Much to the chagrin of the Worldwide Leader of Sports, this weekend’s Boston Red Sox—New York Yankees has little, if any, juice. Mired well below .500, the Red Sox simply aren’t a factor in either the American League East or AL Wild Card race. Boston has become an afterthought, and just five years after winning the World Series, is, at the moment, the worst franchise in baseball.
The Red Sox are a rudderless ship loaded with bloated salaries for undesirable personnel. Sure, scores of other teams currently possess less impressive records than Boston—Toronto occupies the cellar of the AL East—but has there been a mutiny in Kansas City, Minnesota or Colorado?
According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports on July 26, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez sent a text to management relaying their displeasure with Valentine for humiliating pitcher Jon Lester on July 22.
Passan writes that a players-only meeting, led by Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia, was a volatile affair and that rifts exist not only between players and their manager but also between factions of players. Both players have since rebuffed the report.
Yes, the Red Sox have won two World Series in the past decade. But at the moment there is no more dysfunctional or underachieving organization in Major League Baseball than Boston. Blessed with resources other clubs could only dream about, the Red Sox have done less with more than anyone of late.
It starts at the top with ownership and its emasculating of first-year general manager Ben Cherington. The heir to boy-genius Theo Epstein’s decaying empire, Cherington had eccentric manager Bobby Valentine forced upon him. Now devoid of power, Cherington has seen his negotiating power with both players and club virtually whipped away. Of course owners always have the finally say, but the best of them most often opt to delegate rather than act on their own.
Valentine—most famous for wearing a ridiculous fake mustache that wouldn’t have fooled Inspector Gadget in the dugout while skippering the New York Mets—was hired as the antithesis to the player-friendly Terry Francona after Boston’s historic beer and fried chicken fueled collapse last September.
What Boston’s brass hired wasn’t a manager, but rather a showman and figurehead. Valentine was somebody to sell to the media; an articulate, well-known commodity that wasn’t afraid to mix it up with the Yankees or even his own players.
Unfortunately, Valentine’s managerial skills couldn’t match his wit. Out of MLB since 2002, he was a solid 1,117-1,072 in 15 seasons with the Texas Rangers and New York Mets. However, he only made two playoff appearances during his time in Texas and New York, though he did guide the 2000 Mets to the World Series, losing to the Yankees 4-1.
Valentine was the worst choice for Boston’s collection of coddled players. Almost instantly he began to clash with prominent Red Sox players and helped usher favorite Kevin Youkilis out of town in late June.
By late July Valentine’s players could take no more.
Speaking of Valentine’s players, no collection of talent has underachieved more. For $173,186,617—MLB’s third highest payroll—Boston is 59-62 (as of August 19), has MLB’s 22nd best earned run average and ranks sixth in batting and fielding, respectively.
And please, Boston apologists, save us the injury excuse. Every club battles maladies. The Los Angeles Dodgers have played without Matt Kemp for much of the season and still are near the top of the standings. The Yankees lost the greatest closer of all time and are a first place outfit.
This year is lost. Unfortunately, the future doesn’t look much brighter. Valentine has been given the dreaded vote of confidence by ownership but isn’t likely to be back in 2013.
Boston’s swollen payroll doesn’t lend itself to flexibility. The club’s problem isn’t only the lack of production from its supposed superstars this season, it’s the diminishing value each possesses. Only Lester is tradable. Lackey and Beckett still have two years remaining on their respective deals. Crawford is signed through 2017 while Gonzalez is inked until 2018. Nobody is going to want these pieces.
Add to that the thinning of the Red Sox fan base—look at the attendance at Fenway—and suddenly the cash cow is beginning to dry up. How is Boston supposed to add top-shelf free agents if it cannot match the offers of other suitors?
Fact is the Red Sox are stuck with their current roster for at least two years and next season will unveil their third manager in three seasons. That’s the type of move the Baltimore Orioles or Pittsburgh Pirates used to make, but not characteristic of a perennial contender.
Some clubs are dysfunctional. Others are petulant. Others are financially irresponsible. But only one organization possess all of these tragic flaws: the Boston Red Sox.