Does Boston Clubhouse Need to Be Gutted for Red Sox to Return to the Top?
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They were able to hold out hope for a lot longer than they probably should have been able to, but the Boston Red Sox won't be making the playoffs in 2012.
Their season is done. Finito. End of story. Better luck next year, thanks for playing.
You could see the end coming a mile away, looming over Boston's season like a dark cloud with a sneering grin on its face, but it didn't really arrive until Will Middlebrooks broke his wrist on Friday night against the Cleveland Indians.
Indications are that Middlebrooks is done for the rest of the year, making him just another injury casualty in what's been an injury-plagued year for the Olde Town Team.
Injuries aren't the only thing that have plagued Boston's season, of course. They've also had to deal with poor starting pitching and a few too many controversial incidents that have grabbed just as many headlines as the games themselves. The Red Sox haven't even been able to lose with dignity.
Basically, it's as if September of 2011 never really went away. Whatever force gripped the Red Sox last September hibernated during the winter and then went right back to work when the snows thawed.
Because of this, you might say that Boston's 2012 season died not with Middlebrooks' injury on Friday night, but roughly a year ago when the month of August came to a close. The Red Sox were 83-52 when last September got underway. Ever since, they have a record of 64-79.
Nobody should be too surprised. The Red Sox shook up their front office over the offseason and ultimately replaced Terry Francona with controversy lightning rod Bobby Valentine, but the team itself didn't undergo that many changes. Many of the same players who were around for Boston's 7-20 showing last September are still around this year in a season that could see the Red Sox finish under .500 for the first time since 1997.
So as much as people want to blame Bobby V for this season (it's always the manager's fault, right?), the truth is that Boston's problems extend well beyond him. He may not be the perfect leader, but even a perfect leader would have his work cut out for him with a collection of troops such as this and the sense of doom that they carry.
How can the Red Sox fix things? How can they steer the organization steer itself away from several years of mediocrity back towards championship contention?
Here's a hint: It won't be easy.
The Red Sox can tinker with their roster all they want, but they're not going to wash away the club's recent mediocrity for good if they insist on making only small changes here and there. It's past time they did something a little more drastic, and that means doing something the club has generally refused to do ever since John Henry assumed control of the club in 2002.
It's time to clean house, Indianapolis Colts-style. A fresh start is needed.
When you look at the Red Sox now, you see a club that is still clinging to the last championship it won in 2007. The team has changed a lot in the five years since then, but the core of the club has gone largely untouched and organization still presents itself as a world-class organization with a world-class product.
In other words, the organization has an obsolete view of itself. What was true in 2007 is no longer true today.
The Red Sox no longer have a world-class product on the field. There are some very talented players on the Red Sox, but it's no accident that they haven't won a postseason game since 2008. Nor is it an accident that they haven't even made the playoffs since 2009. The team just isn't very good, and some of the players who have been in Boston the longest seem to have grown disillusioned.
It's not just the players either. The quality of the coaching staff has also taken a dive since 2007. Francona reached his peak as a manager that year, only to see his influence decline in subsequent years before finally parting ways with the Red Sox last October.
Furthermore, what must not be overlooked is that the 2007 club also featured an excellent supporting cast. John Farrell, now the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, was the pitching coach. Brad Mills, now the manager of the Houston Astros, was the bench coach. Men like them are hard to replace.
In hiring Bobby Valentine, the Red Sox brought a new voice to the Red Sox. This does not, however, mean that they gave a the club a new attitude and a new direction in general. It takes more than a new manager to bring about changes like that.
They went for the quick fix because going for the quick fix is a bad habit the Red Sox have been guilty of for a few years now. Even as the club was slowly falling apart over these last few years, drastic measures were never possible because things were never that bad. The Red Sox were never down and out. Just down.
Well, things are that bad now. That gives the Red Sox every excuse to shake things up by gutting their roster.
The list of people who need to go starts with Josh Beckett. In a span of just a couple of years, he's gone from being a World Series hero and the club's unquestioned ace to being a clubhouse albatross and a washed-up pitcher. CSNNE.com's Sean McAdam and others reported that the Red Sox were looking to trade Beckett at the trade deadline, and the thinking is that they'll try again to move him this offseason.
