Boston Red Sox: Would Missing the Postseason Be Good for Them?
Please don’t read this column with the impression that I personally don’t want to see the Boston Red Sox miss the postseason for a third straight year.
I grew up in suburban Boston and have followed the Ole Towne Team for more than 20 years. I want to see them win.
If Boston’s 2012 season thus far has taught us anything, it’s that there are systemic issues with the organization that can’t be pretended away.
It has been painful to watch the Sox soap operas unfold—and painful to write about it.
But often times it takes a setback season like this one for a team to rethink how it does things.
The suggestion of a complete overhaul—like the one posed in a widely-read June 13 story by fellow featured columnist Christopher Benvie—is understandable. Yet positive changes can be an incremental process and just as effective.
If October comes and the Red Sox are sitting at home again, their offseason list of goals should consist of the following.
Revamp Training/Medical Staff
There’s not much you can do about injuries. They just happen, and every team needs to deal with them.
But surely four straight years of Boston dealing with significant injuries to its most important players can’t be completely written off as bad luck.
Just look at this partial list of players who have been shelved during each season since 2008.
- 2008: Mike Lowell (hip), Josh Beckett (back/oblique), Clay Buchholz (torn fingernail)
- 2009: Lowell (hip), Daisuke Matsuzaka (arm weakness), Tim Wakefield (lower back/calf), Jed Lowrie (wrist)
- 2010: Jacoby Ellsbury (ribs), Kevin Youkilis (thumb), Dustin Pedroia (foot)
- 2011: Matsuzaka (elbow), Buchholz (back stress fracture)
- 2012: Andrew Bailey (thumb), Carl Crawford (elbow), Ellsbury (shoulder)
Do the Red Sox have a bad habit of drafting and signing players who break down? Considering how advanced their scouting has become, my guess is “no.”
Something needs to change about how Sox players are treated on a day-to-day basis during the season. Four years of dealing with a hospital ward’s worth of injuries is a disturbing trend.
Nurture the Farm System
When the Red Sox were squandering early in the season, the call-up of third baseman Will Middlebrooks—and his subsequent success—gave the team a much-needed shot in the arm.
He was also, arguably, the first Sox prospect to arrive in the big leagues and make an “I’m here to stay” statement since Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz in 2007.
For all his ineptitude in signing big-name free agents, former G.M. Theo Epstein built a widely-lauded player development system. One that produced Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Jonathan Papelbon along with Ellsbury and Buchholz.
Alas, Epstein’s attempts at flashy moves cut into his farm system. New G.M. Ben Cherington stood pat during the offseason, not wanting to risk throwing away a pretty good corps of prospects currently on the farm.
Among them are pitcher Matt Barnes; shortstops Xander Bogaerts and Jose Iglesias; outfielders Jackie Bradley, Bryce Brentz and Brandon Jacobs; and catcher/DH Ryan Lavarnway.
It’s time that the Sox farm system became the basis of their success again.
Remove Toxicity in the Clubhouse
Following Boston’s win over the Cubs on Sunday, the big news wasn’t that the Sox were back at .500.
Rather, the dominant topic of discussion was Buster Olney’s blog post for ESPN, in which he labeled the team clubhouse as “toxic.”
The smoking gun paragraph:
It doesn't take long to ascertain that the Red Sox are a splintered group, with a lot of players and staff unhappy for a lot of different reasons. If they do come back and make the playoffs, it's not going to be because of a united clubhouse.
Noted curmudgeons Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Kevin Youkilis were likely the catalysts for this mood starting with 2011’s late-season collapse. While removing one or all of them would help, my opinion is that Bobby Valentine needs to go in order to change the attitude.
He’s been a notorious pot-stirrer with the Mets and in two separate stints with Japan’s Chiba Lotte Mariners. After a decade of player and clubhouse harmony under Grady Little and Terry Francona, Valentine is up to his old tricks again in Boston.
There’s his alleged Spring Training run-in with Mike Aviles, the rumors that he’s wanted Youkilis out of the lineup since Opening Day, along with several in-game altercation with umpires that suggest a man who’s lost control.
And after this season, Valentine should lose his job as well.
Shift Ownership’s Focus Back to the Sox
I applaud Red Sox ownership for providing the resources and the room for ingenuity that paved the way for two World Series titles in the past decade.
I also understand their efforts to transform the Red Sox and Fenway Park into a global brand. John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino are businessmen, first and foremost.
But when you spread yourself too thin as a corporation, it’s often at the expense of your flagship property. At times in the past few years, the Fenway Sports Group has seemed more focused on NASCAR, the Premier League and sucking up to LeBron James than it has on the Sox.
What kind of message does it send to other members of the Red Sox front office when team ownership is distracting itself with other ventures? Does their perceived lack of caring filter down and affect those executives tasked with delivering another World Series championship?
Fenway Sports Group needs to demonstrate that the “Fenway” in its name is not just for show.
A More Appreciative Fan Base
Boston’s magical run to the 2004 title created an entire generation of fans who didn’t feel scarred by the teams previous 86 years of ineptitude.
It also created a group of fair-weather fans loathed by the rest of baseball.
There are the pink uniforms. The lax bros with the lettuce haircuts, checkerboard shorts and the faux weather-worn hats (worn backwards of course). The female fans that don’t shut up about how cute Jacoby Ellsbury is without realizing that he was the MVP runner-up.
They care about the Sox when they’re winning and dress to the nines to prove it. If the team is struggling, they could care less.
Being a Red Sox fan—and wearing the appropriate attire—shouldn’t be a status symbol. It should represent that you follow the team through its ups and downs.
Perhaps missing the 2012 postseason will weed out those fans who aren’t willing to put the time in.