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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Will Red Sox Nation Be Patient As The Sox Reset?

The Red Sox made the trade heard round the world last Saturday when they shipped Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto, Carl Crawford and the bulk of their salaries to the Dodgers.  The move was met with almost overwhelming approval from Red Sox Nation.  The move also opened up many unanswered questions as to the direction of the team.  We know that the Red Sox will be going in some kind of a different direction this coming off-season but which direction exactly remains to be seen.  Whatever the future holds the Red Sox brass have seemed to earn some sort of mandate with the trade of those highly paid superstars and the creation of humongous payroll flexibility.

Red Sox Nation may need to show some patience next season

Of course the trade will be judged not only by the money saved but what is done with the money as well.  The problem is that the Red Sox will have to get creative in spending that money.  The free agent market is weak this year with the top two players, Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke, having off-the-field problems that may make teams shy away from giving them long term commitments.  But why would the Red Sox jump right back into the high level free agent market when that’s exactly what last week’s trade was meant to absolve?  We’ve heard about a new “disciplined” direction to team-building and shoveling more money at more free agents would strike many as hypocritical.  So the Red Sox will have to rebuild their team with smarts, patience, and that buzz word – discipline.  The problem is that it might take a year or two for the Red Sox to get to where they want to be.  The question is if Red Sox Nation – the same Red Sox Nation who are seemingly thrilled with the blockbuster – can stay patient as the team tries to do things the right way.

GM Ben Cherington has a lot of work to do

Bear in mind that I am not saying that the Red Sox have no chance to compete next year.  They still have Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester who can still be top of the rotation guys.  They have Felix Doubront and a few good young arms in the system, including the two they received from the Dodgers.  And, as I mentioned last weekend, the Sox will be able to utilize their financial flexibility to add a veteran pitcher on short years who can help the team in the short term.  Think a Jake Peavy or a Gavin Floyd on a 2 or 3 year contract.  The pitching can be fixed.  They can also bring David Ortiz and Cody Ross back to solidify the middle of the lineup.  Factor in the extra wild card spot and it’s not far-fetched to think that the Sox can grab a playoff spot next season while they are trying to rebuild on the fly.  However as possible as the above scenario is the opposite scenario is equally as possible.

What if we once again find ourselves in 4th place by the end of May?  Will Red Sox Nation accept this from a team with potentially half of the payroll of the 2012 squad?  Will Red Sox Nation accept the growing pains of what could be the youngest Red Sox team in decades?  Will they forget how happy they were when the Red Sox jettisoned 3 of their highest paid players, including arguably their most productive one?  It will be a fascinating dynamic to watch next year.  How much are the fans willing to take to preserve that payroll flexibility that they were all so happy to get from the trade with the Dodgers?

Of course the Red Sox can catch fire and be what they should have been this season but there is a good chance that there will be a lot of growing pains between now and when the Sox complete whatever they are starting to build post-trade.  How will Red Sox Nation handle it?  Will the grow impatient or will they give the new guys some room to grow?  If anything else it should be a fascinating story as the Red Sox move forward.

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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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Whatever Happened To “Red Sox Baseball”

Saltalamacchia is a great clubhouse guy but just doesn’t seem to be a great organizational fit

I’ve been watching the Red Sox struggle through the 2012 season and i can’t help but wonder what happened to the “Red Sox Baseball” that GM Theo Esptein implemented in the early part of the last decade that helped the Red Sox win two World Championships.  No, I’m not talking about that silly cosmetic stuff that anonymous sources report about what’s going on off the field.  I’m talking about what they do on the field, more specifically at the plate.  The Red Sox don’t take pitches anymore.  They don’t talk walks anymore.  They don’t make pitchers work hard anymore.  They often have poor at-bats, mostly from the bottom of the order.  Why did the Red Sox stop bringing in players with high OBP rates?

John Henry bought the Red Sox with an obsession with Oakland GM Billy Beane’s “moneyball” philosophy.  When he couldn’t secure Beane’s services he turned to another young moneyball disciple in Theo Esptein.  The Red Sox built the 2004 roster on players that walked.  Kevin Millar, David Ortiz, Bill Mueller, and Mark Bellhorn were all acquired before the 2003 or 2004 seasons and they all had one thing in common – they got on base.  The Red Sox built their 2007 roster by drafting players like Dustin Pedroia and supplementing the roster with guys like Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew who all got on base.  Now they have a bottom of the lineup that consistently have 3 or 4 pitch at-bats and leaves the pitcher fresh for the top of the order the 2nd and 3rd times around.  Guys like Mike Aviles and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are the opposite of the prototype moneyball type hitters.  Here’s a look at the OBPs for the starting lineups in the World Series winning years of 2004 and 2007.

