RED SOX: Making Sense of Trading Away Mookie Betts and David Price


Rambling, incoherent bullet-point thoughts on the Red Sox’s not-shocking-but-still-shocking decision to trade franchise cornerstone Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers:

    • The rumblings about a Betts trade picked up over the last few weeks, with Chaim Bloom creating a market for such a trade by playing NL West rivals the Dodgers and Padres off each other. The last few days made the trade seem like a fait accompli, with the Dodgers emerging as the frontrunner only real question being if Price’s salary was going to be included in the trade. I was afraid including Price would dilute the return for the Red Sox, and while we don’t know yet exactly how much salary they’re eating, it did reduce the overall number of players the Red Sox got back but didn’t necessarily lower the quality of talent. I’ll get to the two newest members of the Red Sox shortly.


    • I was across the street from Fenway when the deal went down, at a Rex Orange County show at the House of Blues. The show was excellent, but it was a bit hard to be torn away from my phone while it was happening. Sorry, Rex.


    • So, needless to say, this sucks. Mookie is one of the Red Sox best position players in the last 50 years. I loved watching him play. I remember first hearing his name early in his minors career, and following the Alex Speier-inspired hashtag #featsofmookie as this smallish kid started putting up completely absurd, out-of-nowhere numbers. It was a joy to follow him all these years, and he brought every kind of tool to the table as a player. He played RF better at Fenway than anyone in my lifetime. His 2018 season is probably my favorite for any Red Sox player in recent history, with his grand slam against JA Happ representing a turning point for the year one of the greatest regular season moments in franchise history. It really pisses me off he won’t be here this year.


    • As for Price, I genuinely hope he finds in LA whatever will make happy, because he was pretty miserable the entire time he was in Boston. He gladly took the Red Sox $217 million and opted into the rest of the deal after shedding the October bugaboo after a glorious 2018 postseason run, one where he should have been World Series MVP. But, Price was never comfortable here and his on-again, off-again feuds with Dennis Eckersley and some other media members were bewildering, pointless and mostly infuriating. I don’t think Price is a bad guy, he had his moments here and by all accounts he’s beloved as a teammate. But Boston was never a fit, and with three straight years of arm injuries this was the right time to get off his money, even if it means paying down half the $96 million he’s owed the next three years.


    • Perhaps the biggest thing I don’t like about the trade is the fact that the Red Sox decided to effectively punt the 2020 season in the name of being successful beyond that. Had Bloom and others decided to keep this team together there’s no reason they couldn’t compete with the Yankees and Rays for the division title, especially if the pitching returns to its 2018 level. When you have this much talent, it is really tough to punt on being competitive. But in the aftermath of Alex Cora’s firing, I do wonder if the Red Sox decided this would be a good time to move on and transition to the future. The Red Sox still don’t have a manager, by the way.


    • None of us know if the two players the Red Sox got back will pan out. But, they are the types of guys this current farm system has failed to pump out in recent years, and I have hopes they’ll produce for the big league club this year. Alex Verdugo is in the unenviable position of filling Mookie Betts’ shoes, but going into last year he was a consensus top-30 prospect in the game and acquitted himself very well as an everyday contributor on a 106-win team before getting hurt and missing the final two months. He has tools galore and a fabulous lefty stroke that should play well at Fenway. In Brusdar Graterol, the Sox have a top-60 prospect going into the year and the precise kind of pitcher that seemingly every team except Boston has been producing: a flamethrower with the ability to be either a long-term starter or closer. He has a 100 mph two-seamer and I have every expectation the Red Sox will find a way for him to contribute, fast. In total, the Red Sox used their position to acquire 11 years of big-league control for two guys who are locks to be MLB regulars right away. In a vacuum, that is an objectively great move for one year of an elite OF and three years of a distressed asset pitcher. But, this is not a vacuum.


    • So, why did this happen? For several years now, Mookie has given every indication he would test the free agency waters after the 2020 season. We don’t know the specific details of extension talks between the club and the player, but at least three times Mookie has declined such overtures. A local radio host recently said that last winter the Sox offered 10 years and $300 million and were countered with a 12-year, $420 million proposal that would put Mookie in league with Mike Trout and basically no one else. That report hasn’t been corroborated by any other reporting, but it’s in league with how far apart the sides were in previous discussions (we don’t know any details on how those discussions went this winter either). Mookie also knows how important he is to the players union and likely wants to get the biggest free agent contract ever handed out. You can only do so much as a team to get a player to sign. His agent may have told the Red Sox that no number from the Red Sox would be high enough, and that he wanted to go to the market regardless. If that’s the case, you cannot blame Bloom and the Red Sox for making this move. While their AL East rivals are pleased for what this trade will mean for their chances in 2020, I am positive Brian Cashman and Erik Neander and Ross Atkins are not pleased the Red Sox picked up those aforementioned 11 years of big league control for quality young talent they would not have otherwise gotten had they let Mookie walk and held onto Price.


    • The takes, they are hot. One of the most incorrect hot takes I’ve seen so far is this deal is a straight-up salary dump. Had the Red Sox not included Price’s deal in this transaction, I don’t know if people would feel that way. I think it’s basically a half-salary dump, with Price as the part getting dumped. CBT concerns were not why Mookie was traded. If the Red Sox goal in 2020 was to get under the $208 million CBT threshold, they could have done that anytime between now and the end of the regular season, and they did not need to trade Mookie to do it. They could have seen if Price was going to be healthy and traded him midseason, or moved on from expiring deals such as Jackie Bradley Jr. and others. They traded Mookie because they didn’t want to see him go elsewhere for nothing after 2020, with the moving of his and Price’s salaries a bonus to get under the CBT.  But the idea the Red Sox traded away Mookie Betts for the sole purpose of getting under the CBT is absurd and anyone who tells you different doesn’t know what they are talking about. I do worry that the longer this goes on before an official announcement takes place, the Red Sox risk losing control of the narrative for why this happened. They owe the fans an explanation for why their best player was just dealt with a year left on his deal, the kind of thing a team like the Royals or Pirates might do but seldom ever the Red Sox.


    • I also saw the take that the Red Sox should have just given Mookie a deal with a $37M AAV and that would have taken care of everything. Well, we don’t know if that was offered or not, or if Mookie would have taken it. But that $37M AAV number is exactly what Mike Trout is going to make until he turns 38. Just for the sake of comparison, over roughly the same number of games in their first six seasons (which is well before Trout signed his current deal), Mookie’s quadruple slash was .301/.374/.519/.893 with a 134 OPS+, while Trout was .306/.405/.557/.963 with a 170 OPS+. Also, why would the Red Sox give out that size of a contract to someone who hasn’t proven themselves at that level when they’d only be bidding against themselves? I don’t think that is how most smart teams operate. If you don’t believe me, look at the Dodgers’ contracts on Spotrac for 2021.


  • Interestingly enough, the Red Sox will find themselves next offseason much better prepared to acquire someone like Mookie in the free agent market, and I would be surprised if the two sides have shut the door completely on that possibility. As long as the sides operated in good faith, and there were no hard feelings involved in the negotiations, I don’t see why a deal couldn’t be revisited. The timing, right before spring training, isn’t great for anyone involved, but I can’t imagine getting to live in LA and be on probably baseball’s best team is going to make Mookie terribly upset the same way Jon Lester wasn’t thrilled to go to Oakland in the middle of the 2014 season. The Red Sox tried, and failed, to bring Lester back. But other teams have been successful in similar circumstances, including the Phillies bringing back Cliff Lee and the Yankees doing the same for Aroldis Chapman.

All the best to Mookie and David in LA. What comes next for the Red Sox is a mystery. This is a sad day. That’s all I got.


RED SOX: A Team at a Crossroads

Earlier today the Red Sox season came to an end after a fun, tense but ultimately disappointing ALDS Game 4 at a rainy Fenway.

I have a lot of thoughts about how the 2017 season went down and what’s to come next, so here we go:


This particular incarnation of the Red Sox was a study in interesting contrasts. There were a lot of young players making their first impression in MLB playing alongside numerous longtime veterans. They only equaled their win total from 2016 but managed to win (and generally play in) an absurd number of close games, including going an unimaginable 15-3 in extra inning games.

And, for the first time in recent memory, the Red Sox saw consistency in their pitching staff while failing to join the MLB-wide trend of increased power, finishing dead last in the AL in home runs (168).

But I never understood how people could call this first post-David Ortiz Red Sox team boring or “unlikable” as was the narrative after the David Price/Dennis Eckersley kerfuffle.

The young core of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley, Jr. was joined this year by Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers, plus Christian Vazquez finally came into his own as an everyday MLB catcher. That’s six guys 27 years old or younger who will be starters on this team going forward barring any trades.

