Five years ago, the Boston Red Sox were World Series champions for the second time in four seasons. There was no question that they were Major League Baseball's top organization. It was their league.
Now, the Red Sox lie in ruins. The organization's power structure was given a massive shakeup during the 2011 offseason, and the team decided this past weekend to trade away three of its most expensive stars. Starting pitcher Josh Beckett, left fielder Carl Crawford and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez were all traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, along with utility infielder Nick Punto.
The Red Sox did get some quality pieces in return from the Dodgers, but it's no big secret that they made the trade not to acquire players, but to jettison payroll. From Boston's perspective, the trade was a controlled demolition.
But we're not talking about a demolition that was triggered by a flip of a switch or a push of a button. We're talking about a demolition that was triggered by a fuse.
This fuse was not lit recently, but several years ago. Boston's demolition was a long time coming.
Here's how it happened. Fair warning: It's a long story.
December, 2009 - April 2010: The John Lackey Signing and the Josh Beckett Extension
The five-year, $82.5 million contract that John Lackey signed with the Red Sox in December of 2009 is high in the running for the dishonor of being the worst free agent signing in Major League Baseball history.
It's certainly the worst free agent signing in the history of the Red Sox. The Carl Crawford signing occupies a prominent place in that discussion, but his signing did not have the same kind of dire ripple effect that the Lackey signing had.
After all, the Lackey signing played a key role in the finalization of another regrettable deal in the club's history: the Josh Beckett extension.
When Lackey signed, what would become of Beckett was one of the first questions people started asking. Beckett was due to be a free agent following the 2010 season. And if Lackey was worth $82.5 million over five years, what was Beckett going to be worth to the Red Sox?
That question was on then-GM Theo Epstein's mind at the time. According to a report from Rob Bradford of WEEI.com, Epstein texted Beckett while the Lackey deal was being finalized to reassure him that he still had a place in the team's plans.
I sent Josh a text message as we were finalizing John Lackey’s deal. I just told him, ‘Some might speculate this might mean the end for you in Boston.’ I said ‘Don’t listen to them. You’re a huge part of what we have going on here. We love it if it worked out if you’re a huge part of our future, as well. The most important thing is that we have one heck of a pitching staff right now.’
At the time, Beckett was coming off a 2009 campaign that was essentially a tale of two seasons. He went 17-6 with a solid 3.86 ERA in 32 starts, but those numbers actually came off as being disappointing compared to the numbers he put up in his first 23 starts.
In those starts, which spanned from April to the middle of August, Beckett went 14-4 with a 3.10 ERA and a .227 opponents' batting average. He had the AL Cy Young award firmly in his sights.
Beckett's season took a turn for the worse in his last nine starts, in which he went 3-2 with a 6.02 ERA and a .287 opponents' batting average. He made one more start in the Red Sox's sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Angels in the ALDS, taking a loss in a game in which he allowed four earned runs over 6.2 innings.
Thus, the warning signs were there that Beckett was losing something on the mound. If the Red Sox were to sign him to an extension, they would be banking on the notion that his poor showing down the stretch in 2009 was a mere fluke.
In the end, the Red Sox decided to roll those dice. They and Beckett finalized an extension worth $68 million over four years on April 5, 2010.
"We couldn't be more thrilled to keep Josh around,'' said Epstein, via ESPNBoston.com. "We were talking that he'll be with the Red Sox for nine years when this contract is up. He's earned it. Josh is an excellent contributor on and off the field, a big part of our team and pitching staff.''
It's worth noting that both Beckett's extension and Epstein's remarks came after Beckett's 2010 debut, in which he was rocked for five earned runs on eight hits and three walks in 4.2 innings against the New York Yankees.
He went on to finish April with a 7.22 ERA, and was placed on the disabled list in the middle of May with a bad back. He ultimately finished the season with a 6-6 record and a 5.78 ERA in just 21 starts.
And this wasn't even in the first year of his new deal. The 2010 season was the final season of an extension that he had signed in 2006. His new deal wouldn't kick in until 2011, a year in which Beckett would be on the books for $17 million.
All the Red Sox could do between 2010 and 2011 was cross their fingers and hope for the best regarding Beckett.
Regarding the rest of the roster, the Red Sox did not rest on their laurels. Epsein and his staff got busy.
July, 2009 - December, 2010: The Long and Tireless Pursuit of Adrian Gonzalez
Adrian Gonzalez had his best season yet in 2009, setting new career highs with 40 home runs and a .958 OPS. That year, he made his second All-Star team and won his second Gold Glove.
