Five Major Changes the Boston Red Sox Must Make in 2011
Throughout the 2010 season, the Boston Red Sox have been on the cusp of making the playoffs. With Dustin Pedroia hitting the disabled list for the second time this season, it appears that it's finally time to throw in the towel. This team could still make the playoffs and Dustin Pedroia could be back by the end of September, but realistically, this is likely the end of the road.
It's just been a horrible year full of growing pains for the Red Sox. They lack an identity and they're not the team that we thought they were.
Besides Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and to an extent Daisuke Matsuzaka, the starting pitchers have been a disappointment.
Josh Beckett has been the poster boy for disappointment. Granted, he has spent a significant amount of time on the DL but really? 19 earned runs in his past three starts.
Has John Lackey really been even remotely close to good? Terry Francona will tell you he has but that's just because he has to.
The offense exceeded expectations but they flamed out when everybody realized the season doesn't end in July. Oh, and missing Kevin Youkilis has been a big reason for the flame out as well. Guys like Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz have quite frankly been the only impact bats on the team who haven't been injured.
Injuries have definitely been a problem but they shouldn't excuse the poor structure of the team. The only players on the team who have hit well have been Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz. Where is the big bat in the outfield though? Combined, Sox outfielders (Drew, Ellsbury, Hermida, Hall, Cameron, Nava, Kalish, Reddick, Van Every, Patterson, McDonald) have hit 55 home runs.
To put that into perspective, Red Sox outfielders rank dead last in the AL East in long balls. That's right, they're worse than the Baltimore Orioles at something.
The bullpen struggles go without mentioning.
It's time for Theo Epstein and company to get on the phone and make some changes!
#5 Find a New Medical Staff
It isn't every day that the medical staff of a professional baseball team is one of it's biggest failures. That's what the Red Sox medical staff is though.
For much of the year, fans and media alike have criticized Jacoby Ellsbury for being soft. Maybe it's time to take a look at the guys who aren't under the microscope every day.
There's a reason that Ellsbury hasn't been healthy all year and Dustin Pedroia is headed for his second DL stint. The medical staff didn't do a good enough job taking care of them.
Yes, injuries happen in baseball but not at the alarming rate that they have been occurring for the Red Sox. The team has had 23 DL stints this season for 19 different players. It's not a coincidence.
This is the same medical staff that told the Red Sox that Jason Bay had knee issues, which led to the team not re-signing him and letting him go to the New York Mets. As it turns out, the Sox doctors were wrong and Bay had no issues whatsoever when evaluated by Mets doctors.
Bay, the team's left fielder for the past two years, was also the team's leading home run hitter last year. As mentioned before, the Red Sox have had a power outage in the outfield.
This medical staff shouldn't be part of the problem, it should be part of the solution. The team needs to go in a different direction as this past year has been an embarrassment.
#4 Replace John Farrell as Pitching Coach
John Farrell is an extremely likable person and would likely make a very good manager one day. He hasn't done the greatest job as pitching coach though.
It seems like every year, for the past four years or so, Red Sox fans have gone into the season expecting one of baseball's best pitching staffs. Year after year they are disappointed. Granted, players like Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, who are naturally gifted will succeed regardless. It's the other guys that Farrell has not done a thing for.
Whether it is the under-performance of just one or multiple pitchers, every year it's the same. Why is it that Brad Penny and John Smoltz struggled while they were with the Red Sox, yet when they changed teams they pitched way above their Boston level? Sure the difference between AL and NL means a little, but not going from an ERA over six to an ERA under three.
Both went to the St. Louis Cardinals and under the guidance of a great pitching coach in Dave Duncan, they pitched extremely well.
This year, the problem has been the team's two highest paid players. John Lackey and Josh Beckett. Why is it that Farrell hasn't been able to figure out what's wrong with them? Beckett and Lackey are both pitching like rookies who have no clue what to do out there.
Beckett has been a problem most of his time in Boston. Fans love to overrate him because of his 2007 success and small glimpses of greatness. He just hasn't lived up to standards though. Same goes for the $92 million man John Lackey.
Are Lackey and Beckett really bad pitchers though? Both of them have career ERA's in the threes. Or is Farrell just a bad pitching coach? Maybe it's time for the Sox to find somebody who can actually do his job and make adjustments for the staff.
