The Boston Red Sox are not just a baseball team, they are a way of life. People live and die rooting for the Red Sox. They pour every aspect of their lives into the team that brings them joy, happiness and heartache.
Countless fans journeyed with the team year after year as they sought after the elusive World Series title prior to 2004. They put themselves in the stands day after day, night after night, searching and hoping for to break the curse.
Fans don't just like the Boston Red Sox, they love them, hate them, and die for them. Ask any die-hard fan and they will bring up many stories of heartache and disappointment; but along with those feelings come feelings of pure joy and ecstasy.
The 2011 Boston Red Sox looked powerful, talented and on their way to winning another World Series title. They had all the tools, or so we all thought.
Things started off on a bad note, but then turned around as they cruised midsummer to the best record in the American League and looking like the powerhouse they were expected to be.
Then September reared its ugly head, and everything we held onto the whole year collapsed in front of us. All the hope we had was dashed on that fateful September night against the hapless Baltimore Orioles. Moments after the Orioles recorded the last out and took the field in celebration, Evan Longoria hit his home run that would seal the deal for the Red Sox.
Season finished. The rebuilding must begin.
The first task that Ben Cherington has to accomplish is the hiring of a new manager. Terry Francona was a player's manager who tried to hold the team together by appealing to the players. It worked for a while. He brought two World Series titles and helped restore order to the ball club.
But then things took a turn for the worse. Players became complacent and Francona lost respect. Players did not listen to him and he lost the clubhouse.
The most important thing that Cherington can do is hire a discipline-oriented manager. The Red Sox need a manager who will restore order and demand respect from the beginning. They need someone who can bring the team together and mold them into the club that they need to be.
Possibly the most hated player in recent memory plays for Boston. John Lackey has been nothing short of a disaster since landing with the team in December of 2009. He holds the Red Sox single-season record for the worst ERA for a starter with at least 130 innings pitched (6.41).
He has proven to be a cancer to the locker room and doesn't show the drive or willingness to perform on a elite level in the Hub.
The Red Sox need valuable fourth and fifth starters. They can bring back Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz as the top three men, but then it becomes shaky. Daisuke Matsuzaka is due back after missing most of the season and could prove to be a fifth starter, but as most fans can tell you, that is a risky move.
The Red Sox are looking for a possible veteran (Mark Buehrle, Roy Oswalt or C.J. Wilson) that can eat up innings, which would allow the bullpen to rest and stay healthy for the whole season, something that attributed greatly to the September collapse.
The need is great for a quality starting pitcher behind Jon Lester. Josh Beckett has a hard time staying healthy and pitching more than 200 innings and Clay Buchholz is coming off a stress fracture in his back.
The J.D. Drew era in Boston is finished. The search is on for a viable right field option, particularly a right-handed hitter.
The Boston Red Sox lineup is full of left-handed hitters, the need for a right-handed hitter is immense and if they can kill two birds with one stone, they will make the move.
Rumors have swirled about the Red Sox being interested in Grady Sizemore or Carlos Beltran. Both would be a decent fit, the latter being a better hitter. This isn't the biggest concern on the team at this point, as they do have Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick who can platoon right field, if needed.
One reason for the September collapse was because the Red Sox bullpen was taxed. The Red Sox simply relied on them to much and the bullpen did not have enough depth to give each a rest.
The addition of Bobby Jenks last year looked good in the offseason. The Red Sox added some more arms and we looked poised to have a great bullpen, but paper doesn't always translate to reality.
Bobby Jenks was nearly nonexistent and Wheeler didn't perform as expected. The bullpen was headed by Alfredo Aceves, Daniel Bard and Johnathan Papelbon. Now with the exit of Johnathan Papelbon, it leaves us with two quality pitchers coming out of the bullpen.
Talks have swirled about possibly starting Aceves as a fifth starter and moving Daniel Bard into the closer role. Both would help shore up holes in the rotation and clear up the closer spot, but it would then deplete the bullpen.
Aceves is needed to come in and be a steady arm in the fifth, sixth or seventh innings. He can get quick outs. Daniel Bard may not be ready to close.
With a few free agent veterans on the market (Heath Bell and Ryan Madson), the Red Sox could pick one up for a year or two and let Daniel Bard develop more into the closer role while still keeping the bullpen intact.
One thing is for sure. More quality arms are needed in the bullpen. No more Bobby Jenks or Eric Gagne. The Red Sox need arms that can get outs and get it done quick.
When the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million dollar contract last offseason, they did not expect him to hit .255. After all, he is a career .295 hitter. Crawford has a .289 on-base percentage and .405 slugging percentage. His whole stat line was down from 2010 when he hit .307/.356/.495 His triples were down, his home-runs were down and his RBIs all down from the previous year.
A lot can be chalked up to the change in scenery and the pressure put on him by such a big contract in such a big baseball city. But the time is now for him to buck up and get back on track. They rewarded him with a big contract, and his expectations are high.
For the Red Sox to succeed, they need Carl Crawford to bounce back and be the .300 hitter that he is. They need him to use his speed (47 stolen bases in 2010 compared to 18 in 2011) to help deliver runs and get the momentum going.
I do expect Carl Crawford to bounce back in 2012, but if he puts up another season like the past, the fans might turn on him.
Jason Varitek has been a staple of the Red Sox for years. He helped lead the team to two World Series titles and has been the captain of the team, yet the time has come for his tenure to end in Boston.
He simply can't perform like he used to-which wasn't much anyways. The Red Sox need to either give the reigns over to Jarrod Saltalamacchia or find a new catcher that can get the job done. Ryan Lavarnway showed some pop in September and could be a candidate for the job.
Varitek has got to go, though. I respect him as a player and love him for what he has done for the team. Perhaps they could bring him back as a coach in a few years much like the St. Louis Cardinals brought back Mark McGwire back as there hitting coach. Varitek could prove useful as a coach for the catchers and even help the pitchers in the process.
His age has caught up to him and the Red Sox cannot afford to have him on the team despite his World Series rings.
The departure of Varitek would open up the gates for a new team captain. No,w I understand not every team has a team captain and it isn't even necessary, but it can prove to be a valuable tool.
Dustin Pedroia, in my opinion, should be the leading candidate. He has proven to be a valuable, respected, upstanding man who consistently delivers in the time of need. He has the respect of his fellow players and can be a team leader much like Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees.
Having a changing of the guard in this respect will be the start of a new era for the Red Sox. They won't be riding the coat-tails of the 2004 and 2007 World Series titles and can start anew under the helm of one of the best second basemen in baseball.
He can help restore order in the clubhouse, which was lost last year under Francona and Varitek.
The Red Sox are a great team, no one can deny that. They have a potent offense that can deliver runs. they did after-all, lead the league in runs last season (875).
What they need is a new aura around the team. They have become complacent and entitled. The clubhouse needs to be swept clean and order needs to be restored.
Red Sox fans deserve more. They pack themselves into America's most beloved ballpark for every home game. They travel distances for away games and the fans reach from coast to coast. Go to a Red Sox game in any stadium and your bound to find quite a few Red Sox fans.
The September collapse hurt. It hurt more than anything of recent memory. For all of the Red Sox fans out there who became fans after 2004, this is the first time they have experienced the heartache they can bring to people.
It's a rebuilding year of sorts for the Red Sox, which is amazing to say, because the pieces to the puzzle are there and they are close to completing it and becoming contenders again for the World Series title.