As some may recall, Gonzalez almost finished the 2009 season as a member of the Boston Red Sox.
The big trade the Red Sox made at the deadline in 2009 was the deal that landed them Victor Martinez from the Cleveland Indians, but he was not their top target. Gonzalez was.
As reported by Sean McAdam, now of CSNNE.com but then of the Boston Herald, the Red Sox were "very aggressive" in the final days before the deadline in their attempts to pry Gonzalez from the clutches of the San Diego Padres.
Though they were in last place in the NL West and far our of first place at the time, the Padres refused to budge. Then-GM Kevin Towers was not about to give up his star first baseman.
A few months later, Towers was out of a job. The man chosen to replace him was none other than Jed Hoyer, who came to the Padres straight from Boston's front office.
Right then and there, a seed was planted for Epstein to swing a deal for Gonzalez in the future.
He would have no doubt loved to have swung a deal for Gonzalez during the 2010 season, but that wasn't going to happen seeing as how the Padres were in first place in the NL West by the time the trade deadline rolled around in 2010. Gonzalez himself was in the middle of another tremendous season, and the Padres very much needed to keep him around in order to make it to October.
The Padres went into the offseason knowing that Gonzalez was going to be a free agent after the 2011 season, and that he was going to be way too expensive for them to keep around. It was time to trade him.
In early December, Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com reported that Epstein and Hoyer had been in "ongoing discussions" for some time regarding Gonzalez. Given Epstein's lust for Gonzalez and Hoyer's knowledge of what was then a loaded Boston farm system, a deal was basically inevitable.
The negotiations between the two clubs hit a rough patch at one point, with then-SI.com writer Jon Heyman reporting on December 5, 2010 that the trade had fallen through. The biggest hold-up was the fact that Gonzalez was only going to be controlled for one season if an extension wasn't hammered out, and hammering out that extension was proving to be difficult.
But shortly after the deal apparently fell through, Heyman was one of many to report that a trade had been agreed to and that the parameters of an extension were in place. On December 6, 2010, Gonzalez finally became a member of the Red Sox. Sox prospects Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Reymond Fuentes became employees of the Padres.
When he was introduced, Gonzalez indicated that he got the gist of what it meant to be on the Red Sox.
"I'm very excited that everything was able to be worked out and I'm very excited to be here in Boston," he said, via MLB.com. "And I'm ready to beat the Yanks."
Knowing this, and knowing that Gonzalez's opposite field stroke was basically custom-designed to clang baseballs off the Green Monster, Red Sox Nation was in love.
The fans and every member of the front office breathed a sigh of relief when Gonzalez finally inked a much-talked-about extension in April. He would be with the Red Sox through the 2018 season, and all it cost them was $154 million.
At the time, that sounded like a steal.
So did another deal that the Red Sox made shortly after they traded for Gonzalez in December of 2010.
December, 2010: Red Sox Shock Baseball World with Carl Crawford Signing
Carl Crawford seemed to be born to torture the Boston Red Sox.
During his career with the Tampa Bay Rays, Crawford was a .300/.330/.442 hitter against the Red Sox with 62 stolen bases in 144 games. He once stole six bases in a single game against Boston in 2009, tying a modern-day record.
If you can't beat 'em, sign 'em, right?
That's what other executives were thinking. In September of 2010, ESPN's Buster Olney reported that the Red Sox were seen by rival executives as a favorite to sign Crawford, with the other big favorite being the Angels.
A few weeks later, Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote that the Red Sox were actually one of three favorites for Crawford, with the other team in the mix being the Detroit Tigers. The bar for Crawford's eventual contract was set at eight years and $144 million, which sounded pretty reasonable for a player who was coming off a career year. In 2010, Crawford hit .307/.356/.495 in 2010 with 19 home runs and 47 stolen bases, and he also won his first Gold Glove award.
Though the Red Sox were in the mix, all signs pointed towards Crawford eventually signing with the Angels. In fact, Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com reported at one point that it was "likely" that Crawford would end up in Anaheim.
The bigger question at that point was whether the New York Yankees would swoop in and steal Crawford. Saxon's report referenced a dinner meeting between Crawford and Yankees GM Brian Cashman, and a source told Saxon that the Yankees figured they had enough money to sign both Crawford and Cliff Lee.
If Epstein wanted Crawford, the writing was on the wall that he was going to have to act both quickly and stealthily.
