Something was missing this offseason while fans and analysts discussed the many huge Red Sox moves. In all the discussion about big signings—and a lot of cash did indeed change hands—precious few words were dedicated to another major concern: team morale.
The team enters 2007 with a decidedly revamped roster. There are some new names in Daisuke Matsuzaka and J.D. Drew. Some familiar names are either no longer there or no longer in the same position (Papelbon a starter?). Another shocker came in the form of a non-departure—surely, everyone thought, this was the year to unload Manny. But for all the changes that did or didn't happen, an even bigger question failed to get asked:
How on earth are these guys going to get along?
No one seemed to worry much about that during the winter—and that's a huge mistake. The Red Sox spent much of 2006 teetering on a fulcrum. Where there's injuries, there's frustration, and where there's frustration, losses compound themselves. To their credit, the Sox didn't allow themselves to fall into a war of words—the type of all-out media feeding frenzies that have defined underperformance in the NFL. But their discontent was clearly palpable. And they still enter 2007 as the defending third-place club in the AL East, an embarrassing hole from which they must now climb.
The problem, though, is that their new club may not get along as well as their old one did. To say that Trot Nixon's departure will be felt throughout the locker room is an understatement. He predated virtually every man on the team, and all of the stars who arrived in Boston after him knew that they could expect to find a role model in Trot.
From a performance standpoint, Theo Epstein dumped Nixon at the right time. But would it have killed the club to invest a measly $3 million (perhaps less) to keep one of the best men ever to wear that uniform?
J.D. Drew's arrival has an equal-but-opposite effect. The man has always been a cancer, a model of squandered talent, and an example of "how not to act." Make no mistake: He will not go over well with Terry Francona, whose sugar-coated comments during the offseason ("we don't expect anything but really good things to happen"—gimme a break) offer little hope that the J.D. Drew headed to Boston will be any different than the heartless stiff who disgusted Tony LaRussa.
At best, the locker room can hope for a quiet non-entity. At worst, Drew may piss off the guys who actually try.
Another year of Manny also makes for a huge question mark. Sure, he has complained for awhile—but this year was truly the time to move on. It was a missed opportunity, plain and simple. Theo should have made it happen. There were several teams mentioned in connection with Manny who seem to enjoy working with a-holes (think Baltimore and San Francisco). Unfortunately, the Sox will have to deal with the extra frustration this year of knowing that they're partly culpable for the sluggish slugger's continued grumbling.
And put it this way: His Spring Training antics don't bode well for the rest of the season.
Finally, what impact—if any—will Daisuke have? Boston hopes that he will become their ace and revolutionize the league. But even if he does pitch like a demon, will he ever become a real leader? For all his quirks, Curt Schilling symbolized the Red Sox en route to their 2004 championship. Can such passion and captainship emerge from a guy who doesn't even speak English?
In short, the Red Sox put together a roster that looks great on paper. But names on paper don't piss each other off—the people behind those names do. The Red Sox have plenty to look forward to this year, and there's no question that their talent level has improved. I just hope the Beantown faithful can be realistic about the peril that faces their team in 2007.