Chris Sale was either the best or 2nd-best starter in the AL this year and Drew Pomeranz came out of nowhere to finish 10th in the AL in fWAR (3.1). Craig Kimbrel genuinely had one of the best years for any closer in baseball history, striking out just shy of 50 percent of all batters he faced.

And Price, who dealt with a significant elbow injury and a major PR disaster, was redeemed by returning healthy and pitching extremely well in relief late in the season and into the playoffs. Hopefully he can put what happened this past year behind him as 2018 presents a quasi-walk year for him.

But there was much to celebrate this season when it came to individual moments and performances.

I got to be in the park Aug. 1 for one of the craziest games I’ve ever seen, the one that included Austin Jackson’s unbelievable catch. I saw Vazquez hit a walkoff and I can recall few times ever hearing Fenway that loud.

Devers hitting that home run off Aroldis Chapman in Yankee Stadium to silence that crowd is something I won’t soon forget. Nor will I forget that catch by Bradley in the triangle to rob Aaron Judge.

Dustin Pedroia had a tough year injury-wise but he turned in the signature defensive play of his career with this play in Texas in July.

Benintendi showed us this year I believe a fraction of how good he can truly be. Sale wowed us every start and became the first appointment-viewing starter for the Red Sox since Pedro’s heyday. The bullpen, constantly tested by long and close games, came up big game after game this year.

I know this season didn’t end the way we wanted. But for those of us who watched night in and night out, it was memorable. And I’ll miss not watching this team every night. They were fun, and good. They just were.


As I touched on above, the team’s biggest weakness was on offense and in particular a lack of power (they still finished 5th in team OBP and 6th in runs in the AL).

It’s easy to say this was because of losing David Ortiz, but it was more than that. Take a look at the OPS+ figures for these Red Sox hitters from 2016 and 2017:

Hanley Ramirez – 2016: 126 2017: 95 (-31)

Jackie Bradley, Jr. – 2016: 118 2017: 89 (-29)

Mookie Betts – 2016: 133 2017: 108 (-25)

Dustin Pedroia – 2016: 117 2017: 101 (-16)

Xander Bogaerts – 2016: 111 2017: 95 (-16)

You can blame some of this on these guys getting pitched tougher now without Ortiz in the lineup, but I don’t have empirical data to back that up. The bottom line is these five guys significantly underperformed in 2017 to their 2016 levels and that had a real impact on wins and losses and their ability to hang with the Astros in this ALDS.

Much has been made about the Red Sox refusal last winter to delve into the free agent hitting market beyond Mitch Moreland. Edwin Encarnacion signed for a pittance (3 years, $60 million) compared to his expected contract. I was OK with not going that route because I expected the remaining hitters could maintain or improve on their 2016 performances to make up for Ortiz’s absence.

The opposite happened and adding Eduardo Nunez at the deadline, while an effective move for about a month until he got injured, and turning over 3B to Devers didn’t do nearly enough to make up the gap.

So, with luxury tax penalties lessened for 2018 since the Red Sox managed to stay under it this year, I fully expect them to add at least one power hitter to this lineup, most likely at 1B. They are most likely stuck with the final guaranteed year on Ramirez’s contract at $22.75M (his 2019 option at $22M would vest based on plate appearances). Depending on who the Red Sox get, it could be a DH/1B timeshare between Ramirez and a new counterpart.

I don’t personally think the winter’s big free agent 1B, Eric Hosmer, really fits the bill of what the club would be looking for (he doesn’t really hit for enough power and would be very expensive). JD Martinez makes a ton of sense from a hitting perspective but it’s hard to see where he’d fit in besides as a full-time DH (with Ramirez then as a full-time 1B, which presents a lot of issues). Logan Morrison, who just hit 38 HRs for Tampa, would be a great fit but he’s only 30 and may be more expensive than the Red Sox would like.

They could explore a trade for someone like Joey Votto, the hitting savant who’d be loved here after years of being unappreciated in Cincinnati. His $25M annual salary isn’t an albatross, but he’s guaranteed for six more years and may not be as great of a player at the end. Plus, who knows if the Reds would even entertain trading him.

You’re likely to hear a lot about a potential Giancarlo Stanton trade this winter with the Red Sox likely prime members of that rumor mill. I don’t see it for a lot of reasons, namely that the Red Sox and every other team could’ve taken his massive contract for nothing in August and no one bit. As good as Stanton is and as amazing as his LF pull power would play at Fenway, he always gets hurt, his contract is way too long and by all accounts he’s kind of a jerk. Pass.

I doubt very much the Red Sox will add much on the pitching staff this offseason, barring trades of the current guys. The health of Price, Steven Wright, Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg will play a role in what happens there. I do wonder if Dombrowski starts to think a little more about the long-term with Pomeranz, Kimbrel and (potentially) Price all in walk years in 2018.


I’ve come to believe there is no more thankless job in the world of sports than being the manager of the Boston Red Sox. Even the most successful Red Sox manager of my lifetime, Terry Francona, was called “Francoma” by parts of the fanbase.

When it comes to John Farrell, I made my feelings known last year that I think the vitriol toward him is almost entirely unfounded. Do I think he’s a great manager? No. I think right now there are only two managers in all of MLB I’d call “great”: Francona and Joe Maddon.

But Farrell is at best good and at worst competent. The idea he should be fired for merely being good is one that only exists in Boston where every nanosecond of action for any of our teams is overanalyzed by radio blowhards and social media crazies among others.

These are the facts about Farrell: he won back-to-back AL East titles, taking 93 wins both years. He manages personalities in the clubhouse well by all accounts. He’s very good at his media responsibilities which is a big part of the job. The players like him, for the most part (there were some rumblings this year about his difficulty connecting with the younger players on the team). He’s accountable when things go wrong. He appears to have a good relationship with his direct boss, Dave Dombrowski, and the rest of the front office and ownership.

But, still, he’s not remotely safe in the eyes of many. It’s fair to wonder if Farrell has taken this group of players as far as he can go and if another manager could do better. It’s hard to say sitting here, not being there everyday, if that’s true.

Part of me wants the team to can Farrell just because I’m getting extremely sick of this storyline. He’d be fine. He’d get paid for the last year on his deal and would almost certainly get another managerial job as soon as he wants it. Red Sox fans are crazy if they think a team like the Mets or Tigers wouldn’t take him in a second.

If Farrell is let go, I don’t know who’s out there that would be better. For in-house candidates I’m sure the players would love to see Brian Butterfield get a shot. As much as he should be a big league manager, he’s also 59 and would likely just be a stopgap. If I’m the Red Sox, and the rift between Farrell and the younger players is actually an issue, I’d rather find a younger, analytically-driven manager who can connect and grow with those guys.

I’m not up on a lot of the possibilities that fit that description, but two former Red Sox World Champions come to mind. One is Alex Cora, current Astros bench coach, who is 41, has extensive experience running teams in Puerto Rico and as a player was someone I was certain would manage in the big leagues some day. The other is Gabe Kapler, 42, who was runner-up for the Dodgers managerial position heading into 2016. He’s managed in the minors and has a strong player development background.

I have no idea if either of those guys would be a better manager than Farrell. No one does. But if the team does decide to move on I hope it’s because they genuinely think they’d be better without him.

I think Red Sox fans should be prepared for news to break this week about a contract extension for Farrell. In the aggregate, it’s hard to say he doesn’t deserve it.


As excited as I am for the future of this team, and as much as I’ll miss watching this group, I do have a twinge of uncertainty about them. It’s very clear both Houston and Cleveland are better than the Red Sox right now. Also the Yankees have a team on the rise and will have boatloads of money to play with over the next couple winters.

This Red Sox team is good. But will they be good enough to overtake those clubs the next few years? Dombrowski finds his team in a very similar situation to what Danny Ainge and the Celtics found themselves in this past summer. Sure, they had a good team that had just gone to the Eastern Conference Finals. But, were they great? Could they get over the hump to compete for a title?

Ainge decided to effectively blow up his entire roster in the name of putting together a great team. It remains to be seen if it will work, but he’s decided to take a risk.

The Red Sox have the aforementioned six young position players to build around. They have stars atop their rotation and an all-world closer. They have veterans in Pedroia and Ramirez who may be declining but aren’t necessarily albatrosses. All these things are good.

But what if Dombrowski decides that having a “good” team isn’t good enough? Then, once again, the Red Sox will steal winter headlines away from the teams actually playing.

I can’t wait to see what happens.


RED SOX: Why Fire Farrell?


Up until the last six or eight months, I listened to Boston sports talk radio pretty regularly dating back to when I first moved to an area where I could easily pick up the signals of WEEI and the Sports Hub in my car. But, I gave it up and went back to music and podcasts for one, simple reason:

I refuse to be a sucker for bullshit, easily-disproven narratives meant to whip the already-rabid local sports fanbase into a frenzy.