Boy, did he ever.
On December 8, 2010, Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe reported that the Red Sox and Crawford had agreed to a seven-year contract worth $142 million.
This was mere days after the Red Sox had completed the trade for Gonzalez. Between the two deals, the Crawford contract came as a far bigger surprise. Everyone was shocked. As Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated put it, the Crawford signing was "a rare 'wow' moment in a Twitter-mad world."
"[Bleeping] Theo," said one rival GM. "What a brilliant move."
The plot thickened after the Crawford signing was official. According to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, Epstein engaged in a little gamesmanship with the Yankees by offering Lee a seven-year contract worth a low dollar amount. The idea behind that offer was to get Lee's reps to tell the Yankees that they had a seven-year offer on the table somewhere else.
At the time, the Yankees were only willing to offer a six-year deal. Epstein wanted them to mull whether to increase their offer. While doing so, their attention would have been off of Crawford.
If this is true, then his plan clearly worked to perfection. He acted quickly and stealthily indeed, but he also acted cleverly.
Crawford was introduced on December 11. Coincidentally, that was the same day Red Sox season tickets went on sale.
As far as most experts and fans were concerned at the time, the Red Sox may as well have started printing World Series tickets. That's clearly where the 2011 club was headed.
The 2011 Season: From Lofty Expectations to a Slow Start to a Brilliant Middle to a Horrible End
For the 2011 Red Sox, it was World Series or bust.
Such was the consensus among the experts, anyway. The folks at Sports Illustrated tabbed (via the Globe) the Red Sox to win 100 games and the World Series. So did ESPN's Jayson Stark, who held nothing back in his praise of the Red Sox:
They're better than the Phillies. They're better than the Yankees. They're better than the Rangers. They're better than everyone who has pirouetted across this stage. In the last week of March, anyhow, they're better. And that's all I have to go on.
Stark wasn't alone among ESPN's army of experts in his appreciation for the 2011 Red Sox. Of the 45 ESPN experts asked to give World Series predictions before the start of the 2011 season, a staggering 33 of them picked the Red Sox to win it all.
It suffices to say the Red Sox were not underdogs heading into the 2011 season. The heck of it was that, despite the fact they had won championships in both 2004 and 2007, being the overwhelming favorite to win it all was sort of uncharted territory for the Red Sox in the John Henry/Theo Epstein era.
As far as Sox reliever Daniel Bard was concerned, that was OK.
"As much as it's cool to be the underdog and win," he said, via ESPNBoston.com, "more often than not the team that is picked to win comes out on top."
Now you know, kids.
It didn't take long for all the good vibes to disappear. The Red Sox started the season as the odds-on favorite to win it all, but they seemed to forget that a team must first win ballgames in the regular season in order to get to October.
Boston opened the season by getting swept at the hands of the defending AL champion Texas Rangers, and they then went on to get swept by the lowly Cleveland Indians. The would-be champions were 0-6 right out of the gate.
They managed to right their ship by taking two out of three against the Yankees, but a subsequent three-game losing streak dropped their record to 2-10. At that point, the Red Sox were on pace to lose 100 games, not win 100 games.
They managed to win nine of their final 14 games in April, finishing the month with an 11-15 record that didn't look too shabby considering where they were 12 games into the season.
To make matters slightly better, two of Boston's biggest investments were performing just fine.
Beckett went 2-1 with a 2.65 ERA in five April starts, one of which saw him spin eight shutout innings with 10 strikeouts against the Yankees in a Sunday night game.
Gonzalez only hit one home run in April of 2011, but he finished the month with a .314/.379/.457 triple-slash line and 15 RBI. He had little trouble providing the Red Sox with instant gratification.
Crawford, on the other hand...
Crawford's season started with back-to-back 0-fers against the Rangers, and he looked uncomfortable enough to the point where Francona was convinced that dropping him in the lineup from the No. 3 hole to the No. 7 hole was the right thing to do.
"Looking at him, it's obvious he's trying too hard," Francona said, via the Providence Journal.
The drop in the lineup and other subsequent lineup shifts did not help Crawford's bat come alive. He finished April with a triple-slash line of .155/.204/.227. According to FanGraphs, he posted a -0.9 WAR for the month, the worst of any player in the American League.
Crawford entered the month of May looking to shape up, and the Red Sox entered May looking to go on a run that would get them to where they belonged: first place in the AL East.
