking out the next two.  Bailey and Hanrahan both had some extra juice on their fastballs today, they may have been saving that stuff for the regular season.  If the guys in the back end pitch like they did today this team will be tough to beat with a lead late in games.
  • Jonny Gomes celebrate his hustle run in the 7th

    Jonny Gomes celebrate his hustle run in the 9th

    The Red Sox offense did work without Napoli or Middlebrooks doing anything.  Crazy as it sounds I’m not rushing Papi back because Jonny Gomes is a gamer.  That was a great hustle play to score on Ellsbury’s infield single in the 9th.

  • It was nice to see the Red Sox get back to basics overall.  There was no half-assing on the base paths.  Iglesias did what he had to do to get on base with a bunt single and two infield hits.  Bradley walked 3 times, which is as many times as Crawford walked ALL SEASON last year.  They worked Sabathia early and drove up the pitch count and he only lasted 5 innings.  This is the kind of thing that you saw night in and night out during the Francona years and hopefully it’s a sign of things to come this season.
  • I can’t believe I saw Jarrod Saltalamacchia walk 3 times in the same baseball game.  I’ll wait and see if it was just an aberration or if he has finally learned how to take pitches.
  • Jackass

    Jackass

    It was a great start for the Red Sox no doubt but there is one thing that can’t be denied – the Yankees lineup sucks.  Every time they started a rally they’d have a scrub like Lyle Overbay or Jayson Nix come up (or is it Lance Nix?  I’m not even sure which one it was.)  Guys like Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, even Ichiro, these guys haven’t been any good in years and they are relying on them in key spots.  You could see that Youk strike out against Bailey in the 7th coming from a mile away.  Like we haven’t had that scouting report on him for a decade.  And he’s their clean-up hitter right now.

  • Joba Chamberlain looks like a jackass with his porn stache.
  • The thing that I hate about opening day is they play the first game and you are all pumped up for baseball to be back and then they don’t play again for another day and a half.  We’ll see if the Red Sox can make it 2 for 2 Wednesday night in the Bronx.

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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.

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The Red Sox And The Demise Of The Big Markets

The Boston Red Sox looked like a juggernaut last season in the run-up to September.  They had spent the previous two off-seasons signing big-name free agents (John Lackey, Carl Crawford) and making a blockbuster trade (Adrian Gonzalez).  As the Red Sox ran through the competition all summer it seemed like they had created a monster that would last for years, only to be matched by the rival Yankees in the American League and the free-spending Phillies in the National League.  Of course we all know what happened to the Red Sox post-September but it’s interesting to point out that the Yankees and Phillies both went out of the MLB playoffs with a whimper in the 1st round, losing to Detroit and St. Louis respectively.  The Cardinals went on to defeat the Texas Rangers in the World Series.

Beckett’s bloated contract was taken on by the Dodgers in full

While the Red Sox were at a crossroads going into the season with the firing of Terry Francona and hiring of Bobby Valentine the other big money teams seemed to be on solid footing.  The Phillies added the Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, among others, with a big contract.  The Yankees landed Hiroki Kuroda.  Other teams got into the mix – the Tigers spent big money on Prince Fielder.  The Angels spent a small fortune on Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.  The Marlins went on a spending spree that included contracts for Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle.  Texas spent big money to secure the services of Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish.  Then, after the season was underway, Magic Johnson and co. bought the Dodgers from Frank McCourt and traded for pretty much everyone that they could get their hands on.  Despite the Red Sox falling flat on their faces in 2011 spending money seemed to still be all the rage among big market major league clubs.

Fast forward to September 18th, 2012.  The Red Sox have been long dead and buried.  They have already traded two of the three big ticket items that they bought in their spending spree.  Again it started with the Red Sox but it doesn’t end there.  Fielder and the Tigers are clinging to playoff hopes, dealing with a 3 game hole in the AL Central.  They are 5th in the AL Wild Card standings.  Pujols and the Angels are 3rd in the wild card race as well as in the AL West.  They stand 3 games behind the Orioles in the race for the last wild card.  As for the team with the largest payroll in MLB, the Yankees, they cling to a .5 game lead over the Baltimore Orioles.  Yes, I said the Orioles.  The Yankees have the 3rd best record in the AL behind the Texas Rangers and, I kid you not, the Oakland Athletics.  A team with upwards of 190 million in payroll for the season may have to go play a game in the Oakland Coliseum just to qualify for the wild card round of the playoffs.

The Heath Bell contract became a disaster for the Marlins only a few months into it

Over in the National League things aren’t much better for the big spenders.  We’ll start with the biggest failure of all, the Marlins, who are the only big spending team with a worse record than the Red Sox at 65-83.  The biggest disappointment however might be the Phillies who are limping to a late season wild card push with an even 74-74 record.  Then there is the LA Dodgers, the team that took on the complete salaries of Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Joe Blanton all in the span of less than a month.  They currently stand at 76-71, 1 game out of the 2nd wild card.  If the season ended today the Braves would host the Cardinals in the play-in game to see who faces the best team in baseball, the Washington Nationals.  The Cincinnati Reds would host the San Fransisco Giants in the other series.