Because that’s what virtually all of these shows do. They aren’t there to inform or enlighten. There’s no place for in-depth discussions like the one Bill Simmons recently had on his new show with Mark Cuban and Malcolm Gladwell about the business of basketball. Sports talk radio exists solely to get people like you and me to listen by taking an “everyone and everything sucks” position to get people talking and drive up ratings. That’s it.

In Boston, this attitude feeds into a sense of entitlement that, like it or not, makes the fans in nearly every other city in America hate our guts. Most of them think we should not be allowed to complain about anything for the next 50 years.

And I get very disappointed when people who I know are smart buy into these hot take narratives instead of thinking critically.

Just yesterday, several of these blowhards were discussing the Red Sox’ decision to utilize former big league pitcher Brian Bannister, who has served in the front office doing pitching analysis, in more of an on-field role. They railed against this move, calling Bannister a “nerd” and saying the pitchers don’t need more “numbers” to help them. This is the kind of anti-intellectual dreck that we do not accept in analysis of other mediums (like politics and business, for example) but seems perfectly acceptable when it comes to sports.

I still listen to Toucher & Rich most every morning because those guys are in on the joke. You can tell that neither of them take any of this stuff seriously. Hell, they even have a segment called “The Hot Take Police” where they mercilessly destroy professional and well-paid bloviators (like the ones who work at their station) for their absurdness.

On the rare occasion lately when I’ve unfortunately listened to non-T&R local sports radio, I’ve been bombarded with call after call after call for Red Sox manager John Farrell to be fired. To which I ask: why? And what purpose would it serve?

If the season were to end today, the Red Sox would make the postseason and appear in the Wild Card game. I know since June 1 the team hasn’t played well, going 13-18 in that time.

But given the low expectations of their pitching staff coming into the year, and the injuries they’ve dealt with that have mostly depleted their depth, doesn’t this feel like where you’d expect them to be right now? Within striking distance in the AL East and, at worst, in the postseason?

This isn’t to say everything is wonderful. While his peripheral numbers appear fine, on the whole David Price hasn’t delivered. Besides the surprising performance of Steven Wright and the decent, workman-like job by Rick Porcello, every other starting pitcher has been a flat-out disaster. Not one member of the bullpen, including Craig Kimbrel, has been consistent with the possible exception of Heath Hembree.

And while the Red Sox offense remains first in the AL in hits, runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, it has disappeared for stretches and undoubtedly has cost them games. Not to sound too much like Nick Cafardo, but it appears this Red Sox lineup “can be pitched to” and taken out of commission.

At times, Farrell has had to turn to the likes of Bryce Brentz, Ryan LaMarre, Deven Marrero and Mike Miller (not THAT Mike Miller) in key situations due to a constant stream of injuries to position players, primarily to left fielders. The devastating injury to Carson Smith, lost for the year and probably most of next to Tommy John surgery, left Farrell with few options he can consistently rely on in the bullpen. Plus, he’s had to parade out Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Eduardo Rodriguez, Roenis Elias, Sean O’Sullivan and various other assorted flotsam and jetsam as starting pitchers, all with varying degrees of ineptitude.

All of this is to say that I fail to see where any of the club’s struggles this year are directly the fault of the manager. He has done his best with the team he was given. It is not his fault his bench is almost always made up of guys who belong in AAA. It’s not his fault two-fifths of the starting rotation he’s been handed can’t get out of the 5th inning most nights. In turn, it’s not his fault his bullpen is so constantly taxed that he must option pitchers back and forth to AAA just to get fresh arms. William Cuevas, anyone?

The manager is always an easy target when a team struggles (again, the Red Sox are in the playoffs if the season ended today). But at what point do we pin blame on the actual big-league ballplayers themselves who aren’t performing, and the front office who didn’t identify these problems in the first place?

Sure, Smith’s injury was a surprise since he was apparently given a clean bill of health at the time of that trade. That injury fundamentally changed the bullpen’s structure, and Dave Dombrowski and Mike Hazen are still yet to address that change with help from outside the organization (although I have little doubt they will once the market settles).

However, in the offseason the front office seemed completely OK with going into the year with Buchholz, Kelly and Rodriguez in the rotation. Only an injury to Rodriguez in spring training opened the door for Wright’s unbelievably great season to date.

After signing Price, I’m not sure how serious the team was about adding more pitching either through free agency or trades. At best, this now appears to be a miscalculation by the front office, that the team didn’t put in an effort to sign Johnny Cueto or Jeff Samardzija or even Scott Kazmir or Doug Fister to complement Price and Porcello.

Now, none of this is to say John Farrell is the second coming of Earl Weaver or Casey Stengel. Nobody is above criticism. His usage of bullpen arms is often questionable (although some of his odd moves are out of necessity, as noted above) and in the past he’s stuck with veterans/players with big contracts too long when they’ve under-performed (although that hasn’t been the case as much this year, with Travis Shaw winning the 3B job over Pablo Sandoval an example).

I just don’t see how firing him is going to make the team play better. I’m guessing everyone would want bench coach Torey Lovullo to take over, since he did so well when Farrell was receiving cancer treatments last year. Yes, Lovullo did a great job when the team was well out of contention and there was no pressure on him to perform. Nonetheless, he did so well the Red Sox reportedly rewarded him with a contract for this year on par with that of first-year managers to keep him in Boston.

So that should make this decision all the more easy: fire Farrell, elevate Lovullo and we’ll all be happy, right?

Well, I hate to put in a pin in that particular hot-take-filled hot air balloon, but here’s a newsflash for you: in baseball, the bench coach’s job is to act as an in-game consultant for the manager. If a manager is smart, he bounces his decisions off the bench coach and they come to a consensus on what to do. In addition the bench coach often acts a conduit to the players regarding day-to-day decisions by the manager. So whatever decisions are being made by Farrell, and whatever messages he’s sending the players, are going through Lovullo as well. If they weren’t on the same wavelength, Lovullo would not be here. They’re basically bookends.

So if you’re going to fire Farrell, you might as well fire Lovullo too and start over completely. You’ll have to go outside the organization to find a new manager. And what you’ll have is a cadre of angry Red Sox players who’ll have to learn the tendencies of someone completely new in the middle of their season.

And besides, the history of firing the manager mid-season for a team expecting to make the playoffs isn’t pretty. Only one team since 1980 that’s done that has won the World Series: the 2003 Marlins. From what I can tell no other team who replaced their manager mid-season in that stretch has won a league pennant.

Firing Farrell won’t make the pitchers better. It won’t make the bench longer. It won’t make the offense more consistent. Dombrowski has to make make moves to fix what ails this team. Based on his history, I believe he’ll do just that. Addressing the bullpen and bench won’t be overly difficult. The starting rotation, however? He may have to get creative, with a total lack of arms available.

The failure or success of the 2016 Red Sox should not fall on the shoulders of the manager alone. He does not deserve to lose his job over it. It’s up to the front office to make the right moves, and the players to play up to their capabilities.

That’s my hot take.


RED SOX: Dombrowski in, Cherington out

Like with my post when Larry Lucchino stepped down as Red Sox president and CEO, I have many thoughts swirling around my brain about the hiring of Dave Dombrowski as the Red Sox first-ever president of baseball operations and the departure of GM Ben Cherington. As such, I will present my thoughts in bullet form starting…now.