They ended up getting there on May 26, and they ultimately finished May with a 19-10 record. They went 16-9 in June, and then 20-6 in July. In August, they went 17-12.
As for our protagonists, all three did well between May and August. Beckett went 10-4 with a 2.51 ERA in 21 starts. Gonzalez hit .348/.407/.574 with 22 home runs and 88 RBI. Though he had to spend some time on the disabled list with a bad wheel, even Crawford pulled his weight, hitting .283/.314/.450 with nine homers and 42 RBI.
When August came to a close, Boston was sitting on an AL-best 83-52 record. The Sox were on pace to win 100 games, just like the experts said they would.
At the very least, a spot in the postseason was all but assured. An AL East title wasn't a sure thing, but the Red Sox would surely at least end up with a wild card spot. It would take a disaster beyond reckoning to deny them that.
A disaster beyond reckoning is precisely what happened.
The Red Sox proceeded to go 7-20 in the month of September, finishing the season by losing two out of three to the Baltimore Orioles. The loss that sealed their fate came on the final day of the regular season, and it came courtesy of a blown save by Jonathan Papelbon.
There was more than enough blame to go around, and a good chunk of it was aimed at Beckett. He went 1-2 with a 5.48 ERA in four September starts, and he was part of a starting rotation that combined to post an ERA over 7.00 for the month.
Crawford also regressed, hitting .264/.295/.440 in September with a single home run. Some say he should have caught the sinking line drive off the bat of Robert Andino that ended Boston's season.
For his part, Gonzalez did pretty good in the season's final month, hitting .318/.455/.523. He collected only one RBI in Boston's final seven games, however, five of which were losses.
The end of Boston's 2011 season was bad. Very bad. The Red Sox were expected to steamroll their way through the regular season and October and all the way to the World Series. In the end, they proved incapable of steamrolling anything, and they made a lot of experts look decidedly foolish for failing to even make it to October.
As bad it was, it was about to get a lot worse.
2011 Offseason: Red Sox Transmogrify from Baseball Team Into Soap Opera
Officially, Boston's 2011 season didn't end until the Tampa Bay Rays clinched the American League wild card when Evan Longoria hit a walk-off home run against the Yankees mere minutes after the Red Sox were beaten in Baltimore.
As soon as Longo's ball cleared the short left field porch at Tropicana Field, the Great Boston Witch Hunt was on.
Terry Francona was the first to go. Technically, the Red Sox didn't fire him. His exit from Boston was a sort of mutual parting, as the Red Sox chose not to pick up Francona's option for 2012 and he chose not to talk them out of it.
Via MLB.com, Epstein chose his words carefully and made it all sound so reasonable:
"As I talked about yesterday, it wasn't my best year, it wasn't [Francona's] best year. As an organization, it wasn't our best year. [I asked him], 'Look yourself in the mirror and think if there's things you could do differently, if you could come back next Spring Training with a new voice and provide some of the leadership that's needed to improve the culture in our clubhouse and to meet those high standards that we have. He thought about it and he said that he thought it was time to move on."
A few days later, Epstein was also out, choosing to accept a five-year contract offer from the Chicago Cubs. That was just the start of a painfully drawn-out tug o' war between the Cubs and the Red Sox, but it was obvious right then and there that the man who had built not one, but two World Series winners in Boston was done.
He got out at the right time. It was right around the time of Epstein's departure that the Red Sox went from being a simple bad baseball team to a baseball team knee-deep in scandal.
On October 12, 2011, Bob Hohler of The Boston Globe published his now-infamous report of the debauchery and general chaos that was going on behind the scenes while the Red Sox were in the midst of their historic September collapse.
Francona was the main antagonist of the report, as he was portrayed as a man who lost control of the club due to distractions in his personal life, health problems and liberal use of pain medication.
Francona wasn't the only bad guy, however. Beckett was also cast as a villain.
Hohler's report made Beckett out to be a sort of ringleader of a group of pitchers that retreated to the clubhouse during games to drink beer, eat fried chicken and play video games. This routine apparently started in 2010, and it continued right through to the end of Boston's season in 2011.
One of the crimes levied against Beckett and the other pitchers—Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz—was a failure to show solidarity. Another was that they got fat and out of shape thanks to their chicken and beer excursions.
"For Beckett, Lester, and Lackey, the consequences were apparent as their body fat appeared to increase and pitching skills eroded," insisted Hohler.
