With about two months left in the 2012 season, the record of the Boston Red Sox stands at 54-55, a mere 5 games behind the leaders for the two American League wildcard spots. Although not ideal, many teams would feel comfortable being in such a position with so many games left to play, but for all intents and purposes the Red Sox season is already over- heck it never really began. They should swallow their pride and start formulating a long term plan to get them back to annual contender status, and away from the group of pretenders who have been trotting out this year.
This is not overreaction in light of the team blowing yet another late-inning lead in Saturday night’s game against the Minnesota Twins. It’s the stark reality of a talented, but fatally flawed team who has played some of the most passionless baseball in recent memory. This is not a team that is going to get hot late in the year and make a run like the Cardinals of a year ago. There is no switch that can be flipped that will undo the mess that is the 2012 Red Sox. They need to carefully plot a course of action to help them regain their status as one of the best teams in baseball. Here are a few suggested initial moves to help facilitate that process.
Dump the manager- Certainly Bobby Valentine can’t be held responsible for the injuries, player regression, and bad contracts given out in recent years, but it’s painfully clear he is not the right man to run this team. His shocking lack of decorum in handling players he doesn’t like (see one Youkilis, Kevin) is poisonous to a clubhouse and gives media all the kindling they need for a season’s worth of gossipy coverage. Questionable decisions like hitting Mike Aviles and his sub .290 OBP for nearly one third the season, and sticking with a milquetoast player like Ryan Sweeney over finally healthy prospect Ryan Kalish left many scratching their heads. Regardless of if it is his fault or not, Valentine is not well-liked and that is a major distraction. With so much wrong with the team, the least of their worries should be having a lightning rod of a manager, who brings nothing to the table that couldn’t be found in less controversial candidate.
Dig deeper for some answers- The number of injuries combined with the regression of so many players is too significant to be dismissed away as coincidence. With two months left in the season, the team has already placed a team record 23 players on the disabled list a total of 27 times. Then there are the healthy players who have seen dips in their production. Adrian Gonzalez has lost significant power and plate discipline, as evidenced by twice going a month this season without drawing a walk. Pitchers Daniel Bard, Jon Lester, and Josh Beckett have all lost velocity and command, turning a promising rotation into a hot mess. It could be coaching, medical protocol, or things directly attributable to the players, but identifying root causes is the only way to address these trends.
Cut Carl Crawford - Crawford had a miserable 2011 season after signing his enormous free agent deal with Boston, but is one bad year really enough to give up on him? Given the way many fans and some of the Red Sox organization have treated him, you might think the answer to be yes, but prior to signing with Boston he had a nine year track record as one of the most dynamic and hardest working players in baseball. Taking his foot off the gas pedal after getting paid is not a realistic explanation for his fall-off. He has battled injuries since joining the Sox, including currently playing with a partial tear in his elbow that is likely to require Tommy John surgery in the near future. Instead of having him trying to live up to his contract, he should be having surgery now to come back at full strength next year; a fresh start for him and hopefully the team. Of course Crawford has some say in this, but getting the elbow fixed now is in everyone’s best interests.
Get good with being bad for a while- Red Sox Nation has been spoiled with the lavish successes over the past decade, making the bumbling efforts of this year’s team such a shock. Previously the team was able to re-adjust and fill holes with a free agent signing here, a trade there, and throwing money at prospects through the draft. The team is now burdened with albatross contracts, a divisive clubhouse, and draft rules squashing the financial advantages they once enjoyed to attract top talent. Instead of blindly plugging holes with hundred dollar bills the Red Sox should re-gather themselves and develop a new franchise philosophy and strategy to rebuild themselves back to annual contender status. This includes trying to unload some of the roster pork they have accumulated, spending more wisely in the future, and identifying ways to be as effective in their annual draft as possible. The proper strategy should be self-sustaining over the long term to avoid periods of boom/bust. This is something that doesn’t happen overnight, so tempering expectations for the near future will be important for the team.
Even though this season is a lost cause, fans can find solace to planning for the future, knowing that the Red Sox have more resources- both financial and staff- than most teams. Things will eventually turn around, but the team needs to stop thinking of themselves as front-runners and realize they have a lot of work to do in order to earn that status again.