The Boston Red Sox head into another offseason on a managerial hunt after firing one-termer Bobby Valentine. There's been plenty of ballyhoo about who their next skipper might be (John Farrell? Tim Wallach?) but what Sox fans must hope, above all, is that Boston's front office finds their man quickly.
After all, they've got bigger problems on their hands—like how to fix a roster that doesn't hold a candle to the class of the American League.
The Sox should try and find a manager who meshes with the culture of the clubhouse. We saw what happened with Valentine: his attitude drove Kevin Youkilis out of town and alienated team leaders.
But even the hypothetical perfect manager—one who knew when to be chummy with his players and when to lay down the law—wouldn't be able to win with this roster.
Plenty of fans blame Valentine for the Sox 69-93 season—and believe me, he deserves a heaping helping of culpa—but no manager can succeed with a starting rotation that finishes the year with a 5.19 ERA.
Once DH David Ortiz went down, the lineup lacked a middle-of-the-order bat. Then Alfredo Aceves imploded in the last two months of the year, and Andrew Bailey looked terrible upon his return from the disabled list, decimating the bullpen.
The pitching rotation, bullpen and starting lineup all have major systemic weaknesses. Thankfully for the Sox, they have the resources to address those issues. The deck-clearing mega trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers removed millions in essentially dead contracts and cut massively into Boston's payroll.
Sox GM Ben Cherington has the means to fix his team's problems, and it starts this offseason. He needs to make smart, calculated decisions to evaluate his roster position-by-position.
That means getting rid of players who are more trouble than they're worth (Alfredo Aceves) and taking a look at the few bright spots and seeing how those players can play bigger roles next year (Junichi Tazawa). It means smart FA acquisitions for hitters who get on-base, pitchers who pound the strike zone and bench players who can play defense.
It also means not overpaying for a big-name player entering his 30s.
Ultimately, the trade of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto to the Dodgers was an acknowledgment that the team had strayed from its organizational philosophy. The Sox saw a chance to rid themselves of poisonous contracts and start fresh.
If the Sox sign a marquee free agent like Josh Hamilton or Zach Greinke to a long-term contract this offseason, it will show that they've learned nothing.
Both players come with major off-the-field baggage, both have questions about their ability to perform in a new setting (check out Hamilton's career home-away splits; he's not the same player outside of Texas) and both will require huge financial commitments.
If Boston wants to acquire a star, they'll have to do so smartly, investing in a young player with his best years ahead of him (think Justin Upton).
The rebuilding process begins now. It's likely to take more than a season. Though the offseason is young and anything can happen, don't look for the Sox to make a deep playoff run in 2013.
To that end, the Sox will need a manager who can groom a young team and navigate Boston's treacherous sea of organizational politics. Of course, he'll also need to be media-savvy, like Valentine's predecessor Terry Francona.
But he won't be expected to carry the Sox into the playoffs. At this point in the narrative of the Boston Red Sox, contending isn't up to the manager.
It's up to the front office and their ability to revamp a dysfunctional team. That's why the managerial choice matters, but not nearly as much as the choices the Sox make in composing their 2013 roster.
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