Gonzalez wasn't spared either. Hohler praised Gonzalez for having a "superb" season, but throughout the course of the season he wrote that Gonzalez seemed to lack the "gift of leadership."
Wrote Hohler of Gonzalez: "...he provided none of the energy or passion off the field that the Sox sorely needed."
This may be because Gonzalez simply didn't have energy, much less passion. He basically admitted as much to Peter Abraham of the Globe shortly after Boston's season came crashing down.
"We play too many night games on getaway days and get into places at 4 in the morning," Gonzalez said. "This has been my toughest season physically because of that. We play a lot of night games on Sunday for television and that those things take a lot out of you."
When Abraham challenged Gonzalez by saying that playing in primetime comes with the territory in places like Boston, Gonzalez refused to back down.
"Why does it have to be?" he said. "They can put the Padres on ESPN, too. The schedule really hurt us. Nobody is really reporting that."
Gonzalez also raised some eyebrows with this comment, which Abraham and others took as a failure to accept responsibility for what happened:
It's definitely something that didn't plan for. We were wholly confident that we would make the playoffs but it didn't happen. We didn't do a better job with the lead. I'm a firm believer that God has a plan and it wasn't in his plan for us to move forward.
Crawford, meanwhile, knew what the score was. He knew he had just finished a season in which he had been a massive disappointment, and he accepted the fact that he was partially to blame for Boston's failure.
"I know what kind of season I had. I know what I did," Crawford said. "I have to go back home and live with that. It's going to be a tough offseason for me. I have to come back and prove myself."
It wasn't until much later that Crawford let everyone know how he really felt about 2011. When he finally opened up, he put Francona in his crosshairs.
This July, Crawford told WEEI.com that he never really got over being dropped in the lineup merely two days into the season. He felt it was a knee-jerk reaction, and he took it to be unfair for a player of his stature:
I look around baseball and I look at all the guys that signed big contracts and all the guys that went to new places. All, besides Prince Fielder maybe, they all had some kind of getting-used-to type period and I feel like I got cheated out of that. I didn't have the chance to really do that. You spend $142 million on somebody, you have to live and die with them. You didn't really give me a chance. After two days, that's really never happened. My confidence just went down. It was gone. What do you expect? What's wrong with one month? If I'm terrible after one month, then yeah. Who spends $142 million and throws a guy in the seven-hole and leaves him there? It doesn't make sense to me.
As Crawford saw it, being dropped from No. 2 to No. 7 two days into the 2011 season meant he didn't have the "manager's confidence."
He added: "Therefore I started to think something was wrong with me, and it just snowballed after that. It had a trickle-down effect, and it just got worse and worse as the days went by."
In 2012, Beckett would make $15.75 million. A lot of money for a guy who fell flat in September of 2011 due to a lack of commitment with apparently deep roots.
Gonzalez would be on the books for $21 million. A fair price to pay for a player with his talent, but it was clear that he still had plenty of adjusting to do to life in Boston.
Crawford would make $19.5 million. His first goal would be to get healthy, as he underwent wrist surgery in January of 2012 that threatened to sideline him for the start of the season. His next goal after that would be to prove himself worthy to a team that failed to give him a fair shake in 2011.
For a total of $56.25 million, what the Red Sox had in Beckett, Gonzalez and Crawford were three wild cards. Exactly what would happen with the three of them both on and off the field was anyone's guess.
December, 2011 - Spring, 2012: The Arrival of Bobby Valentine, Endless Drama, and Another Poor Start
The end of the 2011 season threw everyone into a panic. Fans were about as calm as a village mob on the prowl for a ravenous monster, and the Red Sox organization itself was a slowly crumbling house of cards.
The powers that be should have done everything in their power to calm everyone down. Choosing Ben Cherington as Epstein's successor was a good start, but principal owner John Henry and the club's brain trust effectively kept everyone on pins and needles while they carried out an overly long search for a new manager.
It wasn't until December that they tabbed Bobby Valentine as Francona's successor. In doing so, they hired a textbook example of the term "baseball man."
Alas, they also hired a man who will never be described as a calming influence.
Valentine said all the right things at his introductory press conference, but something just didn't feel right. It didn't help that Cherington had to clear the air right then and there regarding reports that Bobby V was not his first choice to be the club's new manager.
"It's just not true," said Cherington, via ESPNBoston.com. "We went through a very thorough process. We talked to a lot of candidates, did a lot of research on the candidates...That's the truth. It was a collaborative process. Ownership, as they absolutely should be, was heavily involved in the conversation about all the candidates."