  • There hadn’t been much indication the Red Sox were interested in hiring Dombrowski when word came down this week that it was, in fact, happening, and after being offered a chance to stay on, Cherington would leave. It took me by surprise for sure, and the Red Sox did a great job of keeping the whole thing quiet until they broke the news themselves. I’m excited Dombrowski is coming on board for a multitude of reasons, but my surprise is mostly due to what I believed was a philosophical clash between John Henry’s stats-driven approach and Dombrowski’s more traditional, scouting-based evaluations. But, clearly discussions between the two sides left both believing the arrangement will work. In all of his stops, Dombrowski has shown willingness to do the bidding of his owner (for example, building up, tearing down and then building back up the Marlins of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, then building up and sustaining success for the Tigers for nearly 10 years).
  • If the Red Sox were going to hire someone from outside the organization to run baseball ops, they could not have picked a better candidate than Dombrowski. For nearly 30 years, Dombrowski has been a successful GM, winning the World Series in Florida in ‘97, building the foundation for the ‘03 championship Marlins club, taking the Tigers to the World Series twice in ‘06 and ‘12 and nearly going there in ‘11 and ‘13. Mike Ilitch wanted to win a World Series and while it didn’t happen, it wasn’t for lack of work by Dombrowski. He made big, bold, ballsy moves throughout his tenure, signing the likes of Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez, while trading for Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister. While running baseball ops, Dombrowski also drafted stars like Justin Verlander and Curtis Granderson while also picking up scrap-heap guys like J.D. Martinez. So the pedigree for sustained success is there.
  • The biggest knock against Dombrowski in his time in Detroit was not putting together a championship-caliber bullpen. To me, this isn’t a huge concern. At different times, Dombrowski had guys like Todd Jones, Joel Zumaya, Joaquin Benoit, Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria and many other guys with terrific track records in his bullpen. The problem with bullpens is you could put together a collection of All Star closers and there’s still a chance they all suck. These guys are so volatile and can go from being amazing one year to out of the big leagues the next. Dombrowski just never hit on the right mix. Don’t forget that in Florida his closer was Robb Nen, so it’s not like he has no idea how to find relievers.  
  • Dombrowski comes to Boston with a treasure chest of prospects, many at lower levels, and a solid amount of young talent at the big league level. It’s going to be very interesting to see how he handles those guys, since he has no attachment whatsoever to players drafted, signed or traded for before he arrived. In some respects that’s a good thing, since I think Cherington and Theo Epstein before him were hesitant to move prospects they’d brought into the franchise. At the same time, it’s up to Dombrowski to pick the right players to move to address the team’s big league needs. Based on his track record in Detroit, I have a lot of confidence in Dombrowski to do just that.
  • Dombrowski plans to hire a GM to work under him, mostly to cross the Ts and dot the Is on contracts, initiate discussions with other clubs and agents on moves, and generally ease the workload Dombrowski will now face. While the Red Sox will hold an interview process for GM candidates, much of the recent speculation has focused on Frank Wren, who worked with Dombrowski in Montreal and Florida and was most recently GM of the Braves from ‘10 to ‘14. Wren has a reputation as a bad manager of people and, like Dombrowski, doesn’t grasp analytics in a way Henry probably likes. He also signed Melvin Upton Jr. to a bad free agent deal and gave Dan Uggla an ill-advised extension. But, as Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution pointed out here, Wren did take the Braves to the playoffs three times as GM. And, it’s not like he’d have final say on baseball ops like he did in Atlanta. I wouldn’t get too hung up on who gets hired to be GM under Dombrowski. It will effectively be like what Cherington was to Epstein before Epstein left.
  • The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier has a good look at how Dombrowski may handle the logjam of DH-types the Red Sox currently employ, given that Dombrowski faced a similar conundrum in Detroit after ‘13. As long Dombrowski can drum up interest, I could see him moving Hanley Ramirez as early as this month and definitely in the offseason. As much as I love Hanley’s bat, there simply isn’t a position here for him. I like that Dombrowski didn’t simply stick to the club mantra that Ramirez will be the LF going forward. I’d stick with Pablo Sandoval at one corner and address the other corner in the offseason, depending on what’s out there. An outfield of Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo looks awfully good for next year. As long as they can all remember how many outs there are each inning, of course.
  • Dombrowski faces a very delicate, very difficult decision involving John Farrell. Under normal circumstances, when a new president of baseball operations comes in, they will understandably want the opportunity to bring in a manager they know can work with them. If Farrell were currently in the dugout, I’d have little doubt Dombrowski would fire him. Instead, Farrell is undergoing the fight of his life, receiving chemotherapy treatments after lymphoma was discovered during hernia surgery. It’s hard for me to imagine Dombrowski would fire Farrell while undergoing cancer treatment. But, at some point, a decision will need to be made. I would assume that may happen early in the offseason, since it will be a factor in free agent signings and the availability of other candidates. My guess is that if all goes well, Farrell will get a shot to manage the team next year but will be on a short leash. The only way that doesn’t happen is if a candidate becomes available that Dombrowski doesn’t want to see go elsewhere.
  • An exasperating game around here the last few years played by Red Sox fans and observers has been “Who is really running things on Yawkey Way?” With Dombrowski now in charge of baseball operations and Sam Kennedy in charge of business operations, I think we now have a much clearer picture of what’s going to happen. The buck on baseball decisions will stop with Dombrowski. If something goes right, or wrong, he will be pointed to. This is a very, very good thing for the Red Sox going forward.

I’ll wrap this up with some thoughts about Cherington. It’s hard to see him leave. I think I first became aware of Cherington around 2002, when he was one of several whiz kids the Red Sox were elevating to high positions following Henry’s purchase of the team. Cherington was hired as a scout under Dan Duquette. He leaves Boston as one of two general managers since 1918 to win a World Series for the Red Sox.

It’s hard to say Cherington deserved to keep his job, or at least all of his powers, after experiencing what will likely be consecutive last place finishes after winning the ‘13 World Series. For all the great moves he made to put together that team, nearly every move he’s made since has backfired. This is a results-based business, and the results simply weren’t there to justify Cherington continuing on as GM.

I think ultimately, Henry and Tom Werner didn’t trust that Cherington was the right person to turn this team around and find sustainable success. That’s got to really sting Cherington.

As a fan, I always held Cherington in high regard, and still do. He seemed like a truly honest, intelligent and thoughtful guy who worked very hard for over decade to get his chance to run the organization he grew up rooting for in small-town New Hampshire. He succeeded immensely, and then failed miserably.

Now he’s out of the picture. Based on numerous reports, it sounds like Henry and Werner were not entirely forthright with Cherington about their pursuit of Dombrowski and what it would mean for his future in Boston. Henry also claims he told Cherington about the Dombrowski discussions more than a week before Cherington said he was made aware of such talks. I can’t blame Cherington for walking away, especially in that light, after taking so many shots for the club’s failures since 2013.

After seeing things like this happen for so many years, I’ve come to the conclusion that Henry and Werner are very good businessmen who’ve been successful in many walks of life…but they’re simply bad with people. Ask Terry Francona. Hell, even ask Lucchino. Look at the statement they released when Farrell left for cancer treatment. What happened to Cherington is probably the least egregious of all these. I’m not saying he deserved to keep his job, but he deserved better than this.

It’s still disappointing as a fan that this is apparently the way the guys who brought us three World Series championships feel they need to treat people and do business. Still, that didn’t keep a quality baseball executive like Dombrowski from coming here, so maybe I’m making too much of this.

I hope Cherington gets another shot soon to run a team.


RED SOX: Life After Lucchino

On Saturday night, Boston’s media outlets reported the impending departure of Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino from those organizational roles. A transition for longtime COO Sam Kennedy to take over as team president appears set for October, but there’s no immediate clarity on who becomes CEO.

I have a lot of thoughts swirling around in my head about what this all means, so I’ll present them as bullet points starting…now.

