Flatline

I’d start this by saying something along the lines of “well, now that the dust has settled…”, but that would imply that this team played with enough of a pulse to kick any up in the first place. I can’t say anything which hasn’t already been said with regard to how September played out; they didn’t even go down in flames— they drowned in three inches of tepid bathwater. The fact that Terry Francona willingly removed himself from arguably the cushiest managerial post in all of baseball speaks volumes about the behind-closed-doors dynamics of a team which never truly was.

Much of the pent-up evils from this year bled out in the wash that was the final four weeks of the season. John Lackey, the overpriced meatballer and absolutely deserving lightning-rod for criticism had apparently filed divorce papers with his wife. The same wife who, earlier in the year, was revealed to be fighting breast cancer. We obviously don’t know jack-squat about that relationship, but there is no viable way to spin that story into something resembling a redeeming quality. Our starting lineup in the pivotal 162nd game of the year included a man who sprained his finger swinging a baseball bat (J.D. Drew, and the physics of that injury still don’t quite add up) and a rookie catcher with a total of nine innings under his belt as a starting catcher. Should the season have been pushed to a 163rd game, we were weighing the pros and cons of the aforementioned John “Pariah” Lackey, Kyle “Why am I here?” Weiland, and Tim “Wake me up in time for Matlock” Wakefield.

Not exactly fighting from a point of strength.

When you can look back on your season and say that, looking at the entire pitching staff, the most valuable man was Alfredo Aceves, your season did not go well. That’s taking nothing away from Aceves because he did indeed have a phenomenal season; it’s an indictment on the rest of the staff. John Lackey did not pitch like a man intent on fulfilling the obligations of an $80+ million dollar contract, Daisuke Matsuzaka (remember him?) somehow became even more of an albatross, and Matt Albers turned into… well, Matt Albers.

The fact that they didn’t make the playoffs is shocking, there is no getting around that. A collection of all-stars and a laser show so disastrously choked that now even Mets fans can, and should, make fun of Neil Diamond Red Sox Nation. Now, with the rubble of disaster squarely in our rear-view, where do we go from here? We appear to have our scapegoat in Francona, though one’s willing acceptance of that role gives it less clout. Say what you will about his tendencies, but the man brought two world championships to a city annually resigned to heartbreaking defeat.

Should Epstein follow? He orchestrated the infamous Nomar trade in 2004 which changed the mentality of the eventual World Series champions, and outside of shipping Daniel Murphy for the ghost of Eric Gagne, his trade transactions have panned out. Free agency, however, has been a horror story. Looking only at the current roster, there are seven (7!) contracts, most of them sizeable, that the team unquestionably regrets:

  1. Daisuke Matsuzaka – 6 years, $52 million (plus ~$50 million posting fee). At a 42 pitch/inning ratio, Matsuzaka seems determined to somehow recreate the magic from his 250 pitch game as an amateur.
  2. J. D. Drew – 5 years, $70 million. Before this year, Drew had been eerily consistent throughout his tenure with the Sox, while playing very strong defense in right. However, his consistency was not the kind of consistency you expect out of a $14 million/year player, no matter how good his defense is. Also, I’m not convinced he can emote.
  3. John Lackey – 5 years, $82.5 millon. He doesn’t like it here, we don’t want him here, and he just completed the worst season statistically in the history of the Boston Red Sox. Also, he appears to be a mouth-breather.
  4. Bobby Jenks – 2 years, $12 million. He’s just… fat. Fat and athletic/uninjured do not often mesh. Jenks was no exception.
  5. Mike Cameron – 2 years, $15.5 million. Cameron is and always has been a nice guy. Doesn’t change the fact that for a .200 BA, I would have cost significantly less than $15.5 million.
  6. Dennys Reyes – 1 year, $900,000. Reyes was paid nine-hundred thousand dollars for an inning and two thirds of work. $180,000 per out just ain’t gonna cut it.
  7. *Carl Crawford – 7 years, $142 million. Crawford, short term, is absolutely on this list. This season was abysmal by any measure, and markedly the worst of his career. However, this season notwithstanding, he is an electrifying player, capable of altering opposing game plans with his speed. The jury is still out on this contract, but he’ll need to add a ton of value in 2012 to redeem himself.

Not making the cut on this list is the recently off-the-books Julio Lugo, who completed a tidy 4 year, $36 million contract in 2010. His defense was terrible, his bat was possibly worse, and he looked suspiciously like Dobby from the Harry Potter series.

But we can’t sit here stewing about those deals; something has to be done for the future.

All indications seem to point to John Lackey having thrown his final pitch in a Red Sox uniform. He doesn’t want to be here, and we perhaps want him here even less. Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe presents an interesting proposal in swapping one awful contract for another, with the two viable options being Carlos Zambrano and Barry Zito. While Zambrano is feast-or-famine, the much more preferable option in that shakeup would be Zito. The left-hander, while admittedly not very good, is much less likely to physically attack the ownership.

Matsuzaka’s Tommy John surgery makes it seem unlikely they’ll count on much out of the Emperor of Walks. Even if he managed to speed his recovery along and push to be back mid-May, do the Red Sox really plan on making him a huge part of their rotation next year? If we have no in-house options (Weiland, Doubront, or Alex Wilson being the most likely candidates), there are plenty of injury-reclamation projects out there that might be better than a Healthy-suzaka. Bedard again? Brandon Webb? Edwin Jackson is going to be a FA, and Fatbathia is set to opt-out, so if John Henry decides to open the checkbook again, there are splashes to be made.

With Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick poised to fill the void left by the ghost of J.D(L). Drew, there aren’t a ton of position options open for next year. Scutaro’s $6 million option looks to be a lock to exercise, as Iglesias hasn’t demonstrated he’s ready to step in offensively. Aviles coming off the bench was one of Boston’s only productive options following the All-Star break, so look for them to toss him an offer as well. The interesting question is going to be Jason Varitek who, in limited playing time this year, was passable. It remains to be seen if his intangibles combined with his game-calling are enough to merit the Sox using a roster spot on him.

As an aside, I know Ortiz wants a multi-year deal, but that just should not happen. Sure, he had a monster year, but he’s going to be 36 next year. Do we really want to be locked into paying a 37 year old David Ortiz $12 million in 2013? If we can talk him into a one year, $12 million deal with an option on the 2nd with a $3 million buyout, I’d be happy.

The bullpen is another story. Putting aside Jonathan Papelbon for a moment, there are only two untouchables in Daniel Bard and Alfredo “Pastaman” Aceves. Wheeler, Albers, and Miller are all soon to be unemployed, and if I had my choice Morales and Atchison would be safe. If Papelbon returns, 7-8-9 are set going into Spring Training, so filling in the remaining parts might take on a “throw a bunch against the wall and see what sticks” mentality.

The final piece that needs to be addressed before the team ships down to Ft. Meyers is the attitude in the clubhouse, which will ideally be set by the new manager. The “Cowboy Up” and lovable idiots mentality from the first two championships devolved to a pronounced detachment and complacency. When push came to shove this year, the Red Sox folded like a paper crane (sorry). We need a manager who is willing to yell, willing to upset the delicate sensibilities of even the most pampered of players, in order to light a fire under a team in the thick of a pennant race. Francona hadn’t been faced with that kind of apathy before, and his handling of September 2011 wasn’t his shining moment.

This team will compete next year. There is too much talent for them not to. But they’ll need more than talent alone to make it into October; they’ll need to want to get into October.

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