When Valentine was asked whether the Red Sox had a poor clubhouse culture, he said that the team had a "reputation that's not warranted."
He then unwittingly contradicted himself by saying, "I don't know because I wasn't there."
Further on down the road, one of Valentine's first major acts as the manager of the Red Sox was essentially a direct response to the clubhouse culture that he had shrugged off at his introductory presser. Early on in spring training, Valentine banned beer in the Red Sox clubhouse.
Naturally, everyone flocked to Beckett, the supposed ringleader of the chicken and beer routine, for his response. He responded, basically, by not responding.
"I don't get paid to make those decisions," Beckett told WEEI.com. "It doesn't matter to me."
Meanwhile, Crawford soon found himself in the middle of a minor media feeding frenzy when he finally responded to critical remarks made by Henry in a radio interview during the offseason.
“In fact, anyone involved in the process, anybody involved in upper management with the Red Sox would tell you that I personally opposed that. Why? Because we had plenty of left-handed hitting. I don’t have to go into why. I’ll just tell you that at the time, I opposed the deal.”
In February, Crawford told NESN and other media outlets that he "wasn't happy" when he heard what Henry had to say:
I can't do nothing about what he said. I can just go out and play, you know, but it's unfortunate he feels that way. It's nothing for me to say, but just go out and play.
I wasn't happy about it. I was a little surprised, but like I said, it's unfortunate he feels that way. I wish those words hadn't come out.
Henry went into damage control mode, immediately calling Crawford to apologize. Fortunately for Henry, Crawford was just as willing to put an end to the fuss as he was.
"He was very apologetic and he seemed sincere," Crawford said, via ESPNBoston.com. "We both agree to put everything behind us and that's all you can do."
The situation was buried like that, but it's impossible to avoid reading between the lines when this situation is placed side by side with the remarks Crawford made to WEEI.com about not having Francona's confidence during the 2011 season.
"I don't know about the organization, but I don't try and look past the manager," he said.
Once he heard what Henry had to say, Crawford basically found out that the man running the organization never wanted to sign him in the first place. Not exactly a confidence booster.
Getting back out on the field right away probably would have helped Crawford put his mind at ease, but he was forced to start the season on the disabled list after his surgically-repaired wrist acted up and led to problems with his elbow as well.
The Red Sox took the field on Opening Day in Detroit without Crawford, not to mention without the expectations that they took the field with on Opening Day in 2011. On the contrary, people seemed to be waiting for the Red Sox to fail rather than to succeed.
They didn't have to wait long. The Red Sox once again opened the season by getting swept, and they went on to lose 10 of their first 14 games.
Beckett was rocked in his 2012 debut, giving up seven earned runs and five home runs in just 4.2 innings against the Tigers on April 7. He finished the month with a 2-3 record and a pedestrian 4.45 ERA in five starts.
For his part, Gonzalez had a solid month, hitting .271/.337/.400 with two home runs and five RBI.
The Red Sox finished April with a record of 11-11. Not very good, but an improvement over where they ended up at the end of April in 2011. Perhaps the 2012 team was about to go on a run similar to the one the 2011 team went on.
Nope. Instead, things just kept getting worse.
May, 2012 - August, 2012: The Death Rattle
The first big controversy of Boston's 2012 season arrived when the season was less than two weeks old, and it involved Valentine throwing Kevin Youkilis, one of the most prominent veterans on the team and a fan favorite, under the bus for the world to see.
This was the firestorm that took a lot of effort to quell. The next firestorm came just a few weeks later when Beckett decided to enjoy a day out on the links despite the fact he was supposedly too injured to pitch at the time.
As reported by 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Hardy, Beckett was spotted golfing with Clay Buchholz just a couple days after it was determined that he wouldn't be able to make a scheduled start in early May due to soreness in his shoulder and lat muscle.
Reaction to the report was mixed. Some took it as an excuse to be upset with Beckett. Others wrote it off as a bunch of overblown nonsense.
The reaction definitely was not mixed the next time Beckett was able to take the mound.
On May 10 at Fenway Park, Beckett was obliterated by the Cleveland Indians for seven earned runs in 2.1 innings. He walked off the mound to a chorus of boos, and the Red Sox ultimately lost the game to fall to 12-19 on the season.
After the game, Beckett refused to admit he did anything wrong by going golfing.
“I spend my off days the way I want to spend them,” he said, via the Boston Herald. “My off day is my off day. We get 18 off days a year. I think we deserve a little bit of time to ourselves.”