  • Lucchino’s departure doesn’t come as a surprise. Going as far back as spring training, reports surfaced that his role in the organization was getting diminished and that more of his energies would be focused on the PawSox. He became part-owner of the PawSox this year and took on a bigger role in new stadium efforts there when his partner, Jim Skeffington, died suddenly in the spring. The writing was on the wall here, but I do find the timing, right after a quiet Red Sox trade deadline during the third disappointing season in four years, to be interesting. I’m still not sure what to make of it. It was also the rarely-seen Saturday news dump, which Roger Goodell is probably angry he didn’t think of first.
  • I’m thrilled Kennedy will be team president. A Brookline High School classmate of Theo Epstein, Kennedy is super-sharp, super-bright and learned at the feet of Lucchino for over two decades. Numerous franchises in several sports have tried to lure Kennedy away from Boston (including the Toronto Maple Leafs last year) but he always stayed. I’d have to think this part of Lucchino’s succession had been in the works for a long time. Kennedy won’t have any say in baseball operations matters, unlike what Lucchino’s role had been since arriving in 2002. The Red Sox business interests will be in good hands with Kennedy for hopefully many years to come.
  • So, who then becomes the next Red Sox CEO, or will there even be one? Will the Red Sox go outside the organization to bring in a “head of baseball ops” or “chief baseball officer” type to run the show? Could Ben Cherington be elevated to that role and a new GM gets hired? If owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner decide to go outside for a new CEO/head of baseball ops, where would that leave Cherington? These are all extremely important questions to be ironed out over the next few months.
  • A lot of interesting names will be thrown out there for a new CEO-type for the Red Sox, and I suspect current Tigers CEO/president/GM Dave Dombrowski will be atop many of those lists. His contract is up after this season and it’s unclear if he’ll return to Detroit. He’d be an outstanding choice, as the architect of the 1997 Marlins and the successful run of Tigers teams dating back to 2006. You may hear A’s VP and GM Billy Beane’s name mentioned (after all, he nearly took a Godfather offer from Henry to be Red Sox GM before Epstein was ultimately promoted), but according to Cot’s, he holds a four percent ownership stake in the A’s, so I doubt he leaves that behind to go run a different team.
  • Lucchino’s departure, and the possibility of someone else having a major, final say on baseball decisions, may present an opportunity for the Red Sox to reset some of their baseball ops structure. The results of these last two seasons in particular lend credence to the idea that something just isn’t working there, that while many moves looked solid at the time they were made (including the John Lackey trade to St. Louis, trading Yoenis Cespedes for Rick Porcello, signing Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez to market-value deals), the immediate return on most of them has been subpar at best. A new voice may change things a bit.
  • The remainder of my thoughts here will be about Lucchino and the complicated legacy he leaves behind. While it seems he’ll continue to have some role within the Red Sox, running the day-to-day operations of the club won’t be part of that. As he’d already started to scale back his duties, I wonder if it’s been for the best. I’ve criticized Lucchino as much as anyone over these 14 seasons, and he was always better at business than baseball operations, but some things about his tenure are inarguable: the change in Red Sox culture that started when Henry bought the team came about because of Lucchino. He spearheaded improvements to Fenway Park, making it a destination after years of neglect. There is no chance the Red Sox win three World Series, come within one game of getting to two other World Series and appear in the playoffs seven times total without his guidance, direction, ambition, drive and gravitas. Period. End of discussion. The Red Sox are losing that and, depending on who comes in, they could be worse off for it.
  • Conversely, Lucchino is at least partly responsible for many things that went wrong with the Red Sox over the last decade or so. He briefly won a power struggle with Epstein that resulted in the latter’s winter “sabbatical” after the 2005 season. It was an embarrassing episode for the organization but Henry’s affection for Epstein eventually won out and he returned with relative autonomy over baseball ops from 2006 until he left after 2011. During that time Lucchino’s influence seemed fleeting, but his status as president/CEO meant Epstein could only get so far, leading to Epstein’s move to Chicago. That influence crept back in when Cherington was promoted and it was mostly because of Lucchino that Bobby Valentine was hired as manager in 2012, leading to the biggest joke of a season in recent memory (much bigger than the last two years). Likely because of his domineering and sometimes off-putting personality, I think people around here tended to blame Lucchino every time things went wrong and assigned very little of the credit to him when things went right. That comes with the territory in Boston, but again, that’s why his legacy is complicated. While the Red Sox don’t win those three World Series without him, they are also about to come in last place for the third time in recent years. He deserves both blame and credit for it all.
  • I want to get back to Lucchino’s sense of gravitas for a second. When the Red Sox failed to sign Cuban defector Jose Contreras before the 2003 season, despite offering just as much and possibly more than the New York Yankees, Lucchino dropped an all-time quote on the New York Times: ”The evil empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America.” That quote sent shock waves around the baseball world and reverberated especially in New England. This was the indication the Red Sox were not willing to take things lying down, that they wanted to beat their rival and bring a World Series title to Boston for the first time since World War I. It was not a quote that typified previous Red Sox regimes and made fans around here realize things would be different. That’s what Lucchino brought to Boston, and in turn, that’s what they’ll be missing when he’s gone.
  • In 2013, in the days between the end of the regular season and the AL Division Series, the Red Sox held an open workout/scrimmage at Fenway Park that fans could attend for free and sit anywhere they chose. It was on a weekday afternoon and I was between jobs, so I went and got myself a great seat in the grandstands directly behind home plate. It’s easy to forget now how awesome 2013 was, especially after the 2011-2012 debacles, because that team was so much fun to watch and they’d essentially been wire-to-wire division champions. So getting to see them do their thing for free that day was quite a treat. Anyway, later in the proceedings, I noticed Lucchino strolling through the walkway between the grandstands and the box seats behind home plate. He was wearing a plaid button-down shirt and jeans and blended in with the crowd so well that I doubt many people realized it was him. After saying hello to a few people, he took a seat by himself in the box seats a few rows in front of me. For the next half-hour or so, he conversed with fans sitting nearby and several came over to sit down near him and ask him questions about the team and the ballpark. I didn’t go up to say anything myself, but if I had I would have told him how much I appreciated the club’s turnaround that season. I just thought it was neat thing for the team’s CEO and president to do that.

No matter what you think of him, things won’t be the same without Larry Lucchino running the Red Sox. What that means for the long-term success of the franchise remains to be seen.


RED SOX: Ten Years Gone, ’04 Still Special


How is it possible it’s been 10 years?

Ten years ago, I was an 18-year-old high school senior. My biggest worries were keeping up my ‘95 Pontiac Grand Prix, making it to school and football practice on time and figuring out where I’d be going to college.

It was a world ago, but the memories of the Red Sox from 10 Octobers ago all feel so fresh. When the team won its third world series in 10 seasons last October, I called it the most special to me as a fan, because I was so close to the action all year. But nothing will ever stack up to what happened in 2004. It was the greatest experience I’ve ever had as a sports fan and I suspect it will always be as long as I live.

I’ve written a lot about the ‘04 Red Sox in other places (including my previous blogs and school papers), and you’ve seen excellent retrospectives across the Internet (such as Chad Finn’s terrific recaps of each ‘04 American League Championship Series (ALCS) game on that I won’t spend much time rehashing what you already knew happened.

Instead, I’m making this a bit more personal that I usually do here, sharing my own memories of that incredible stretch.

I wrote extensively about the ‘04 Sox five years ago when I called them the Team of the Aughts on my old Backdoor Slider baseball blog. Of the 25 men on the roster that October, I said “all 25 were part of the most amazing sports story of my lifetime, an iconic piece of American history and the greatest baseball team of the last 10 years.”

Did a baseball team really make American history? Was it really that important? To the people in the Northeast, to the fans who lived and died with that team, the answer is unequivocally “yes.” The ALCS comeback and subsequent World Series sweep changed the attitude of an entire region. Suddenly anything was possible.

You didn’t realize it at the time, but if you’re a Red Sox fan, you can’t say your life didn’t change in at least some fashion after Dave Roberts stole 2nd base in the 9th inning of ALCS Game 4. It certainly changed the way we looked at our teams. I’ll get to why it mattered so much to me in a little bit.

Here are the things that stand out most to me 10 years gone. These thoughts are in loose chronological order and will include bits I’ve written in the past.