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Beckett's 10-5 rights allow him to veto any trade proposal, but he should want out of Boston just as much as the Red Sox should want to be rid of him and his contract (which has nearly $32 million remaining on it after this season).
Jettisoning him will take care of several problems in one fell swoop. If the Red Sox can find a taker for John Lackey and the $30-plus million remaining on his contract, they shouldn't hesitate to get rid of him as well (though it's highly unlikely that they'll be able to do that).
As far as who should stay in Boston, the question Ben Cherington will have to ask himself is twofold: Who's young and who's controllable?
To this end, guys like Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, Will Middlebrooks, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales can definitely stay.
Because he's apparently not done quite yet, Carl Crawford can stay too. Jon Lester has struggled this year, but he still has youth and good stuff working for him. He can stay as well.
As for Jacoby Ellsbury, well, he's a tough one.
Ellsbury is still young, but he's not controllable. He's due to become a free agent after the 2013 season, and the Red Sox probably won't be able to extend him seeing as how Ellsbury is represented by Scott Boras. His clients tend to test the free-agent waters, and they tend to depart for greener pastures when they do.
To trade or not to trade Ellsbury will be Cherington's toughest decision this offseason. But once he realizes that he'll be able to get a blue-chip prospect and/or major league players in return for Ellsbury, he'll know that trading Ellsbury is the right thing to do.
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And then he'll have to figure out what to do with David Ortiz.
You don't need to poll every member of Red Sox Nation to know that most Red Sox fans don't want to see Ortiz in another uniform anytime soon. He's one of the club's all-time greats, and he's shown this season that he can still hit. If Red Sox fans were running the show, Ortiz would probably be given a blank check this offseason.
But you know what? Ortiz should go too.
If the Red Sox are going to go in a new direction, it should be a completely new direction. The Red Sox have been Big Papi's team for almost a decade at this point, and that's going to have to change if the organization wants the attitude of the team to change along with its roster.
Ortiz will complain about being disrespected if the Red Sox choose to part ways with him, but that would be nothing new. He told USA Today back in July that he already felt like he wasn't getting the respect he deserves from the club's management, and that complaint came just a couple weeks after he told the media that Boston was becoming the "the [bleep]hole it used to be."
If Ortiz really meant all that he's said this season, then he won't mind leaving.
The Red Sox will be a lesser team without Big Papi around, to be sure, and it won't be easy for them to overcome the absences of Ellsbury, Beckett, Lackey and whoever else they choose (and are able) to jettison this offseason. Not if they choose to fill out the team's roster with young players rather than hitting the free agent and trade markets for quick fixes anyway.
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But at this stage in the club's history, a youth movement is long overdue. The good news for the Red Sox, however, is that they're well-equipped to handle a youth movement.
In players like Gonzalez, Pedroia, Middlebrooks, Crawford, Saltalamacchia, Lester, Buchholz, Doubront and Morales, the Red Sox are going to have a strong core to build around if they choose to pursue a youth movement. They can add to that core by finally giving everyday playing time to major league-ready youngsters like Ryan Lavarnway and Ryan Kalish, and possibly Jose Iglesias as well.
In time, top prospects like Matt Barnes and Xander Bogaerts will be ready for big league playing time, and by then, the club's younger players will have hopefully developed into stars.
Call it a rebuilding phase if you must, but in a perfect world, the Red Sox won't be looking at a five- or six-year plan. In a perfect world, they'll be ready to contend again as soon as 2014. Whenever they are ready to contend again, they'll have a foundation in place that will allow them to keep contending for years to come.
Indeed, things could go wrong. You never know with young ballplayers, and the Red Sox really have no way of knowing how much longer players like Gonzalez, Pedroia and Crawford are going to be in their respective primes. The team's best-laid plans could easily go awry.
But the alternative to a new direction is simply staying the course. That's basically what the club has been doing ever since they won it all in 2007, and things have gotten a little worse every year.
With things finally hitting rock bottom in 2012, it's clear that the Red Sox aren't going to get back to where they were by tinkering and spending more and more money.
Gutting the clubhouse and taking the team in a completely new direction will be risky, but it's a risk well worth taking.
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