Two months ago, on May 11th, I wrote a BR article about the Red Sox front office failing to admit to the extent of the team's problems in 2012. I stand on that today and believe that owner John Henry, CEO Larry Lucchino and GM Ben Cherington must confront talent deficits and other issues about this team and begin planning for the future before things get worse.
What are some of these "realities" that Red Sox management must address? I'll list some of the most glaring realities below:
1. Red Sox Starting Pitching Has Been Mediocre to Poor
Please, everyone, can we officially stop calling the trio of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz "the Big Three?" It's fraudulent to do so. I'd call them the "Most Over-rated Three" instead. None of these three are an "ace"—period. In fact, The way they pitched in the first half, they're all closer to a No. 3, No. 4 or No. 5 on the MLB's best teams.
Consider just a few numbers. I refer to Lou Merloni on "98.5—The Sports Hub" today saying that the Red Sox are 12-20 in games started by Beckett, Lester or Buchholz during the first half of this season. The threesome have a combined ERA of 4.78 so far this season, Merloni said. Then, Merloni added that since the start of September 2011, the Red Sox are 14-28 in games started by Lester and Beckett.
Starter Felix Doubront has been one of the team's unexpected positive surprises as he outpitched the Big Three and showed his "good stuff" quite consistently in his starts. However, Doubront has a real downside in terms of the second half:
He will likely have to be shut down early because he's never pitched close to a full season of innings. In fact, in a couple of his most recent starts, Doubront seemed to tire more quickly—a red flag in terms of his limited capacity going forward.
Most of us know the Daniel Bard story by now. Suffice it to say, it's very uncertain whether he'll be able to make a meaningful contribution to the bullpen if and when he returns to the team. Some worry he may not be the same after his sudden loss of any control on the mound in the past month.
There are many more stats one can cite to document the flaws of the Red Sox starting pitching. Without significant improvment, the team will go nowhere.
While I—like many—had hopes that Daisuke Matsuzaka might return from Tommy John surgery in better form, if anything, he looks like his old, flawed self. He still lacks control. He still nibbles at home plate and I would not mind if the team traded him. I think he has very little to offer until the end of this year, when his contract will expire.
As for Aaron Cook, he's okay, but a borderline starter. He might do well, on occasion, against a subpar team, but he really should not be in the rotation.
In summary, if the Red Sox want to make the playoffs in 2012, in my view, they'd have to acquire a high-quality starter to insert into the rotation. Their rotation is not good enough to win the AL East or probably, either wild card spot.
2. The Red Sox Bullpen Is Not as Good as Its Stats Indicate
Yes, the bullpen has performed well given its talent level. No one can say this group of pitchers has not performed as well as they can. However, they've had some of their best outings against the worst teams, and that has distorted some of their stats.
I predicted to some that when the Red Sox faced the Yankees this weekend, their bullpen would be exposed, and I was right. Vicente Padilla or Scott Atchison may do well against the Miami Marlins, but they're average, at best, against real hitters.
Alfredo Aceves has done a lot to help the team since last year. He's a competitor....but, he's not a very good closer. He should be in his old role, coming in the seventh inning like last year.
3. The Red Sox Hitting Is Also Not as Good as It Appears by Some Stats
Yes, the team can score runs, but let's face it: they often score in bunches against the poor or average teams.
When facing quality starters, the Sox's bats go silent for long spells. This team is poor at catching up in games because they have too few "contact hitters" who can hit breaking pitches. As with some past Sox clubs, they hit fastballs the best, but can't handle breaking stuff.
Witness Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who's hit great, but occasionally has terrible at-bats when pitchers throw him only curves, sliders or changeups. The same goes for Mike Aviles, Cody Ross and, more surprisingly this year, Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia.
David Ortiz has been the only excellent, steady hitter on the team. I still believe Gonzo will start to hit to his capabilities and the return of Jacoby Ellsubry should help, but overall, try comparing this team to the 2004 Sox in terms of hitting ability from one to nine and it's painful.
4. The Red Sox Manager Not Only Failed to Improve Bad Attitude and Morale, But Has Singlehandedly Caused an Entirely New Chapter of "Bad Vibes"
I'm not as hard on Bobby Valentine as some. I think his management within games has been decent—after a bad start. However, his problems in communicating with his players seem fairly indisputable at this point, don't they?
I wont' run down the familiar list, but let me ask you: how many players have you heard say positive things about Valentine? Ortiz has—in a limited way and certainly helped Valentine more than anyone by trying to show some leadership in the clubhouse. Saltalamacchia has said a few nice things—as has Cody Ross on at least one occasion, but overall, does it seem like these players like playing for Bobby? That they respect him?
To me, it seems like Valentine is almost in a world of his own, doing his thing (radio and TV interviews) enjoying the limelight, but does he work at trying to maximize the performance of each player? One of the most surprising disappointments about Valentine is that he has not been a man of his convictions.