So there you have it – if the season ended today only 4 of the teams in the top 10 in payroll coming into the season (Yankees, Rangers, Giants, Cardinals) would qualify for the playoffs.  That doesn’t even count the Dodgers who were 12th in the league in payroll coming in.  Conversely the team with the 2nd lowest payroll, the Oakland Athletics, would host the American League wild card play-in game to go with the 2nd best record in the league.  I think it’s safe to say that your money doesn’t go as far as it used to on baseball’s free agent market.

The Red Sox were ahead of the curve in shedding payroll just as they were ballooning it.  This off-season it will probably be a good time for some of the other big-market clubs to do the same.  After all, Dodgers president Stan Kasten said that he hasn’t found a spending limit yet and will be sure to take on some of those bad contracts.  Either way baseball seems to be re-revolutionizing itself into a more parody-resulted league and that can be nothing but a good thing.  But one thing could be taken away about the results of the teams with multiple heavy contracts in the clubhouse – we know for a fact that the Red Sox had major issues internally – based on results, isn’t it safe to say that they probably weren’t alone?

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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?

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The Red Sox Blockbuster – A Day Later

Well we are one game into the post-armageddon era of the Red Sox roster and the results were a lot similar to what they were before the trade.  Clearly a team with one of the worst starting ERAs in the league is not going to be fixed with the jettison of one pitcher.  The pitching needs to be overhauled in a big way but unlike two days ago the Sox now have the financial flexibility to do it.  It is still amazing that such a deal went down on August 25th, 25 days after the non-waiver deadline.  Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald had some interesting stuff on the deal this morning.  When you add it all up you can find two undeniable facts regarding the two sides.  The first is that the Red Sox didn’t want to give up Adrian Gonzalez.  The second is that the Dodgers wanted him so badly that they literally made the Red Sox an offer that they couldn’t refuse.

Cherington had a Godfather-like moment yesterday – all of the family business was settled

I remember a few months ago and in the last off-season hearing the Red Sox ownership express concerns about getting under the luxury tax next season for fear of major tax penalties.  I’d imagine that those fears are quashed now.  The Sox have roughly $120 million in space between their year end payroll and the luxury tax threshold.  They could still go out on a spending binge of $60 million in new salaries for next season and still be a cushion of between $50 and $60 million.  The Red Sox aren’t going to spend all of the money that they have just saved in one off-season but the change in financial flexibility from one day to the next is just staggering.  Last year the Red Sox couldn’t even make an offer to pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, a 37-year old starter, because they couldn’t spend the $10 million on a one year deal it would take to get him.  This year they could sign three Kurodas and have plenty of money left over.

I’m not too familiar with the Dodgers situation but it’s  been pretty clear since the new ownership got there that they badly wanted to exercise the Frank McCourt demons.  Apparently they decided the best way to do it was to spend, spend, spend and then spend some more.  Previously they had taken on all of Hanley Ramirez’ remaining contract from the Marlins even though Miami would have been happy to chip in some money to get Hanley out of town.  They claimed Joe Blanton off of waivers from Philly and assumed his whole contract when Philly let him go.  They also claimed Phillies starter Cliff Lee, who is owed $21.5 million over the next 3 seasons but the Phillies pulled him back.  Then they made the huge move yesterday.  They took on over $250 million in salary considerations over the next 5 seasons to secure the first baseman that they wanted.  If a move like that seems preposterous it’s because it is.

The shocking thing about it isn’t just that the Dodgers took on all of that salary but they even gave up some good prospects as well.  This is where general manager Ben Cherington gets a lot of credit.  Even if Henry and Lucchino made it clear that they weren’t going to simply give Gonzalez away it was Cherington who had to do the leg work.  In trades to dump salaries you usually expect something mid level or lower in return (and usually have to pick up some of the tab).  Cherington gunned for the Dodgers #1 prospect, pitcher Zach Lee, but the Dodgers balked.  Cherington then wound up “settling” for the Dodgers #2 and #3 prospects, pitchers Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster.  They also got potential decent bats in OF/1B Jerry Sands and IF Ivan DeJesus.  They also got a major league player, 1B James Loney, that they can audition for the rest of the year and see if he is a fit.  The Red Sox not only got tremendous financial flexibility in the deal but they also got players that they could potentially use in major roles in the future.  One thing Cherington has done very well this season was bolster the Red Sox biggest organizational weakness – acquire high level pitching prospects at or near major league ready.  Since he’s taken the job he’s acquired Clayton Mortensen, Chris Carpenter, Zach Stewart, and now De La Rosa and Webster.  Not too shabby.

