4 Things Boston Red Sox Must Do to Return to the Top of the AL East
To bluntly state the obvious, the Boston Red Sox are a mess.
They have been that way for over a year now, ever since 2011’s epic collapse.
A lifelong Red Sox fan, I can personally say without a hint of doubt that 2012 was the least invested in a Red Sox season I have been since probably 2002, at which point I was 12 years old. 2012 was also the first season in as long as I can remember in which I did not attend a single Red Sox game.
I reference my personal state regarding the team because I think it is a microcosm for the current state of Red Sox Nation as a whole. We’re frustrated, disappointed and quite frankly embarrassed by the latest edition of our beloved Red Sox. As quickly as the team became lovable and enthralling over the past decade, it became an overpaid, overrated group of detestable individuals over the past 14 months or so.
Encouragingly, steps have been taken to dump bad attitudes and worse contracts from the roster to begin the rebuilding process. And while many might choose to begin placing blame at the very top with the ownership, unfortunately, only the owners decide who owns the team.
The moves that must be made to get the Red Sox back to the only place Boston fans want to see them—atop of the AL East—are quite possibly innumerable, but here is a not-at-all-exhaustive list of four major ones that will get things moving in the right direction.
Place the Emphasis on Prospects
This is more of an overall team philosophy than a single move, but it absolutely has to happen.
The Red Sox are where they are right now because they threw absurd amounts of money at big name players. When several of those moves didn’t pan out, the team not only lost ballgames, they looked foolish doing it.
When those players failed to take accountability for their underachievement and instead started complaining, fans totally lost faith.
And rightly so.
To return to success and win back the fan base, the Red Sox need to look away from top-tier free agents and towards the acquisition and development of top-tier prospects, borrowing a blueprint from teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, who have done so with great success.
It might take a few years, but as the team rebuilds and steadily improves thanks to young players who have moved up through the Red Sox system, can you imagine how strongly Boston fans will back them?
An entirely new era will be born, and Sox fans can go back to hating the Yankees for their big-spending ways without being hypocritical.
Get Rid of John Lackey
Easier said than done as he comes off of Tommy John surgery, sure, but the Red Sox already managed to dump some other monstrous salaries owed to underperforming players, and they can do it again.
The most recent reports claim that Lackey is looking strong as he continues to rehab his elbow, so the Sox should try to ship him out before that changes again. He currently makes more than anyone else on the Boston roster, pitcher or otherwise, and has become something of a fan-least-favorite.
That’s a total lose-lose.
Just as importantly, parting with Lackey would mean cleaning out the last of the major players in the clubhouse drama that has soured the last two seasons (one could argue that Dustin Pedroia, too, was part of the problem, but I still think he has a good attitude and simply hates losing).
With Lackey gone, it would really feel like the clubhouse is purged and the team can move on.
Playing into the previous slide, the Red Sox should simply try to get some solid prospects and/or draft picks for Lackey, turning an expensive free-agent signing gone wrong into renewed hope for the future.
Trade Jacoby Ellsbury
Ellsbury is a very good player, and seasons like 2011 (.321 average, 32 home runs, 105 RBI in 158 games) show just how good he can be.
However, even with that phenomenal season, he has missed nearly half of his team’s games in the last three years.
He simply isn’t someone the Red Sox can rely on, but with the allure of his potential, other teams would surely be willing to pay a high price for him. A 2013 almost-contender like the 2012 Dodgers, who were willing to take on Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford’s massive contracts in hopes of making a push to the postseason, would be an ideal candidate.
Boston should cash in on Ellsbury next season, before he becomes a free agent in 2014.
Not only could he fetch great value in a trade, but losing Ellsbury actually appears quite bearable when one considers his likely replacement: A 22-year-old prospect by the name of Jackie Bradley Jr.—already working his way up through the Red Sox system.
Hire a Manager That Fits
It is safe to say that the experiment of bringing Bobby Valentine to Boston to regain order in the Red Sox clubhouse was a total disaster.
Bobby V. was the opposite of what Boston needed, but the team should have known that before hiring him. He’s an outspoken guy who’s not afraid to shake things up with controversial statements to the media, and he has always been that way.
That’s fine, but for a Red Sox team that needed to resolve its issues quietly under the radar, he was the polar opposite of what would have helped.
Less than a year after hiring Bobby V., the Red Sox once again must find a new manager. This time, they need to get it right. The team must find a stern, levelheaded guy that the players respect and that has a track record of dealing with problems internally rather than in the press.
A guy like Ozzie Guillen would not.
The Red Sox need a manager to level the ship and keep it there for a long period of time. At this point, it isn’t even solely about winning games—it’s about recreating a Red Sox team that we, as Boston fans, can fall in love with again.
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