Damon was the prototypical moneyball lead-off hitter


C Jason Varitek .390, 1B Kevin Millar .383, 2b Mark Bellhorn .373, SS Orlando Cabrera .320, 3B Bill Mueller .365, LF Manny Ramirez .397, CF Johnny Damon .380, RF Trot Nixon .377, DH David Ortiz .380


C Jason Varitek .367, 1B Kevin Youkilis .390, 2B Dustin Pedroia .380, SS Julio Lugo, .294, 3B Mike Lowell .378, LF Manny Ramirez .388, CF Coco Crisp, .330, RF J.D. Drew .373, DH David Ortiz .445

Now let’s take a look at the OBP numbers for the starting lineup so far this season:

C Jarrod Saltalamacchia .282, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, .352, 2B Dustin Pedroia, .336, SS Mike Aviles .285, 3B Will Middlebrooks .325, LF Carl Crawford .308, CF Jacoby Ellsbury .309, RF Cody Ross .337, DH David Ortiz .414

The differences are astounding.  In 2004 and 2007 only 1 player in the Sox starting lineup, Julio Lugo, had an OBP under .300 and he was at .294.  This year they have 2, Saltalamacchia and Aviles, and both are .285 or under.  Lugo, Orlando Cabrera, and Coco Crisp were the only 3 guys in those two seasons to have a OBP of .330 or lower.  Only 4 guys in the Red Sox starting lineup this season – their 3 best hitters, Gonzalez, Pedroia, Ross and Ortiz – are over the .330 mark.  Jacoby Ellsbury’s .309 OBP is a horrible number for a lead-off hitter and pales in comparison to the .380 OBP of 2004 lead-off man Johnny Damon.  Bill Mueller’s .365 OBP was 2nd lowest in the Red Sox starting lineup in 2004.  He’d have the second highest in this year’s lineup.

It’s clear what the Red Sox need to do.  They need to re-acquire players who takes pitches and get on base.  They need to rebuild the roster with the 2004 version as a guideline.  When Theo Epstein took over in 2002 he envisioned a 100 million dollar player development machine.  Now it’s just a 100 million dollar mess.  For the Red Sox to get back into the post-season they need to simply get back to Red Sox baseball.  Judging by the numbers above it doesn’t seem like a guy like Mike Aviles, Jarrod Saltalamacchia or even Jacoby Ellsbury would fit into that plan.  They need to get rid of the guys who don’t get on base and replace him with guys who do.

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Ellsbury And Crawford Providing A Spark At The Top Of The Red Sox Lineup

We’ve seen more of the Tampa Crawford since his return from the DL

When Carl Crawford signed with the Red Sox before last season people expected to see a dynamic 1-2 punch at the top of the Red Sox lineup with Jacoby Ellsbury and Crawford.  While Ellsbury put up an MVP season last year Crawford did not live up to the hype and hit primarily in the 6th and 7th spot in the lineup all season.  Fast forward to 2012.  Carl Crawford was coming off of wrist surgery and had to start the year on the DL.  Jacoby Ellsbury suffered a shoulder injury in the 7th game of the season.  Both guys would end up on the disabled list until the all-star break as the Sox got by with a makeshift top of the lineup in their absence.

Now both guys are back and the Sox are reaping the benefits that they have been waiting for since they signed Crawford.  In his 5 games since coming off of the disabled list Crawford has 7 hits and a walk in 20 at bats giving him a .450 OBP.  All of his at-bats have come in the #2 hole in the lineup.  He’s also been productive when he’s gotten on base, stealing 3 bases and scoring 6 runs in his 5 games back.  In Ellsbury’s 8 games back at the top of the order he’s gotten 12 hits in 35 at-bats.  He’s stolen a base and scored 5 runs.  The duo has combined for 5 steals and 11 runs in just 8 games.

Ellsbury has been a welcome sight back at the top of the Red Sox order

Offense hasn’t been the problem for the Sox all season long but they have had some trouble scoring runs in stretches.  Not only does the return of an effective Ellsbury and Crawford solidify the top of the Red Sox order it also lengthens the lineup as a whole.  Mike Aviles can stay at the bottom of the order and they have guys like Will Middlebrooks all the way down at the #7 spot in the lineup.  When David Ortiz returns a healthy lineup will probably look this this – Ellsbury, Crawford, Pedroia, Ortiz, Gonzalez, Ross, Middlebrooks, Saltalamacchia, Aviles.  That is as deep as any lineup in the American League.

When these two guys are playing at the top of their games offensively there is a snowball effect that trickles down to the rest of the Red Sox lineup.  We’ve already seen Ortiz, Gonzalez, and Ross get good pitches to hit while pitchers are distracted by Ellsbury and Crawford on the base paths.  Ellsbury will have to stay healthy and Crawford will have to stay productive for the rest of the year but if they can then we will see the top of the lineup that Theo Epstein envisioned when he signed Crawford prior to the 2011 season.

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Adrian Gonzalez Heating Up For Red Sox

A-Gon has found that stroke again

On June 22nd, 28 days ago, Adrian Gonzalez was hitting .256.  He had only 6 home runs through the first 3 months of the season.  Everyone was wondering what was wrong with Adrian Gonzalez and for good reason.  When the Red Sox acquired him before last season he had the reputation of being one of the best pure hitters in the game.  He didn’t disappoint in his first year in Boston, putting up a .338/.410/.957 line with 27 home runs and 117 RBI.  Despite all of the idiotic criticism pointed at him for mentioning God in a post-game 162 interview Gonzalez did more than his share in September while the rest of the team collapsed around him with a .318/.455/.977 line in September with 4 home runs and 14 RBI.