As if that defiant answer wasn't enough, Beckett decided it would also be a good idea to take a shot at all the fans who booed him off the mound that night.
“It was directed at me,” Beckett said. “I pitched like [bleep]. That’s what happens. Smart fans.”
Whether or not he realized it at the time is something that only Beckett knows, but he came off as exactly the kind of troublemaker and disinterested knucklehead that he was being portrayed as.
Everyone wanted to bury Beckett, but Peter Abraham pointed his finger at the Red Sox instead.
"But the problem isn’t Beckett," he wrote. "The problem is that nobody with the Red Sox — from ownership down to his assorted pitching coaches — has required him to be accountable or demanded that he change."
He went on:
In return for this durability and production, the Red Sox have stayed out of his way. Beckett gets to pick his catcher. Beckett gets to prepare for games the way he wants. Beckett gets to drink beer in the clubhouse during games. Beckett gets to throw too many cutters. Beckett gets to do what he wants, basically.
A month later, the Red Sox were still under .500 and Beckett was on the disabled list with a sore right shoulder. At that point, he had a 4-7 record and a 4.14 ERA. Not so good for a guy making nearly $16 million.
Meanwhile, Crawford was busy rehabbing from his injuries and Gonzalez was teetering between being a disappointment and being a saint.
He was a saint because he had willfully accepted semi-everyday right field duties due to interleague play and a sudden shortage of healthy outfielders. He was a disappointment because he was only hitting .257/.310/.398 with five home runs and 36 RBI by the time late June rolled around.
At the All-Star break, the Red Sox were 43-43 and in fourth place in the AL East. Though obviously not what they had hoped for, their first half could have been worse given the amount of injuries and drama they had to endure.
Hopes were high for the second half because the Red Sox knew they would be getting Jacoby Ellsbury back from an early-season shoulder injury immediately following the All-Star break and that Crawford would be back shortly after him. They would soon have everything they needed to go on a run.
Things started out well enough, as the Red Sox won five of their first seven games after the break. But as quickly as the good times came, they went away again.
The Red Sox went on to lose six of seven after their 5-2 start in the second half, and one of the losses saw Jon Lester get destroyed for 11 earned runs in a start against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park.
This loss would loom large a few weeks later in a meeting between Red Sox players and the team's brass, the gory details of which were reported by Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports on August 14.
According to Passan's report, Valentine's decision to leave Lester in to get shelled against the Blue Jays was the last straw for several prominent Sox players, who saw it as an ultimate show of disrespect.
The story goes that the meeting in question took place on July 26 in New York, and that it was called after Gonzalez texted the powers that be on behalf of himself and his frustrated teammates. He and Dustin Pedroia were "among the most vocal" in the meeting, in which some players said they no longer wanted to play for Valentine.
Passan appropriately described the event as an attempt at mutiny. Needless to say, the fact that Gonzalez was portrayed as the leader of it didn't reflect well on him.
Naturally, Gonzalez denied the report, telling WEEI.com that Passan's source was "inaccurate."
A few days later, the New York Daily News reported that the actual author of the text message that led to the meeting was then-backup catcher Kelly Shoppach.
Shoppach denied that report, according to ESPNBoston.com.
It could be a while before we learn what actually happened in the fateful July 26 meeting, much less what led to it happening in the first place. But what's clear even without knowing all the details is that the players, Valentine, and the team's brass were not all on the same page. The players were not on the same page as Valentine, and there was apparently a disconnect between Valentine and his bosses as well.
The word "disconnect" is also relevant to the drama that emerged between Crawford and the Red Sox right around the same time the attempt at mutiny supposedly took place.
The Red Sox didn't need to tell anybody that they were going to be careful with Crawford when they activated him off the disabled list on July 16. They were going to be very careful with him.
What they apparently forgot to tell Crawford was that he was going to be on a program that called for him to play no more than four days in a row. He didn't find out about this program until he was benched for a game against the Yankees in which CC Sabathia was scheduled to pitch.
Also, he had already played six straight days at one point.
"Once I get ready for the game, I'm ready for the game," said Crawford, via the Globe. "I think the medical staff knows that at some point early on they wanted to get me a day off, and I got that day off. I guess, you know, they've talked, and said this is best for me, and they have to go with what's best for me."
A few days later, the Red Sox abandoned the four-day plan altogether, but not before they knew where Crawford stood as far as his elbow was concerned.