He doesn't take firm stands on issues or situations that arise with players. Instead, he has repeatedly either backed down from remarks or tried to reverse himself after the fact. I wish he'd start holding players more accountable—as some of us hoped—and particularly, with the veteran pitchers.
Wouldn't you like to see Valentine go out to the mound and tell Lester to stop whining and dwelling on umpires' calls?
5. Red Sox GM Ben Cherington Stuck Between "a Rock and a Hard Place," Having to Report to Powerful CEO Larry Lucchino and Deal with the Limited Communication and Self-absorption of Bobby Valentine
Cherington never wanted to hire Valentine and their differences in outlook and approach are fairly obvious when you hear each of them interviewed.
I have a few big questions about Cherington. 1) Can he get out of his apparent "denial" about how good some of his players and his whole team are? 2) Can he be bold and forward-thinking and make a big move or two at the trading deadline to help this team for the future? 3) Can Cherington ever publicly acknowledge that his team has to do better or that some player on his team made a mistake?
Cherington is in his first year as GM and I understand if he's a bit more cautious. However, there have been a few moments already this season when he might have stepped forward and identified a few pressing goals of the team without harping so much on the rosy-colored aspects.
Behind the scenes, does Cherington stand up to Lucchino? Valentine? Who knows? I just hope he emerges more and more as a leader unafraid to speak the truth rather than painting a false or rosy picture—like Chairman Tom Warner and others in management seem to do.
6. Carl Crawford Will Be Back Only for a Short Time and Will Have to Have Tommy John Surgery, Missing a Whole Additional Year or so
Crawford seems to be becoming, unfortunately, one of the worst signings in Red Sox history.
Even if he plays some in the second half, apparently, he has pain related to his bad elbow and now, he and the team have acknowledged he'll need surgery on it. Why not have the surgery now rather than wait until after the season? I mean it. This season is likely a lost cause and besides, Daniel Nava is playing way over his head, anyway, in left field.
7. It's Highly Doubtful That John Lackey Can Help This Team and I Wonder if His Presence in the Dugout Really Helps Matters, at This Point
I've heard that Lackey is popular among his teammates. I don't know anything about what he's like. But, shouldn't the Red Sox be trying to exhaust ways of exploring how to get out of their contract with Lackey?
I guess it's impossible, but, when I see him chatting with Beckett,Lester and Buchholz during many games, it makes me think about the collapse of 2011 and Lackey's frequent displays of a poor attitude in terms of his team. I sense that there is something still "wrong" in the attitude among Lester, Beckett, Lackey and Buchholz.
Lester, for example, seems a completely different guy; he whines about calls. His attitude after his outings seems quite bad quite often as he seems reluctant to admit he has to work on his pitching flaws.
8. Jacoby Ellsbury Appears Highly Unlikely to Want to Remain in Boston
Therefore, wouldn't it make sense to begin an effort now to consider how to make a potential trade of Ellsbury before we get too deep into the 2012 season—the last year of his contract?
The Red Sox often seem to get "blind-sided" or put themselves in horrible positions with regard to veteran players in their last year or two. Why not talk to Ellsbury now or soon about whether he wants to stay? I think the signs all suggest he wants out, but he's one of the few players on the team who could bring some value back in a trade.
9. Relating to No. 4 on Valentine, the Manager has Failed to Make Decisions That Might Upset His Players—Even When Such Decisions Appear to Be in the Team's Interest
About a month or more ago, when Pedroia developed the first problem with his thumb, it seemed it might have made common sense to put him on the disabled list and force him to not play so it would heal faster. Yet, Pedroia convinced Valentine (and apparently, Cherington) that he could keep playing with that special splint on.
Of course, it turned out, Pedroia couldn't hit well and recently, he's developed additional thumb issues that did force him to the DL. Why was Valentine so afraid to assert himself with Pedroia? Maybe he's so "old school" that he agreed Pedroia should keep "toughing it out," but I think the incident is one of many in which Valentine has failed to assert himself with players. (The Beckett/golf incident is another example)
10. Is the Team Trying to Help Adrian Gonzalez Address His Hitting Problems?
Gonzo has hit better recently, but he still does not look like himself at the plate.
His timing has been mysteriously off for almost the entire season. What the hell is going on? I am a big supporter of Gonzalez, but at this point, I wonder if he's receiving the feedback and support he needs to get out of his bad habits at the plate.
He displayed his outstanding talents in the first half of last year. They couldn't just disappear. He's hitting more like Wade Boggs this year than the versatile, power hitter is has been most of his career. Again, I wonder if the team—Valentine, Cherington and/or Dave Magadan—are communicating with Gonzo in ways that help him confront what's going on.
Gonzo seems to think he can do it all by himself, but he may need a bit of assistance from someone too.