  • I feel pretty lucky I got to see the Red Sox play twice that year, including once after they made the biggest trade in franchise history to net Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz, while sending Nomar packing. The game was in August and I went with my mom, my stepdad and my stepsister. We sat in the bleachers on a misty night for a game against Toronto in which injuries forced Mientkiewicz to man second base. But the Sox won, as they did so much those last two months of the regular season. I’ve always said it was the best time in history to be a Red Sox fan and that remains true today.
  • Because Boston teams have been so prolific going on 13 years now, it can’t be emphasized enough hard to believe that comeback was at the time. Only a few years before, Gerry Callahan anointed Boston “Loserville.” The ‘90s were tough around here, with each of the four teams experiencing the lowest of depths possible (the Pats went 1-15 in ‘90, the Sox went 73-89 in ‘92, in ’97 the Celtics went 15-67 and the Bruins 26-47-9). I think everyone went into any playoff series or game expecting the worst to happen. When the Sox laid a steaming turd in Game 3 of the ALCS, well, anyone who says they expected the comeback that ensued is lying. Sure, the Pats had one two Super Bowls the previous three years. But… these were the Red Sox. It was different. It just was.
  • Hell, I remember going to a friend’s house to watch Game 2 and after the Yankees beat Pedro in a close contest, we all pretty much agreed it was over. Curt Schilling could barely walk and Pedro didn’t look like Pedro. And that was TWO DAYS before the 19-8 debacle of Game 3. That’s where we were at as a fanbase.
  • Mariano Rivera was ready to give the Red Sox season its last rites in Game 4. I didn’t know what to think. Theo Epstein had loaded up the team for the year, given us not one but two aces, a real closer and kept up a historically powerful offense. But now winter was upon us in such pathetic fashion…but then, it wasn’t. Kevin Millar walks. Roberts steals. Bill Mueller strikes a scorcher under a diving Rivera’s glove. The Sox weren’t dead, yet.
  • I can’t lie, I didn’t stay up to watch the end of Game 4. Maybe I didn’t think the comeback would wind up making a difference. But it was a Sunday night and I had to go to school the next day (remember, college was around the corner!). I know, it sounds blasphemous. I kept the radio on and remember waking as Joe Trupiano’s voice raised when David Ortiz hit the blast well after 1 a.m. to win it. I wouldn’t sleep before the last out was recorded for the rest of that particular month.
  • What kept the Sox alive through Games 4, 5 and 6 was the bullpen. Sure, we all remember the astounding performance by Curt Schilling, sock soaked in crimson, in Game 6. But with each starter only going six innings at most, the bullpen picked up the slack with big inning after big inning. Mike Timlin, Alan Embree and Curt Leskanic were the middle relief core. Keith Foulke was particularly amazing, throwing everyday and mowing down everyone. Of course, he never pitched anywhere close to that well again.
  • My perception (and I assume many others too) of Alex Rodriguez changed the split second he slapped the baseball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove late in Game 6. Before, I always respected A-Rod, thought he played the game right and was a terrific player. The guy was very nearly a Red Sox himself. But not only was his reputation tarnished that night, it wound up being representative of everything A-Rod became over the next decade: he cheated, hurt his team and then immediately denied any wrongdoing while acting like a petulant brat. All that was missing was him running back out to third base the next inning dressed like a centaur.
  • The word “nervous” doesn’t quite describe the feeling going into Game 7, for me at least. I couldn’t think straight the whole day. When Johnny Damon got thrown out at the plate in the first inning, it seemed the luck had run out…but then Ortiz went deep and an inning later, Damon himself hit a grand slam. The nervousness was gone. Well, until Francona inexplicably brought in Pedro to get knocked around in the 7th inning. I still don’t understand that one. But they got out of that and we were rushing towards history.
  • People from North Conway and the surrounding area may remember this: I don’t recall who the cable provider du jour was back then, but during the 9th inning of Game 7, with the Red Sox three outs away from ending the biggest comeback ever, some dolt in a control room somewhere decided it was a good time to test the Emergency Alert System and knock out the cable feed for several minutes. The game was well in hand, but I was furious. My dad and I raced to turn on the radio, but the cable feed was restored just in time for Ruben Sierra’s at-bat that would end the game. Phew.
  • I didn’t cry when the Sox won the World Series that year. That’s probably because I didn’t have any tears left to cry after beating the Yankees. At first, when Sierra grounded out to Pokey Reese to end Game 7, I was elated, jumping around my dad’s living room like a crazy person. Then, I hit the floor, screaming some variation of “WE DID IT! WE FUCKING DID IT!” over and over while laying on my stomach and pounding the floor with my fists. It was somewhere in there the tears came. And I just couldn’t stop. My dad wondered if I was going to be OK. My sister was going to college in California at the time and I could barely form words when she called that night. So why did I lose it like that? Here’s what I wrote on my old IM Chaos blog (which has disappeared from the web but lives on in saved Word Docs on my MacBook) in ‘06: “As I explained to my Dad, sister and others that night through my hysterical sobs and tears, this win was almost like a personal reward for my years following the team. Ever since I was six, the Red Sox and baseball were always there for me, they were my way out of living in a boring little town, they were my respite when my parents were getting divorced, and they were my outlet for interest and love when so many other things could have taken me in a different direction. Now, I was going to see my team play in the World Series for the first time. It was overwhelming for someone that had devoted so much time and love to the team and to baseball itself.” That might sound ridiculous today, but at the time, at 18, that’s how I felt.
  • I tweeted about this the other day: Remember Pedro had, like, a little dude he took around with him everywhere during the playoffs that year? What was that all about? Well, it turns out Pedro’s “little dude” was Nelson de la Rosa, a TV star from the Dominican Republic who went by the nickname “Mahow.” Mahow was one of the shortest men ever on record, standing about 2-feet, 4-inches tall. He died in Providence in ‘06 at 38 and left behind a wife, child and a place in the best sports story of this century. Now that’s a legacy.
  • The World Series itself was such an anti-climax I don’t even have that much to say about it here. The Sox had three major impending free agents that offseason: Pedro, Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek. I was confident Tek was coming back, but deep down I knew Pedro and Lowe were done in Boston (it’s easy to forget now just how bad things were with Lowe here before he became the ALCS savior). That the last performances for the Red Sox for those guys came in World Series victories in Games 3 and 4 was a perfect send-off.
  • I love Manny Ramirez as much as the next Red Sox fan in his late-20s. But Bill Mueller should have won World Series MVP. I think Manny won it because he was a bigger name (Mueller was also charged with three errors in Game 2). But winning the MVP would have been a deserving cap on a great season for Mueller, a vital cog in the Red Sox engine all three years he was here.
  • One of my biggest regrets was missing the duckboat parade in ‘04. I lived 2.5 hours away and I don’t recall if the parade was on a weekend or not, but either way I wished I’d been there. I don’t think anyone would have begrudged me. I felt redeemed when I made it to the parade last year, though. Certainly worth the wait.
  • Winning the series was such a huge deal for me that I ripped nearly everything off the walls of my childhood bedroom and put up newspaper clippings and full pages from the Globe and Herald around the victory. They’re all still there to this day. One of my favorite was a full-pager from the Globe with a picture of Schilling and this quote: “The ankle was in trouble. The heart was just fine.”

I’ll wrap this up by going back to what I wrote in ‘09. It all still works to this day.

What the Red Sox accomplished went so far beyond winning eight straight October games and breaking an 86-year string of disappointment. They united an entire region, captivated an entire country and accomplished a comeback that will be talked about for generations to come. How could something like this happen? How could 25 guys who play a game so deeply affect millions who will never meet them? How could one of their most prominent fans write a book called “Now I Can Die In Peace” and nobody thought he was exaggerating? It’s probably because baseball always meant a little too much to the people of New England, caused in part by a rampant desire to shake the Curse. Couple that with a skilled, exceedingly likable team, and the recipe for baseball romance was in place. For once, the Red Sox had a team that knew how to win, didn’t feel sorry for itself down 3-0 against the Yankees, and refused to let up until the trophy was theirs. They were, more than anything, a team, in every sense, down to the very end. The ’04 Red Sox didn’t stay together past that final out and the ensuing duckboat ride. But trust me. There’s no way the ’04 Red Sox can ever die.

I leave you with the best song from Jimmy Eat World’s Futures, which was released during the ALCS and will always serve as the soundtrack for that incredible time.


RED SOX: The Improbable Champions


Shortly after the 2012 All-Star Break, I found myself no longer able to withhold my feelings about the train wreck known as the Boston Red Sox. I didn’t hold back in this space. Players, coaches, front office, owners–everyone was to blame for turning a proud franchise into a laughingstock.

Fast forward 15 months.

The Red Sox find themselves back on top of the mountain, holding the World Series trophy aloft for all to see, this ownership group solidifying itself as the best in franchise history with three titles in 10 years, completing a monumental turnaround and the most enjoyable season of my life.

How did this happen? How did the Red Sox go from a joke to improbable champions? No team in history had ever won the World Series after finishing the previous year with a winning percentage as low their 2012 mark of .426.

It took a commitment to going back to what had worked in the past. It took finding the right players instead of trying to assemble a superteam. And, for sure, it took a little luck to get here too.


The 2012 team was so profoundly screwed up I honestly wondered how many years it would take for them to be simply functional. When the Los Angeles Dodgers came calling to save the Red Sox from themselves last August, suddenly a swift turnaround seemed possible.

What Stan Kasten and Ned Colletti gave the Red Sox was a clean slate. Clearing the salaries of Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez meant Ben Cherington would be free to mold the team in 2013 and beyond the way he wanted.

A lot got made of the team’s 93 losses in 2012 and while they certainly earned every loss, nothing that happened after the stunning waiver trade in August mattered at all. Bobby Valentine was the lamest of ducks and many who played down the 2012 stretch were not around for 2013. The Sox probably would have finished 2012 as about a .500 team without the trade.

Once the season ended and once Valentine was shown the door, Cherington could finally begin the process of creating his team.

When Theo Epstein briefly quit the Red Sox after the 2005 season, it appeared he’d lost a power struggle with Larry Lucchino. Just before spring training in 2006, Epstein agreed to come back in his old role with what appeared to be expanded powers over baseball operations. For the remainder of his time in Boston, Epstein seemed to operate with the autonomy he craved while Lucchino mostly stayed in the background, where he belongs.

Well, Lucchino was much more out front during the 2012 debacle, when it was never disproved that he overruled Cherington’s move to bring in Dale Sveum and wound up instead with a total buffoon as manager.

You wonder if John W. Henry, who always loved Epstein and questioned his own wherewithal to own a big league club when Epstein fled Fenway in a gorilla suit, stepped in during this scenario to make sure that once again Lucchino took a step back to allow Cherington to make all the important decisions.

I’ve got nothing against Lucchino as a businessman; he is, however, miscast as a baseball decision-maker and once again to a needed backseat this year.

With that, Cherington focused his offseason plan on bringing in trusted, character-laden veterans on short-term deals, handing out no contracts longer than three years to any new players. They would join the existing core of Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey Cherington wanted to build around.

