It's that time of year again, fans. The Red Sox have had yet another poor season, this one a colossal failure from the get go. After the September collapse of 2011, you'd think they might have learned a thing or two. Apparently not.
From the very beginning, the season had disaster written all over it. After letting GM Theo Epstein leave to take a position within the Cubs' front office (and getting little compensation in return, at that), the Red Sox instated Ben Cherington as the team's new Executive Vice President and General Manager. Epstein's protégé had a lot on his plate the second he was hired. In the wake of the collapse and the firing of Terry Francona (don't let Lucchino fool you, he was fired), Cherington had the immediate task of finding a new manager. In the end, he brought two candidates to ownership (Dale Sveum, Gene Lamont), both of whom were rejected by President Larry Lucchino. Soon after, Lucchino took the search upon himself, overstepped his first year General Manager and hired Bobby Valentine.
Yeah, bad decision.
I myself said last November that this was a stupid move. And as it turns out, I was right.
Valentine was supposedly brought in to change the culture in the clubhouse, but he failed to do so. Valentine attempted to get a start on that early in the year, calling out veteran Kevin Youkilis, only to slink away into his office, listen to Lucchino lecture him about calling out entitled veterans, and stick his foot in his mouth and backtrack in a way that made him look like a total fool. Now it's early October. The Red Sox are out of the playoffs, the roster has been basically depleted due to the Punto trade in August, and Bobby Valentine is once again out of a job.
Now it's up to Ben Cherington to find the right manager this year. If the organization has learned anything from last winter's fiasco, Larry Lucchino will stay out of it and let Cherington and his baseball operations staff conduct the search on their own. I've compiled a list of candidates that should be considered that aren't named John Farrell.
- Dave Martinez
- Ryne Sandberg
- Sandy Alomar Jr.
- Bill Mueller
- Brad Ausmus
- Torey Lovullo
- Brett Butler
- John Valentin
- Mike Maddux
Dave Martinez is my personal top choice for the job. Currently the bench coach for the Rays, Martinez has been working under Joe Maddon, a man who's one of the most, if not the most, highly regarded managers in the game. Maddon pushed for Martinez last year when the Red Sox vacancy opened up, and the praise he put on him really makes him the ideal choice to lead the team into the future.
On top of finding a new manager, Cherington will have to retool the team more or less from scratch. With only $42.938M committed to next season's payroll, he has plenty of money to spend. However. he must be wary of how he spends it. Big ticket free agents have been a major part of the team's fall from grace, and to dive right in and commit big money long term to a big name free agent after just unloading the ones that were the problems would be a poor choice on Cherington's part. Players such as Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke are just not good fits for the Boston market, which should force the Sox to look at the secondary market. Pitching is the biggest issue surrounding the club, and that should be the top priority after finding a new manager. The career worst season for Jon Lester couldn't have been predicted. However, there are other things that the front office turned a blind eye to when putting together the pitching staff.
The Daniel Bard experiment was an absolute atrocity, a colossal failure, and it could have been easily avoided if ownership hadn't given in to his whining. Had Bard been left in his original set up role, his burnout would likely have been avoided. Instead, Bard pitched to a 5.24 ERA before being optioned to AAA Pawtucket, where he continued to suck before calling up Cherington with his foot in his mouth (there seems to be a lot of this going on. Maybe Rex Ryan invaded the clubhouse?), asking to be made a reliever again.
Dice-K was, well, Dice-K. There's no two ways about it. The once prized Japanese pitcher continued to be ineffective in all of his starts, a trend that had been seen since about the 2007 season. One would think that, in a contract year, Matsuzaka would perhaps bear down and be the dominant pitcher he was in his Seibu Lions days, but no. The gryo man was lit up in practically every start, including his last one of the season, and did nothing to help the Red Sox win any games this season.
If Ben Cherington thought that Mark Melancon would be the same effective pitcher he was in Houston, he was either on something or he didn't do his homework. The Yankees dealt him to Houston when they believed he couldn't handle the pressure of a big market like New York, and that theory proved to be true in Boston. Melancon pitched to staggering 49.50 ERA in just four appearances with the Red Sox before being optioned to AAA Pawtucket. If that doesn't tell you he can't handle a big market at all, I don't know what does. Melancon was effective in Houston as their closer, yes, but this is Houston we're talking about. On top of that, this the NL Central we're talking about. The NL Central is perhaps one of the weakest divisions in baseball, and I'm pretty sure even I could be effective in that division.
