Boston Red Sox: What Will This Team Look Like in 2012?
Less than three weeks into the baseball offseason and after successfully completing the biggest collapse in baseball history by blowing a 10-game Wild Card lead in September, the Boston Red Sox already look like a completely different team. It started with John Henry and company not picking up the one-year option on manager Terry Francona’s contract.
Let’s take a look at some of the major changes we’ve seen already and what the future may look like for the Red Sox.
Red Sox Nation needed a scapegoat as to why the collapse took place, and Francona was the guy. Forget that he led the 2004 team to the biggest comeback in sports history after being down 3-0 to the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS and subsequently brought the Nation something that no one else could in 86 years of trying. No, all we are hearing now are stories of players drinking in the locker room and the lack of cohesion on this team.
The release of Francona, while seemingly unfair and unfortunate, was probably necessary. Either way, it's a shame that his legacy with this team has been tarnished with the meltdown of 2011. He deserved better, and even though we can't live in the past, Francona should hold his head high. He brought us two World Series titles in the last decade and should be remembered as the most successful Boston Red Sox manager in the modern era.
Which leads us to the next event, the departure of general manager Theo Epstein. Less than two weeks after the announcement was made that Francona would not be returning in 2012, we learned that neither would Epstein. Clearly the lack of direction and leadership between Francona and Epstein was the cause of the Red Sox 2011 collapse and missing their seventh playoff appearance in 10 years.
We have to ask ourselves, did they already know in August, or even before, that they were leaving? If so, did they make it obvious to the players, and perhaps that was the main cause of their abysmal September?
I suppose we'll never know for sure, but the severity of the collapse left fans everywhere scratching their heads as to why and how this team that everyone picked in April as a World Series contender was playing golf in October rather than baseball.
Now we come to closer Jonathan Papelbon. A free agent at the end of the 2011 season, Papelbon had been with the Red Sox since 2005. He was a key participant in the 2007 World Series Championship team and is the Red Sox all-time saves leader.
With a fastball in the high-90s and an intimidating stare looking in from the mound, Papelbon is one of the most feared closers in baseball. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, he will now be doing his closing for the Philadelphia Phillies. Papelbon signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies this week, making him the highest paid relief pitcher ever. If he pitches in even 50 games next season, averages three batters and 25 pitches per outing, he will earn about $16,000 every time he throws the ball.
Seems ludicrous, right? Not for the Phillies.
David Ortiz and J.D. Drew
The Red Sox still have several key players who are free agents this offseason that new general manager Ben Cherington needs to make decisions on. David Ortiz, J.D. Drew and Erik Bedard all enter free agency this year. So, the question Red Sox Nation is asking right now is which of these players will Cherington re-sign?
Logic would tell us that 2012 is shaping up to become a rebuilding year for the Sox, and with the second highest payroll in baseball it would make sense to allow some of the veterans to explore other teams and make room for younger players with more upside. Cherington, however, has been involved in baseball operations for the Red Sox since 1999 and served as co-GM with Jed Hoyer for about six weeks in the 2005-2006 offseason after Epstein stepped down during that short period of time.
Given that fact, and that Cherington has been around the organization since being originally hired by former Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette in 1997, hopefully he realizes that a completely different look to this team will not only be detrimental to the chances of the Red Sox competing in the toughest division in baseball. It will also put a ton of extra pressure on whomever the front office decides to hire as its new manager.
At this point, it looks like Dale Sveum of the Milwaukee Brewers and former Red Sox third base coach is the lead candidate for the open managerial position with the Red Sox. Given the fact that he only has a total of 12 games experience as a big league manager, throwing him into a clubhouse with a slew of new players is surely going to pose a huge challenge for him.
The bottom line is, if the Red Sox want to even contend in 2012, Cherington has no choice but to re-sign as many of their veteran free agents as possible, if for no other reason than their leadership. After the meltdown in 2011, which will surely still be on the players' minds come April, this clubhouse will need as much experience and leadership as possible if there is going to be any amount of success for this team in 2012.
Red Sox Dugout
What is the future of the Boston Red Sox beginning in 2012, and what will this team look like going forward?
As the offseason rolls on, and the roster starts to take shape, the entire Red Sox Nation is crossing its fingers that Ben Cherington and the rest of the front office will make the right decisions. Bringing as many veterans back as possible has to be the right choice.
Sveum, or whomever Cherington hires as the new manager, will absolutely need the leadership and experience in the clubhouse. Otherwise, the chances of the new look Red Sox having success in the next year or two are pretty bleak.
Nation, cross your fingers. This team as we have known it for the last few years is changing before our eyes, and all we can do is sit back and wait for April to come to see what the future of our beloved Red Sox will be. It’s your time to shine Ben Cherington. Don’t let us down.