The first of those signings was a two-year pact for David “Blue Wolf” Ross. When they signed Ross, a longtime National League catcher known for his fantastic defense and game-calling, I knew Cherington was trying to take the club in a new direction.

There was a thread between Ross, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster, Koji Uehara, Stephen Drew, Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli: They were high-character players with successful track records both on and off the field whom Cherington believed could handle the pressure of Boston.

Nearly every one of those players lived up to expectations in one way or another, an astounding success rate not likely to be duplicated soon. The signings remind me of those Epstein made before 2003 and 2004 including Ortiz, Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Timlin, Alan Embree, Mark Bellhorn and others.

Dempster gave the Sox 171 innings of league average performance. Gomes became a spiritual leader of the club, coming up with key hits and posting a .344 OBP. Drew, while maligned by many simply because of his name, was a major piece while healthy, knocking 13 dingers and providing rock-solid defense.

Victorino turned into a fan favorite quickly, assuaging fears that he’d received too much money ($39 million) to justify his performance. He hurt himself early in the season crashing into the right field wall and battled through a myriad of other injuries to club 15 homers, go 21-of-24 in steal attempts and provide sterling right field defense.

Napoli also dealt with his share of injuries and some ups-and-downs at the plate. But he still hit 23 homers, posted his best OBP in years (.360) and made himself into a great defensive first baseman after a career behind the dish.

But then, there’s Uehara. Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, two “proven” closers, both went down with injuries and the Sox turned to Uehara, who I felt going into the year would be too fragile to pitch on back-to-back days. He sure proved me wrong.

After he was named closer in late June, these were Uehara’s numbers through the end of the regular season: 44.1 innings, 59 K, 2 BB, 2 ER, 14 H, .097 BAA, 0.41 ERA, 0.36 WHIP. Then in the playoffs, Uehara went 13.2 innings, 16 K, 0 BB, 1 ER, 7 H, 0.66 ERA, 0.512 WHIP.

These numbers aren’t just great. They defy logic. Nobody should be this dominant in Major League Baseball. Especially not when all you have is a 90 mph fastball and an 85 mph splitter in your arsenal. His ascendence allowed guys like Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa to settle into appropriate roles and the bullpen was a great strength all season.

Uehara was also hopefully dispelled the notion, at least locally, that you need a “proven” closer to win. In fact, the last three World Series winners have now ended their championship runs with a different ninth inning man from their Opening Day closer.

The Red Sox also may have dispelled the notion you need a proven manager to win it all, too.


John Farrell’s tenure in Toronto was obviously rocky. I don’t know how else the asking price to negotiate with Farrell went from Buchholz to Mike Aviles in one year.

But Cherington knew Farrell was the right fit here. Familiarity with many of the players was one thing, but Farrell’s education at the feet of Terry Francona ensured he would know the right way to handle a winning ballclub in a rabid market.

At the time of his hire, I didn’t think Farrell was any more or less special than guys like Brad Ausmus who’d interviewed for the job. But Farrell had something the other candidates didn’t: the approval of every important decision-maker in the organization. When recent history suggested discord throughout the franchise, stability in the manager’s office and a voice everyone could agree on was not to be underestimated.

Farrell still has a ways to go as a field manager and tactician. But he learned from his struggles during the playoffs, including throwing a useless Franklin Morales to the wolves in ALCS Game 6 and the out-and-out catastrophe of World Series Game 3.

But unlike his direct predecessor, Farrell handled the ins and outs of the job extremely well during his first year as manager here. Sure, the manager’s job is easier when the club is stocked with talented players who come to play every night. Yet it was clear from the first day of spring training this was his team and his commitment, intelligence and communication skills permeated through the organization. Heck, not only did Farrell actually talk to all of his coaches, they were all extremely important assets to the final result this year, with Brian Butterfield, Juan Nieves and Torey Lovullo in particular making big contributions.

There’s been a lot of debate in baseball in recent years about the importance of managers, with general managers increasingly having a bigger say in what happens on the field on a day-to-day basis.

As the Red Sox disproved conventional wisdom about bullpens this year, can they too stand as a shining example that managers do, in fact, matter in the modern game? If Valentine were still around, do we really think this club wins the World Series? I sure as hell don’t.

With Farrell providing that stability and the undeniable fact he will continue to improve, the manager won’t be an area of concern moving forward.


The achievement of the 2004 Red Sox will always be the most amazing experience a baseball fan could have and something I know I’ll still look back on with the same fondness at 87 that I now do at 27. Three years later, a different Red Sox team mowed down the competition as a wire-to-wire champion with a memorable playoff run of its own.

But 2013 was different, and more personal, for me. I moved to the Boston area in January, a move that gave me more opportunities to be at the park when spring arrived.

I went to 10 games at Fenway in 2013, starting with the second home game of the year which actually marked the end of the vaunted “sellout” streak and ending with ALDS Game 1, when Wil Myers forgot how to play outfield and the Sox trounced the Rays to take their first step to the title.

I was in the park when Victorino came up with his first big hit in a Red Sox uniform, when Gomes sent us home happy with an interleague walkoff, when the Sox put up 20 on the Tigers and David Ortiz cracked his 2,000th career hit. I was there for Jake Peavy’s first start after the “controversial” trade of Jose Iglesias (that any smart baseball person would do 100 times out of 100), for Napoli’s grand slam to ice an April win against Oakland, for a seven-run second inning against Toronto in June, and for an amazing September start for the ace, Jon Lester, against the Yankees (I saw Lester start five games this year and the Sox won each game).

Then on Saturday I got to attend my first championship parade after watching my favorite teams win eight titles since 2002. It was a phenomenal experience, seeing the joy on everyone’s faces on Boylston Street, where just a few months before the horror of the Marathon bombings jarred the region.

I watched as Ortiz hopped off his duckboat and started jogging towards the Marathon finish line, an incredible sight that made the entire day unforgettable in and of itself. (PS: Guess what, terrorists? You lost.)

More than any other year of my life, I felt connected to this Red Sox team. That’s why the 2013 campaign and playoff run will always be the most special to me as a fan.

Next year’s team might be very different, with Jacoby Ellsbury likely to funnel a solid contract year into the lucrative deal he wanted when he got Scott Boras as an agent. He’ll be tough to replace unless he agrees to take a shorter term deal here, but I expect Napoli, Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to all be back. There’s a surplus of starters, as well as young talent, so be prepared for a move that will net the Red Sox a big bat.

Xander Bogaerts, the 21-year-old Aruban inserted into the postseason lineup who displayed poise and maturity in all phases of the game, has potential to be a franchise cornerstone. I can’t wait to see him progress and eventually form a formidable double play tandem with Pedroia.

But the future can wait. For now, this team deserves to be celebrated for its amazing accomplishment. They exorcised the demons of their immediate past to stand taller than all comers by being a team and playing together.

In short, the Red Sox got back to what made them great when Henry & Co. came to town. Here’s hoping that will continue to make them great in the years ahead.


RED SOX: A Lost Season, and Team

I’ve resisted this for so long.

I wanted to tell myself everything was going to be fine. I wanted to tell myself as soon as guys came off the DL and the pitchers started throwing to their capabilities, the 2012 Boston Red Sox would live up to their talent and contend not just for a Wild Card berth but the division title.

After winning five of their first seven games out of the break, it seemed like the corner was turned. But then the Blue Jays and the Rangers happened. With the team below .500 the latest in a season since the dreadful 2001 campaign, being buyers at the July 31 deadline isn’t an option for the first time in years. It’s either sell, stand pat, or make a Nomar-esque trade to shake up the present roster.

Hard to believe those are the only options for a team with this much talent, a payroll this big and ticket prices this high.

But for the first time since John W. Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino purchased the team, I have zero confidence this club will do the right thing. That’s because they seem intent on sweeping all the team’s obvious, glaring, smack-you-in-the-face problems under their vast PR rug and distract everyone with shiny objects like a 100-year-old “living museum” of a stadium.

They created this problem by allowing a model franchise that won two World Championships to turn into a bunch of griping, discombobulated ninnies who run to the papers anytime something goes wrong.

Here’s how we got to this point.


I feel no need to hash out what went wrong at the end of last season, we’ve been over it so much. What’s obvious is the team had a chance to address all the problems that made last season such an epic failure and they didn’t do it.

I didn’t have a problem with them not spending money in a depressed free agent market. In hindsight, trades should have been made to shake up the roster, and that didn’t happen. Sure, Kevin Youkilis is out of town now, but more moves should have happened and hopefully more will come.

What’s clear now is how epically bad the managerial search was handled. Yes, Terry Francona needed to go. It’s easy to forget now, but he made a lot of bad decisions in September (like hitting Jed Lowrie out of the cleanup spot) and there was no way he could come back after the collapse.

