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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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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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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The Red Sox Starting Pitching Conundrum

Lester’s season to date has been simply horrid

The Red Sox don’t have a very good starting pitching situation at this point in time.  What may seem like a complicated problem actually has one very obvious root cause – there is no one on the Red Sox staff that can be currently considered an “ace pitcher”.  At times some (Lester, Beckett) may have been considered an ace but they certainly are pitching like one now.  Some (Buchholz, Doubront) have shown flashes but they aren’t quite there yet and who knows if they ever will be.  When you look at the teams competing for a playoff spot they all have an ace – The Yankees have C.C. Sabathia, the Tigers have Justin Verlander, the Rays have David Price, the Rangers have Matt Harrison.  The Red Sox simply don’t have a guy like that.

Obviously the biggest disappointment is Lester who, at 28, should really be in the prime of his career.  Instead his production has taken a nosedive off of a cliff this season.  I’m not sure if there is any official explanation to be had at this point in time but I can tell you that his mechanics are a mess.  He needs to get back to basics and somebody has got to help him along.  Buchholz, like he has his whole career, has shown flashes but injuries continually get in the way of him taking it to the next level.  Beckett actually simply is what he is at this point in his career.  He’s 32 years old and has been pitching in the majors since he was 21.  He’s been a power pitcher his whole career so the downturn in velocity is not unexpected.  He doesn’t seem to have the same options as a Roger Clemens did to elongate his career either.  Doubront has been excellent this year but at 107 innings pitched for the season he is only 20 innings shy of his professional high of innings in a season.  He’ll likely be fatigued as we get into September.

Garza is a solid pitcher but has injury concerns of his own

So what’s the solution?  Looking on the open market there are nice pitchers but nobody to be considered an ace.  Guys like Matt Garza, Fransisco Liriano, and Josh Johnson might be good guys to add to a rotation but none of those guys would be aces that would carry a rotation.  Felix Hernandez seems like a pipe dream right now but I suppose stranger things have happened.  One note here – the much talked about Hernandez for Lester and Ellsbury deal is very far-fetched and I’m not sure why people keep talking about it.  Both Lester and Ellsbury are signed through only next year at a combined salary of $13 million.  Hernandez is under contract for two more years at roughly 20 million per year.  Assuming that they’d actually sign Lester and Ellsbury to extensions they wouldn’t actually be saving any money.  If they don’t sign them they’d simply rent them for a year and a half.  It’s going to take prospects, and lots of them, to acquire Felix Hernandez.

So if there is nobody outside the organization to be had then who inside the organization could fill the role?  The Red Sox have some nice young arms in their system (Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranuado, Brandon Workman) but none of them are close to being major league ready and some may even wind up in the bullpen by time they get to the majors.  Despite what Terry Francona says on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball Daniel Bard is not the Red Sox best pitcher and they’ll be lucky if he can settle into being a solid setup guy let alone an ace.  That basically leaves them with what they’ve got.  Simply put the only way that the Red Sox will have a top-of-the rotation guy is if one of their current starters gets their heads out of their behinds and starts pitching to their potential.

Buchholz has ace stuff when he’s healthy

I can tell you know that it won’t be Josh Beckett.  His ace days are behind him.  He is best served at this point in time to do the best he can in a #3 or #4 role.  His velocity will only decrease with age and he will have to reinvent himself to be effective.  I have developed high hopes for the future of Felix Doubront after seeing him pitch this season but even when he is healthy and durable I see no more than a really good #2 starter.  He’ll be a guy that you can rely on but he doesn’t have shutdown stuff.

It’s all up to Lester and Buchholz at this point.  Lester is really, really bad right now but I guess the one thing that you can hang your hat on is that his drop-off in production is so nonsensical and unprecedented that there is always the chance that he can get it back.  He is only 28 years old and he should still have some formidable years left if he can piece it all back together.  As for Buchholz I love his stuff when he is on.  His problem is his health.  He’s had a array of different injuries/illnesses over the years and they all seem to curb his momentum.  If he ever had a straight, solid and healthy year like he did in 2010 he might be the best pitcher on the staff.  Can these guys put it together?  It’s a big if.  But I’m not quite prepared to give up on Jon Lester just yet.

On another note regarding the pitching staff I am not terribly impressed with the job that Bob McClure has done but at some point the pitchers have got to just go out there and pitch the way they can pitch. I wouldn’t mind if the Sox just cut ties with McClure and went with assistant pitching coach Randy Niemann in the meantime though.

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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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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

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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.

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