So it was a mystery that by June 23rd of this year Gonzalez had put up a .256/.313./.705 line with only 6 home runs and 43 RBI.  The mystery has apparently been solved by Gonzalez.  Since June 22nd A-Gon has added a full 40 points to his average and now stands at .296.  From the way he is swinging the bat it looks like he will rush past the .300 mark any day now and not look back.  Gonzalez has added two opposite field home runs on the current home stand showing that his ability to hit for power to all parts of the field has not disappeared.

So why the big turn around for A-Gon?  Some people think that he messed up his swing while he was switching from first base to right field earlier in the season.  I suppose his .404 batting average since moving back to first base full-time might support that.  Others think that he put too much pressure on himself to pick up the slack for other players that were injured or under-performing.  I tend to always go with the simplest solution and in this case it’s this – Adrian Gonzalez is a great hitter and even great hitters go through tremendous slumps.  Eventually all great hitters, like A-Gon, break out of these slumps and sometimes in a big way.  David Ortiz did it 2 years in a row in 2009 and 2010 when he got off to horrible starts in each of those two seasons.  Dustin Pedroia was hovering around the .260 mark for the 1st 3 months of last season before putting it together and finishing the year with a .307 average.

Gonzalez will look to be a catalyst for a Red Sox 2nd half surge

In my opinion Gonzalez was trying to pick up the slack earlier in the year and was looking to hit home runs.  Even if a player has opposite field power they will tend to try and pull the ball when they are trying to hit home runs.  They will also chase pitches out of the zone.  Gonzalez was doing both.  Right around the time his 18 game hitting streak started in mid-June he changed his approach and went back to basics.  That resulted in him getting his swing back.  First came the hits now comes the home runs.  All A-Gon has to do is stay the course with his approach for the rest of the year and he should be his usual productive self.

The Red Sox need Gonzalez’ bat to be hot now more than ever with David Ortiz on the DL.  Gonzalez has gotten a hit in 22 of the last 23 games that he’s played and the one that he didn’t get a hit in he only had one plate appearance before leaving the game due to illness.  Simply put Gonzalez is red-hot right now.  He’s hitting .438 so far in July with a 1.063 OPS.  He already has 12 RBI for the month.  Gonzalez seems poised to put this team on his back offensively, if he hasn’t already, which is exactly what the Sox needed at this point in time.  Gonzalez’ return to form might not be entirely what the Red Sox need to catapult them into October (I’m looking at you Beckett, Buchholz, and Lester) but he certainly won’t hurt their chances if he hits like the old A-Gon for the rest of the year.

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Random Red Sox Notes

A couple random Red Sox thoughts on a hot day in Boston…

  • Aaron Cook has been a find for Ben Cherington

    Theo Epstein seemed to make a million “low-risk, high-reward” pitcher signings when he was with the club and Ben Cherington followed suit before this season.  He may have found a diamond in the rough in Aaron Cook.  After gashing his leg in his first start and going on the disabled list Cook has come back and made 4 starts.  In those 4 starts he has given up 5 earned runs, struck out 2 and walked 1 batter.  He’s had 7 swings and misses.  Despite what the nerds over at sons of Sam Horn might tell you, Cook isn’t just lucky.  His sinker has been as good as I’ve seen since his return.  A good biting sinker will force balls into the ground off contact and balls hit like that generally find a glove in the infield.  He’s currently got a 3.38 ERA which is 2nd lowest among Sox starters who have made at least 5 starts behind only Franklin Morales.

  • Just when you thought that the Red Sox were finally going to be healthy David Ortiz pulled up lam while running around the bases after Adrian Gonzalez’ home run.  Hopefully Papi just needs a few days rest and will be back in the lineup soon.  The initial prognosis seems promising.
  • A-Gon seems to have his swing and his confidence back

    Adrian Gonzalez seems to have finally found his swing.  After hovering in the .260 range for the first three months of the season A-Gon now has his average up to .288.  He now has 50 RBI on the season.  A-Gon seems primed for a big offensive run here in the next few weeks.  Maybe that will quiet a few of his idiotic critics.

  • Carl Crawford made his season debut last night.  He did what they want him to do, getting on-base twice and scoring both times.  His lead-off walk in the 8th inning was the catalyst for the game-winning rally.  He’s never been a big walk guy, even in Tampa, but he had an OBP over .400 during his rehab stint.  Maybe he worked with the coaching staff to improve his plate discipline during his rehab.  Either way a productive Crawford will equal a lot more runs for the Red Sox so here’s hoping it continues.
  • Ryan Dempster?  No thanks Theo.
  • I hate to say this because Jarrod Saltalamacchia had a tremendous first half of the year but he just looks spent out there now.  If they can find a taker for Kelly Shoppach (and they probably can) then they should pull the trigger and bring Ryan Lavarnway up to work an even platoon with Salty.
  • Hopefully I’m not the only one who is sick of Kevin Youkilis.  He needs to GTFA.
  • If you’re going to the game tonight stay hydrated.

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