The Sox should now do what they should have been doing for years – build around Pedroia and Lester

You’ve heard the word “reset” a lot in the last few days and in a lot of ways that is the perfect word for it.  When the Red Sox were winning the World Series in 2007 you looked at four young players that the Red Sox could potentially build their team around in the future.  Now this off-season you can conceivably see the Red Sox build a new team around those four players – Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Jacoby Ellsbury.  There now seems to be an abundance of talent in the minors with the addition of the Dodgers prospects – 3 of the guys acquired have a chance to make the Red Sox squad out of camp next year.  The only one who will certainly need more time in the minors is Webster and that is only because he is 22 years old.  The Red Sox also have a trio of exciting prospects – shortstop Xander Boegarts, outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., and pitcher Matt Barnes, who are making a bee-line towards the major league roster and should arrive somewhere in the next 10-18 months.  And of course they now have the financial flexibility to add virtually any veteran player around this young core.

We obviously don’t know what’s going to happen moving forward but we know this much – there are A LOT more options on the table for the Red Sox now going into the off-season then there were just two days ago.  Such a move to shift so much payroll from one organization to the next is unprecedented and almost 48 hours after the news first broke it’s still hard to fathom.  One pundit said that this could turn into the Herschel Walker trade for baseball.  I certainly hope it does.  In any event this will go down as one of the most transformational moves in franchise, if not league, history.  Those who were complaining about the direction of this team can probably back off a bit now.  Of course the Red Sox will probably finish horribly for the rest of this season as they audition younger players but here’s the cherry on top – the Red Sox could top off this sweeping organizational change with a top 10 pick in next year’s MLB draft.

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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.

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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.

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Red Sox Legend Johnny Pesky Passes Away

Rest In Peace Johnny Pesky 9/27/1919 – 8/13/2012

Johnny Pesky, a mainstay in the Boston Red Sox organization for over 60 years and arguably one of the most recognizable faces in Red Sox team history passed away today at the age of 92. You’ll never find a single man in the last generation, the current generation, or the next generation that was so inherently loyal to a single sports franchise than Johnny.  Pesky proudly wore the Red Sox uniform almost every day of the season from the time that he signed with the Red Sox in 1939 until the time that he was no longer physically able to do so.

Johnny Pesky played in 1,029 games for the Boston Red Sox from 1942 until 1952, losing 3 years from 1943-1945 to military service.  He amassed 1,277 hits for the Red Sox, good for a .313 average with the club.  He had 196 doubles, 46 triples, 13 home runs, 361 runs batted in and 48 stolen bases in his time with Boston.  He played a solid shortstop and teamed up with Hall of Fame 2B Bobby Doerr in the middle of the Sox infield throughout the 40′s.  He managed the Sox in 1963 and 1964 to rather disappointing results.   He returned to the Red Sox organization in 1968 as a colour commentator on WHDH radio and WBZ TV.  He became the Red Sox’ 1st base coach in 1975 and held that position until 1980 when he became hitting coach and bench coach.  When manager Don Zimmer was fired with 5 games left in the 1980 season Pesky became the team’s interim manager.  He went back to his bench and batting coach role until 1984.  He actually managed the Pawtucket Red Sox for their final 2 1/2 months of the 1990 season.  He has been officially listed as a special instructor and assistant to the General Manager since 1985.

Pesky certainly made his mark with the Red Sox organization and his legacy will live on forever in a lot of ways.  The right field foul pole was named Pesky’s Pole since teammate Mel Parnell joked that the only way that he could hit a home run was to bend it around that foul pole. He had his #6 retired in 2008, the only player in Red Sox history that isn’t in the Pro Baseball Hall Of Fame to have his number on the right field facade.  I was fortunate enough to watch that ceremony live at Fenway Park.  He will also forever stand outside the right field gate of Fenway Park along with his friends and teammates Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, and Bobby Doerr in the form of a statue inspired by the book “Teammates” by David Halberstam.  He was in the Red Sox clubhouse in St. Louis to celebrate the Red Sox first World Series win in 86 years in 2004, 58 years after he played in the 1946 World Series for the Red Sox against those same St. Louis Cardinals.  He was on the field for one of the final times this past April re-uniting with his former double play partner Bobby Doerr at the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park celebration.

Pesky was more than just a baseball guy.  He served in the United States Navy and spent 3 years away from the baseball diamond fighting for America in World War II from 1943-1945.  Ruth, his wife of 61 years passed away in 2005.  He is survived by his son David.

In closing I don’t want to tie the situation that the Red Sox are currently in with Pesky’s passing but I will say one thing.  It’s always been about the logo more than it’s been about just one man. Next time you say that you are done with this team, for whatever reason, remember that this man , Johnny Pesky, literally gave virtually his entire adult life to this one organization.

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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.

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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.

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