Crawford saw his left elbow as a ticking time bomb. His ulnar collateral ligament was damaged, and he had been insisting all along that he was eventually going to need Tommy John surgery in order to get it fixed.
"That's what the doctor told me," Crawford said in late July, via NESN.com. "I'll try not to even think about it. I go out and play, try not to think about it. I figure one day it'll blow out, and when that happens, time to go."
His manager was skeptical.
"I heard what Carl said," Valentine said. "I’ve never been told that he needs an operation. I don’t think that’s a definitive situation."
Crawford eventually got his wish, but not until after the Red Sox dropped two of three to the Yankees in The Bronx earlier this month. At that point, they were all but out of the race, so Crawford was allowed to go in for Tommy John surgery, thus ending his season.
That was just one signal that the Red Sox were throwing in the towel on the 2012 season. The biggest signal was yet to come.
This past week, rumors started leaking out that Gonzalez and Beckett had both been placed on waivers. This is standard operating procedure for all clubs this time of year, so there was no real reason to make a fuss.
But this being Boston, a fuss was invariably made. Gonzalez wanted nothing to do with it.
Here's what he told ESPNDeportesLosAngeles.com:
In Boston, there is always a novel -- in here they never talk about baseball; it's always the same. That's one of the reasons why I almost never talk to the press here. Very few times they ask me about baseball. But most of the time it's about gossip, rumors, plots, well ... a soap opera.
When they talk to me about baseball, I'm available. But that does not happen often.
Comments like this are how one gets labeled as a bad fit for Boston. That label had long since been applied to Gonzalez, and he basically confirmed that he deserved it with these remarks.
He was put out of his misery shortly after making these comments. Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com was the first to report on Friday that Gonzalez, Beckett, Crawford and Nick Punto would soon be on their way to LA, and the trade was finalized on Saturday.
For Gonzalez, Beckett, Crawford and the Red Sox themselves, the nightmare was over.
It's a shame things turned out the way they did. Despite the fact things devolved to a point where something drastic had to be done, there were times not too long ago that the three star players who just left Boston were viewed not as villains, but heroes.
The Red Sox would not have won the World Series in 2007 without Beckett. He won 20 games in the regular season and four more in the postseason, giving up just four earned runs over 30 innings of work. At that point, he was the best thing to happen to the Red Sox since Curt Schilling in 2004.
Even today, the Gonzalez trade doesn't look like a bad deal in retrospect. The Red Sox parted with some very good prospects, but they got a guy who left town with an .895 OPS in an all-too-brief Red Sox career. For all his problems adapting to life in Boston and his apparent inability to cope with life under Valentine, Gonzalez was rarely a problem on the field.
As for Crawford, well, let's just say that one has to feel sympathetic towards him. He and the Red Sox were never a good fit for one another, and he certainly can't be blamed for being hurt for much of this season. And if Peter Abraham is to be believed, Crawford was a model citizen even during the bad times.
Crawford won't be ready to play until next season, but Beckett and Gonzalez both now have a chance to participate in a pennant race on a very strong Dodgers team. They get to move on immediately.
Beckett didn't mind admitting that he's just fine with this.
“It was time for me to move on and start a new chapter,” he said on Saturday night, according to the Los Angeles Times.
As for Gonzalez, he seemed to have a harder time letting go:
Last year, everybody was telling me about taking more of a leadership role at the end of the year. This year, I tried to be more outspoken, and whenever you say certain things or do certain things, sometimes they fire back the wrong way. Everything that I ever did was for the sake of winning, and I think everybody over there in the clubhouse knows that. The way things were spinned is unfortunate, but I guess looking back maybe there were a couple things –- well, I shouldn’t say a couple things –- one thing I shouldn’t have done.
According to CBSSports.com, Gonzalez added: "We all make decisions we regret later. I don't regret any moment of being there."
Regret? Regret what? The text message? Going to Boston? Everything?
He didn't say. And honestly, what does it matter?
As of now, everything that happened while Gonzalez, Beckett and Crawford were members of the Red Sox is water under the bridge. They're moving on, and so are the Red Sox. Thanks to their new-found riches, they should get to where they want to be as an organization sooner rather than later.
They'll attempt to do so with the smoldering ruins of what was once a great team firmly in their rear-view mirror. They would do well to keep it in perspective, for it's a sight that they don't want to see again.
We'll know how they did in a few years.
Note: Stats, records, schedules, contract figures, etc. courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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