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9 Keys for the Boston Red Sox to Be a Contender Next Season

Pat DeColaCorrespondent IJanuary 4, 2017

9 Keys for the Boston Red Sox to Be a Contender Next Season

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    On Opening Day every spring, all 30 MLB teams begin the season tied for first place.

    To steal a line from the infamous Lloyd Christmas, "So you're telling me there's a chance the Boston Red Sox can be a contender in 2013? YEAH!"

    Yes, and that chance might even be higher than the one out of a million shot Mary Swanson gave poor Lloyd in the 1994 film "Dumb and Dumber".

    Just because Boston collected 16 wins in August and September combined, currently has no manager amid an organization in disarray, and things look bleak for 2013 and beyond, it doesn't mean that the Red Sox can't be a contender next season. 

    Last December, the Oakland A's, fresh off a 74-88 finish, traded 16-game-winning, 26-year-old stud Gio Gonzalez to the Washington Nationals, a seemingly desperate move to unload a young, premier arm to reload for the future. Gonzalez went on to win 21 games while leading the Nationals to the postseason, while the A's defied all logic and wound up winning the AL West, despite being pinned as a last-place team well into June.

    The point?

    There's no hard-set way to tell how a team will perform from Game 1 to Game 162.

    That doesn't mean that teams should just blindly jump onto the field and hope for the best, though, so here are some ways that the Red Sox can try to solve their issues from 2012 and give themselves a better chance to be in the mix down the stretch next season.

Upper Management Needs to Shift Most of Its Focus to What Happens on the Diamond

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    To be fair, it's tough to criticize an ownership group that helped to bring the city of Boston its first World Series in 86 years, then three years later another one just for kicks.

    But for anyone paying attention to what's been happening at Fenway Park over the past decade, they know that things have become more consumer-driven with an emphasis on how much money the organization can generate, not necessarily putting the best team on the field.

    Of course, that's not totally the case, as these owners haven't shyed away from spending money on prized free agents. But if they were more focused on running a baseball team, not a company, then expensive mistakes like John Lackey and Carl Crawford are far less likely to happen. 

    This winter, John Henry and Co. need to concentrate their efforts on the Red Sox, not that other thing they have going on

The New Manager Needs to Establish Early Control over His Clubhouse

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    It's laughable to think how likely it is that at no point this season did Bobby Valentine have as much control over his clubhouse as Terry Francona did in September 2011 as the Red Sox were completing the worst collapse in major league history.

    Whoever comes in to police the players for 2013—and hopefully beyond—will have to assert himself from Day 1 to be everything that Valentine was not.

    That starts with earning the trust of his men and proving to them that he has their best interests in mind as they pertain to the overall well-being of the ballclub. It'd be a smart decision on the part of the next manager to really develop player-manager relationships as early as possible before spring training.

    If that means he has to spend his offseason flying around the country, meeting with all of his players individually, then so be it. It's what needs to happen.

Dustin Pedroia Needs to Assume His Leadership Role and Produce at the Dish

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    Rookie of the Year at 23-years-old, MVP at 24, and now?

    Pedroia is coming off his least-productive full season since his rookie year, a year muddled with misfortune, turmoil, and backstabbing.

    It sounds more like a Shakespearean comedy than a period in Red Sox history.

    Be that as it may, Pedroia needs to be the player his early career predicted he'd be—an All-Star caliber second baseman consistently in the MVP conversation, as well as the strongest presence in the clubhouse. Of course, the fiery, determined Pedroia doesn't need this article to tell him that.

    Next season, expect to see a Pedroia we've never seen before. He'll be ready.

Jacoby Ellsbury Needs to Put Up Scott-Boras-Client-Contract-Year Numbers

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    Considering that Ellsbury is probably somewhere in between who he was in 2009 (.301, 8 HR, 60 RBI, 70 SB) and who he was last year (.321/32/105/39), the Red Sox have a pretty good player on their hands. 

    After amassing stats of just four home runs, 26 RBI, 14 steals, and a .271 average in 74 games, Ellsbury needs to step it up in 2013. As a Scott Boras client, he will likely reach free agency instead of signing an extension, so his contract year will be a tremendous measuring stick for the type of player he actually is. He'll spend some time in the offseason building up his strength and durability so he'll be on the diamond all season, putting up big numbers.

    Advantage: Red Sox.

The Training Staff Needs to Keep the Players Healthier

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    Big changes are needed here.

    At the time of the blockbuster trade that sent Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto to the Dodgers on August 25, the Red Sox had already sent a major league record 26 different players to the disabled list—with over a month left in the season.

    The offseason workouts developed by the training staff need to improve. Players can't be coming into spring training out-of-shape, hoping to just get in shape as the season goes on. That is how injuries fester.

Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz Need to Pitch Like Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz

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    It's well-evidenced how dominant both of these players can be at times. 

    Both have a no-hitter under their belts, both are All-Stars, and both have finished relatively high-up in the Cy Young voting in the past three years.

    Yet, they were both atrocious in 2012.

    They combined for a record of 20-22, a far cry from the combined 111-58 they were entering this season.

    For Buchholz, entering his age-28 season, and Lester, his age-29 season, now is the perfect time for both of them to get together in the offseason and make a pact that they can't let a season like this happen again. They need to push each other, workout with each other, and be each other's best friend and worst enemy.

    Watch out for these two, American League.

The Hole at First Base Needs to Be Addressed

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    Red Sox first basemen hit .289 with 22 dingers and 96 RBI in 2012. 

    Not bad, right?

    The only problem is that the guy who accrued most of those stats now plays in L.A.

    With not a single first baseman listed in the Top-20 Red Sox prospects according to SoxProspects.com, the need for a big-leaguer will have to be filled either via trade or free agency. The crop of first basemen on the market is relatively slim this year, with Adam LaRoche likely to attract the most attention after hitting 33 home runs and knocking in 100 runs in Washington this season.

    (Gee, why can't the Red Sox get guys like that?)

    But a guy that the Sox will likely have a good shot at getting is Texas Rangers catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli. He had a down year after putting up career numbers last season and could be Boston's primary target this offseason.

A Decision Needs to Be Made on Jose Iglesias

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    Look, he's only 22-years-old. 

    But the shortstop has just 10 hits through his first 35 games as a major leaguer. I don't care how good his fielding is. That isn't going to cut it.

    The time is now for the Sox to decide how much they're going to be willing to invest in the young shortstop before they move on, especially with the studly Xander Bogaerts waiting his turn down in the minors. 

    Bogaerts will be at spring training next year, where the team will have a chance to compare the two. If it looks like Iglesias is the lesser-player, then it might be worth finding a stop-gap in the meantime until the 20-year-old is ready so the Red Sox can compete in the meantime.

September of 2011 Needs to Become a Thing of the Past

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    This is something that hung over the head of the entire organization the entire year, and it simply has to end.

    With so much turnover from last offseason to now, combined with the added turnover this offseason, September 2011 needs to be in the history books. 

    The new manager needs to include this in his initial address to his team so they know they can be at peace with what happened. Most of those players included are gone, anyway. Until that month isn't associated with this team, things will remain the same. 

    If that month was like getting sprayed by a skunk, consider this offseason the tomato bath.

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