#3 Find a Long-Term Solution at Catcher
If the Red Sox front office is comfortable with the catcher position moving forward, they shouldn't be.
If he were qualified, Victor Martinez would have the worst caught stealing percentage of all starting catchers at 21%. Jason Varitek, in a much smaller sample size, is also at 21%.
Victor is one of the best hitters on the team, but honestly he's better suited at first base or designated hitter. His defense is solid, but the fact that he can't even throw Manny Ramirez out has to be a cause for concern.
The Red Sox recently traded for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but he can't be depended on long-term. There's a reason he was in the minor leagues in Texas and there's a reason he was assigned to AAA Pawtucket rather than MLB Boston when he was acquired.
Saltalamacchia is a solid hitter but his plate discipline is an abomination. He also had problems throwing the ball back to the pitcher as recently as this season and had to see a psychologist because of it.
This guy shouldn't be the long-term solution at catcher moving forward. If he is, Theo Epstein and co. shouldn't be surprised when he starts throwing the ball into center field when there aren't even runners on base.
The market for young catchers isn't clear, but the Sox should at least explore the market this winter. Victor Martinez is too valuable of a hitter to risk putting him at catcher full-time. He's already had injury problems this season because of catching. That's what happens to catchers and it's why most teams have their least valued hitter at catcher. Apologies to the Twins and the Braves.
#2 Sign Jayson Werth
As mentioned earlier, the Sox have one of the worst outfields as far as power hitting is concerned. They would be foolish if they didn't start looking at other options.
Ryan Kalish is going to be very good, but he may not be ready to be the full-time left fielder and launch 25-30 home runs a year. The Sox would be better off with Kalish as the team's fourth outfielder and a spark plug off the bench or even the center fielder if they decide to move Jacoby Ellsbury.
Maybe the guy they're looking for is Jayson Werth of the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies shopped Werth at this year's trade deadline because of the emergence of future superstar Dominic Brown. It's almost guaranteed that Werth will be playing in a new uniform in 2011. He's expendable.
Why not the Red Sox? Why not Werth? It's like a match made in heaven. The Red Sox need a guy who can play every day in left field and hit 25-30 home runs. Werth wants to play for a World Series contender.
Werth is the perfect Sox player too. With a career on base percentage of .366, Werth fits the Red Sox vision. Last year, he hit 36 home runs and showed that he can hit for power. This year, his power has taken a step back but he's currently leading the national league in doubles with 40.
It is likely that Fenway Park would treat Jayson Werth just as well as it did Jason Bay. Bay had 45 home runs in 200 games with the Red Sox.
#1 Give Daniel Bard a Chance to Close
Who knows if Daniel Bard is going to be an elite closer? Many fans envision him being the heir to Jonathan Papelbon as the Boston Red Sox closer. Nobody knows for sure though.
Bard has electric stuff. With a fastball topping out at 100 and breaking balls that would make Jon Lester blush, Bard has the physical makeup of a closer. Does he have the mental makeup though?
Bard has come in a lot of big spots for the Sox this year and come through huge for them. That's definitely an encouraging sign for a second year player.
Papelbon has had the worst year of his career and blown a higher percentage of his saves than almost every elite closer in baseball. Then again though, once in a while the old Papelbon shows up and he strikes out the side to end the game.
It's definitely a touchy subject and the coaching staff needs to be very careful how they handle this. If both players are on the roster next year, they should be given a chance in Spring Training to battle for the job. But then again, spring training obviously means jack. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz both had ERAs over 10 in spring training.
Sadly, this may need to come down to whether or not the front office is willing to bring back Papelbon for another year. It probably won't be settled on the field and turn into a business decision. I don't believe the team wants to go into next year without knowing who their closer will be. Why not though? A little competition never hurt anybody.
The right decision should be to bring Papelbon back as the closer and give Bard a chance to close games. If Bard can be the closer, why can't Papelbon still be a part of the bullpen? It would hurt his ego, but it would hurt anybody's ego. The competition could actually do wonders for humbling Papelbon's gigantic ego.
Either way, this issue needs to be resolved next year. This year has definitely been a power struggle between Bard and Papelbon. I'm sure there's no feud between the two but I think both of them want to close just as badly as the other.
Just give Bard a chance. He's earned it.