The Boston Red Sox are on a downward spiral toward fourth place in the AL East. Unless there is a dramatic change of events, the 2012 Boston Red Sox look like they are in the midst of a lost season akin to 2006.
Despite fans wanting a scapegoat, new manager Bobby Valentine is not the problem.
All of the struggles can be traced back to decisions that were made starting in 2009.
After winning 95 games or more six times in seven seasons, the Red Sox look like they are going to struggle to win 85 games in 2012. The last time they failed to eclipse 85 wins was in 2001 under managers Jimmy Williams and Joe Kerrigan.
The following season, the team was sold to an ownership group led by John Henry and Tom Werner, and within three years, they had done the impossible and won the World Series.
The Red Sox seemingly thrived under the new ownership until two years ago.
There seemed to be a shift from caring about on-field performance to increasing NESN ratings and extending the joke that is the consecutive sellout streak at Fenway Park.
Following the 2009 season, then GM Theo Epstein and President Larry Lucchino started the downward spiral that has led the Red Sox to becoming the laughing stock of the league.
Rather than signing Matt Holliday to a long-term deal, they signed John Lackey, Marco Scutaro and Mike Cameron for a combined $109 million.
Holliday, who signed for $120 million with the St. Louis Cardinals made more sense, since they needed a slugging outfielder to replace the departed Jason Bay and only required an additional $11 million investment.
However, Epstein tried to justify his decision by claiming that he was trying to improve the team’s defense, coining it "run prevention." The media seemingly ran with the Yale graduate's explanation, but quickly realized that it was a mistake.
Lackey has been one of the worst pitchers in the league since he joined the Red Sox. Cameron looked like he was already retired, and Scutaro was almost as bad as Nomar defensively in his last year with the Red Sox.
Once the 2010 season was over, Epstein and company signed Carl Crawford, all but admitting they made a mistake passing on Holliday. Then, they traded for Adrian Gonzalez, who they needed after they failed to land Mark Teixeira two years earlier.
While Crawford and Gonzalez are great players in their own right, neither one is much of a leader.
Once things turned bad for the team in 2011, the lack of leadership became evident as well as growing concern over a lack of chemistry in the locker room. One of the reasons is the lack of roster consistency.
A few years ago, there was an influx of young talent that mixed with the veterans to form a tight-knit locker room, and that is part of the reason why the team was able to win two World Series titles.
The other reason was the team had players that thrived under pressure and found success in Boston, where media scrutiny and fan criticism are only matched in New York.
Players such as Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon, Mike Lowell, Bill Mueller, Derek Lowe and Jonathan Papelbon were key pieces in the team’s success.
All of those players had supreme confidence and were the driving force that kept the team from falling into ruts.
Once they all left, there was a giant void left in the locker room. Players like Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz can only do so much to push their teammates. Also, the 2004 and 2007 teams didn’t need to be pushed because they were all winners.
Switch gears to 2012, and instead of Curt Schilling, it’s the calm Daniel Bard. Instead of Pedro, we have the injury-riddled Clay Buchholz.
No longer do we have the inspiring Papelbon coming out of the bullpen. Now, we have Alfredo Aceves.
So, while fans may be upset that the team is struggling, the only people they should be mad at are the owners, Lucchino, Epstein and GM Ben Cherington.
We can’t blame the players for being who they are. Once they come to Boston, they don’t change. Gonzalez and Crawford are the same players they were in Tampa and San Diego.
Moving forward, Valentine needs to be the Valentine of old. He needs to shake things up in the clubhouse and piss off the underachieving veterans.
He knows that even though he signed a two-year contract, he needs to prove he can win in 2012 or else he is going to be one and done.
Fortunately for Valentine, the Red Sox’s best prospect, Will Middlebrooks, has produced with Kevin Youkilis on the DL and could be the motivation needed for the veterans.
If they see that Youkilis’ job is at risk, then it could drive some of the other underachieving veterans on the team to play up to their ability.
2012 was supposed to be a great year. The Red Sox needed a hot start to silence the critics following the collapse.
Yet, rather than proving people wrong, they have shown their true colors.
At 12-18, the 2012 Red Sox are off to their worst start since 1996. This is a lost team that could struggle to finish above .500.
Get ready for a long summer.
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