Back in the Swing

When last we met, I was writhing in a pit of despair.

No, scratch that. Writhing implies signs of life. I was existing at the lowest level of human functionality.

The Red Sox, having just completed the worst regular-season collapse in the history of Major League Baseball, were crumbling to greasy, beer-soaked ashes before our eyes. The manager had been strung up and run out of town, a scapegoat for a team that quit. The team themselves, presented with ample time to publicly take responsibility for their actions, instead opted for silence and (at best) feigned indifference. Morale was at an all- time low, and the only beacon of hope presented by the ownership group was Gene Lamont.

Yikes.

With all apologies to Mr. Lamont, when hearing your name alone increases the national average for narcolepsy diagnoses, you are likely not the man most suited for the job of managing a listless baseball team. Once Dale Sveum’s signature hit the dotted line in Chicago, doomsday soothsayers all around New England proclaimed that the end was nigh. Suddenly, the pamphlet-bearing blind prophets clogging Kenmore didn’t seem quite so off base.

Then, riding a proud steed across a sun-drenched mountaintop, Bobby Valentine arrived, and a light appeared at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Admittedly, I had some reservations with the hiring; mainly because Bobby Valentine could very well be insane. I’d been holding out hope for former Pawtucket manager, and current Toronto 1st base coach Torey Lovullo, though there was little basis for my choice. I’d read some high praise from Dan Hoard, former announcer for the Paw Sox while Lovullo was the manager, so I was sold.

Basically, he wasn’t Lamont, and he didn’t claim that he invented the wrap sandwich. Good enough for me.

But, the news came out, and every day I’m learning to approve of the move even more. His dedication, something I’d had reservations about, seems unquestionable. The day after he was hired, he flew to the Dominican Republic to be with the team at David Ortiz’s charity golf tournament. Calling players, rebuilding bridges, doing everything a manager fully committed to the well-being of his team should be.

Then, in the middle of December, new GM Ben Cherington flipped oft-injured Jed Lowrie and a middle of the rotation ceiling Kyle Weiland for Mark Melancon. The closer for Houston in 2011, Melancon likely could have closed should the need arisen for Boston in 2012, but relying heavily on the Ghost of Bobby Jenks as the primary set-up man (assuming Bard and Aceves are destined for spots in the rotation) seemed irresponsible.

Lowrie, who was developing into something of a super-utility man, has battled poor luck and a myriad of injuries over his four years in the majors. While his offense was essentially league-average for 2011, with WAR of just 0.3, his defense had become something of a liability.

No, it was absolutely a liability. At shortstop, his numbers projected over a reasonably full season put him an even twenty runs below an average fielder at the same position. While the backup shortstop for a middling team might be able to accept such production, Lowrie’s time was simply up in Boston. Weiland, needing an opportunity to pitch full-time, will have a shot at joining Houston’s rotation out of Spring Training. Either way. the Astros gained two full-time players, and the Sox gained a valuable relief piece.

But the true Christmas present for Red Sox fans was a belated one; on the afternoon of December 28th, the Red Sox acquired Andrew Bailey from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for Josh Reddick and two minor league chips.

SPOILER ALERT: I LOVE THIS TRADE.

In complete seriousness, I expect that this trade can only mean that the Oakland front office has never seen Josh Reddick swing at a curveball. Or, perhaps they figured they needed to balance out the bounty they received on the Gio Gonzalez trade, so they shipped their All-Star closer across the country in exchange for two low-A ball prospects and a left-fielder who has gaping holes in his swing.

Don’t get me wrong; I loved what Reddick brought to the team this year, and was one of his biggest supporters throughout the year. But, when push came to shove, he had no plate discipline. If you’re going to make a career with the Red Sox, you have to make a pitcher work to strike you out. He didn’t.

For Oakland, I still feel that the Sox make this deal for Ryan Kalish and a couple of chips. Whether they scouted something more promising in Reddick’s game than Kalish’s, or they were scared off by a lost 2011 for Kalish, we’ll never know. What we do know, however, is that the Red Sox have an All-Star closer to replace their lost All-Star closer, and he’s under team control through 2014.

Oh how quickly the tides can change. With, technically, five starting pitchers in Beckett, Buchholz, Lester, Aceves and Bard, Cherington will be looking for another body, likely one that is more than simply a security blanket. Hideki Kuroda’s name has been linked to Boston in recent news, though the Sox will be reticent to dish out 13 or 14 million to lure him off the west coast. With that in mind, the only available names remaining with any kind of appeal are Joe Saunders and Edwin Jackson. Saunders, non-tendered by Arizona, will likely cost 7 million or so one a one-year deal, while Jackson hit free agency at just the right time and will likely fetch a three-year deal at 30+ million. I doubt the Red Sox will want to commit that kind of years while they have four starters under contract for a number of years already.

Regardless, things are shaping up nicely. Bring it on, Ft. Meyers.