Josh Beckett showed no signs of changing after last season, and he continued to spit up every time he took the mound. Poor performances, phantom injuries, beer, beer, fried chicken, and more beer ruined Beckett's reputation throughout what's left of Red Sox Nation, and it ultimately led to his being dealt to the Dodgers along with Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto in the biggest trade the MLB has ever seen. Ownership and the front office ignored the warning signs for long enough, and it took too long for them to send him packing.
The free agent market is thin this winter, but there are still some options out there for the Sox to explore. Francisco Liriano and Dan Haren are the first two pitchers that come to mind that could help bolster the now depleted rotation, but there are obvious health questions and risks that come with each. The trade market seems to be fairly thin as well, but once the World Series is over, it'll be easier to get a gauge on who's available and who isn't. For right now, though, it appears Miami's Josh Johnson is the best available pitcher out there. Unfortunately, this gives Miami all the leverage in the world, as many teams will likely be calling on Johnson. And as amazing as it would be to pry Felix Hernandez out of Seattle, there's just no way it's ever happening. Teams have been offering Zduriencik the moon, the stars, the sun, the galaxy, and the universe for Hernandez for years, and he shoots them down every time. It's safe to say at this point that he is untouchable.
The infield is another area that needs to be addressed. The loss of Adrian Gonzalez not only leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the order, but also leaves the Red Sox in need of a good first baseman.
For all his flaws, Gonzalez was still a big bat and a gold glove first baseman. While I agree with the decision to trade him, there still is no real solution at that position right now. While James Loney capably filled the void, he isn't good enough to be any more than the quarter year stopgap that he was. The Red Sox have no legitimate solution in the minor leagues right now, and thus will be forced to either retain Loney or scour the free agent market for one. The immediate options that come to mind are Mike Napoli and Nick Swisher. However, the Red Sox should be wary of giving out any more than three to five years, as those contracts should be avoided for the foreseeable future.
Shortstop is the other position that needs to be addressed, as the Red Sox have not had a long term solution at shortstop since they dealt Nomar Garciaparra in 2004. Jose Iglesias is supposed to be the long term solution, but his bat is practically non existent and could very well be the reason he never secures the starting job in Boston. Xander Bogaerts is making his way through the system at breakneck speed, and is projected to be in the major leagues by 2014. However, with his development, he may be in Boston sooner than that. For now, though, they need to find a better option than Mike Aviles. A full season of Iglesias may be beneficial, but it appears the Red Sox may be searching for a shortstop by July.
The outfield is in rough shape as well. The only outfielder currently under contract for next season is Jacoby Ellsbury, and it is very likely he is dealt before next season. If the Red Sox do decide to trade Ellsbury, they must come out with a top prospect, preferably a pitcher, in order to come out with anything near a fair deal for him. The corner outfield positions are currently vacant, with Carl Crawford being traded to Los Angeles and Cody Ross an impending free agent. The team has begun contract talks with Ross, but will need at least two more outfielders even if they keep both Ellsbury and Ross, as Ross is more of a platoon player than a full time starter. The free agent that immediately comes to mind as a solid starting outfielder is Michael Bourn. Bourn is a two time gold glove winner who finished the season with a .274 average and a .739 OPS for the Braves and will be an intriguing option this winter on the open market for teams in need of outfield help. The Sox also have Jackie Bradley Jr. coming up through the minors and is projected to be in Boston by late next season and could be the starting outfielder very soon. Ryan Kalish is still a major question mark, as he has struggled to stay healthy the past couple of years and his effectiveness is coming into question after a few brief stints in the majors the past year.
The Red Sox should also be in search of front office help for this coming season. Not that Ben Cherington isn't capable, but having some experienced front office personnel to assist him would be extremely beneficial. In addition, the Red Sox may benefit from turning to former Red Sox great Pedro Martinez to either be pitching coach or coordinate the entire pitching system. Martinez was one of the best pitchers in the game, and to do what he did during the height of the steroid era while being completely PED free is stellar. Someone who's familiar with the team, the organization, and the market would be the best choice in choosing a pitching coach and/or staff coordinator.
It'll be a few years before the Red Sox return to their former glory, but with the right people in place and the best decisions made, they should be competing within four to five years.
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