This managerial search episode, and the fall out, should clearly illustrate just how messed up this franchise has become.

The team president hired a general manager to replace the man who had constructed two World Series winning teams. That new general manager is a smart, capable man who other teams would love to have running their organization.

But as the team owner emphatically told a local radio station last fall, the team president “runs the Red Sox.” The perception that the general manager is little more than a puppet for the team president has never been quelled by either of the principle owners or the team president. Never.

So the general manager sets out to hire a new manager. He brings in about five extremely qualified candidates. He settles on his guy, a good, younger guy with a history in Boston who was well-liked by his old team. The general manager presents his guy to the owners and the team president. They sit down for lunch.

And they say to that winning candidate: “Thanks. We’ll be in touch.”

Now the general manager has to start over. Now. After his clear first preference was already known publicly. Now. He has to start over.

It’s a wonder the general manager didn’t quit on the spot.

The team president clearly had someone in mind. Someone who was a big name. Someone who would be perceived as being able to “whip the team into shape.” So weeks later, that man was hired.

Once again, the perception that the team president, not the general manager, hired the manager, was not disproved. It has still never been disproved. The perception that the manager was not the general manager’s choice is the accepted reality.

So what do they do with the manager the general manager never wanted? They don’t allow the manager to choose his coaching staff. Well, they let him choose the third base coach. Other than that, he has to live with the first base, hitting, pitching, bullpen and bench coaches they give him. Most of them are hold-overs from the last manager. And most of them are beholden to the general manager.

My guess is you’d be hard pressed to find many baseball people who would ever think an arrangement like this would work.

What’s even more confounding is, in what was likely a showing of mercy for the manager, they allowed him to bring in his own assistant pitching coach who sat on the bench for the entire first half of the season. Again, I haven’t seen, heard or read anyone with a background in professional baseball say they’ve ever seen an arrangement like this.

Not only that, but the manager who was apparently hired to clean up the team’s act hasn’t been allowed to truly be himself, not after he criticized the commitment of a veteran player. (The manager turned out to be right all along.)

So are we to be surprised when stories like this become public? Is it shocking at all that the bullpen coach usually says nothing to manager on the daily basis? That the pitching coach doesn’t tell the manager what he says to pitchers during mound visits? That the head trainer apparently holds more power than the manager in some instances? That some players take their gripes to the general manager instead of the manager, whom the general manager is perceived to have not hired himself?

Need I go on?


Where are Henry and Werner in all this? Doesn’t it seem like those two were much more active in their roles as owners during their first six or seven years owning the club? How often do you hear either of them talk publicly about the problems of the Red Sox these days? If ever?

As I wrote in February, I don’t buy into the theory they don’t care about the team anymore. They have poured tons of money into the personnel and the stadium. They bought an English soccer team for a pittance and are trying to run a multi-layered business. That’s what businessmen do.

But they left the operation in the hands of Lucchino, who clearly didn’t have as much influence in the baseball operations side when Theo Epstein was in charge. Now he apparently does have that influence.

And perhaps, spending all that time running the business side has caused his baseball operations skills to erode. I don’t know how else you explain the mess on his hands now.

But would you hear him, or the owners, admit they’ve made any kind of mistake? Or have the courage to step up and fix the dysfunction, or at least tell the problem children to get their act straight?

Of course not. Because PR and making ridiculous amounts of money have become the most important things to Henry, Werner and Lucchino. Again, they want the team to succeed. They want a winning club and they’ve spent the money to prove that. But unlike 2002-2007, they want to be rich more than anything else.

How else do you explain Lucchino’s idiotic, tone-deaf, shameful letter to season ticket holders at the All-Star break? Are we really sure that letter was supposed to be for season ticket holders and not the Pink Hat, “Sweet Caroline”-singing, fair-weather morons who wouldn’t know Wade Boggs if he hurled a bucket of chicken at them?

The club did a phenomenal job with the 100th anniversary celebration, which I witnessed in person and will go down as one of my all-time favorite memories as a Red Sox fan.

But why does just about every other promotion, every other PR move, every other decision, every other word that comes out of their mouths, seem to be catered to the people who didn’t know the Red Sox existed before 2004?

The endless pursuit of placating the casual yet well-to-do fans has caused the owners to take their eye off the ball. If this club misses the playoffs, they will surely blame it on injuries, which is such a sick insult to the fans with IQs higher than salad dressing.

Do they think we’re stupid? Do they think we don’t read reports like the Edes link above? Do they think we don’t know how much of disaster things are behind the scenes?

Now we’re stuck with a team that badly needs to be made over. The die-hard fans will not only understand, but will be supportive of such an effort.

But then they’ll have to re-cut all the ads on NESN. And we surely can’t have that.


Cody Ross has been fun to watch and he’s an easy guy to root for. Mike Aviles has grown into a strong defensive shortstop with pop. Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kelly Shoppach are probably the best catching tandem in the game. Felix Doubront has exceeded expectations and appears to be a good 4th starter for the foreseeable future.

Aaron Cook and Franklin Morales have done more-than-admirable jobs as starting pitching depth. It’s been a lot of fun to see Will Middlebrooks become a productive rookie Major Leaguer. The bullpen overcame a wildly rocky start to be a solid, reliable unit filled with interesting characters and great stories. Daniel Nava’s a great story, too, of course.

Those are really the only guys on the team about which I have a purely positive opinion for 2012. Everyone else has either underperformed on the field, been a negative presence off the field, or haven’t been on the field long enough for me to fully form an opinion (although Jacoby Ellsbury hasn’t skipped a beat since coming off the DL).

I’m not going to get to everybody, but I wanted to make sure I hit on some key points about the following players:

DAVID ORTIZ: On the field, Ortiz has been by far the team’s best hitter. During this rough stretch of losing five of six his bat has been missed. But off the field? It’s pretty obvious he cares first and foremost about Big Papi. Every couple of weeks he’s been spouting off at the media, motivated mostly by his lack of contract security past this season.

He wasn’t wrong when he recently said playing in Boston was “starting to become the s***hole it used to be.” But this doesn’t seem like the right year for him to show so much public angst, not with the world crumbling around him. Besides, this is the third straight year he’s effectively been on a one-year contract. His OPS since the start of ’10 is .949. You think that’s a coincidence?

DUSTIN PEDROIA: It’s been an off-year for him, no question. He’s still giving max effort everyday and I give him every ounce of credit in the world for playing through his thumb injury, which was yet another injury mishandled by the team’s medical staff. I’ve lost count of how many that is now.

No one hates losing more than Pedroia. His leadership was obvious last weekend when he gave Jon Lester a very spirited, very public pep talk in the dugout during his horrendous start against Toronto.

But for the first time ever, I found myself extremely disappointed in Pedroia earlier this year. When Bobby Valentine publicly criticized Kevin Youkilis, Pedroia responded by saying what Valentine did was “not the way we do things around here.”

No one was closer to Francona than Pedroia. For him to cut the legs out from under the new manager during the first month of the season was inexcusable. While Valentine was forced to apologize to Youkilis, I highly doubt Pedroia was forced to apologize to the manager he embarrassed with that comment.

ADRIAN GONZALEZ: Why has the power not been there for Gonzalez? I’m not sure if even he knows. This month Gonzalez has picked up his play significantly and has been hitting the ball more in general, even recently earning AL Player of the Week honors.

My hope is he can somehow end the year with that OPS over or around .900. The counting stats aren’t as important, no matter what some people say, but the production is. I feel for Gonzalez, who I believe has unfairly become a lightning rod for much of the team’s failures this year. He is a quiet guy who goes about his business and is much more in the “lead by example” camp.

In this town, that’s not what people want to see as much as the Youkilis/Nixon/Pedroia/Millar/Varitek types (just ask J.D. Drew, who’ll go down as the most misunderstood Red Sox player of his generation). But that’s not who Adrian is. Any good team needs both types, really.

CARL CRAWFORD: I’ll preface this by saying I don’t have any problem whatsoever with Crawford as a player or as a person. He is driven, he wants to beat you every time he hits the field, he plays the game hard, when he’s on he’s fun to watch and he seems like a genuinely good, team-oriented guy who will battle through anything to get on a baseball field.

My problems stem mostly from how he’s been handled. Had the Red Sox had some kind of clear idea about how they were going to use Crawford from the get-go, and they’d stuck to it, few of my problems would exist.

After a disappointing 2010 Red Sox season, and with uncertainty about what kind of player they had in Ellsbury, they simply decided to outspend everyone else for the services of Crawford, who was the best free agent on the market, regardless of how he fit into the team.

They made a huge splash, had the press conference, made all the winter headlines and then said, “Well, we’ll figure all that other stuff out later.”

It’s like what happens when a studio attaches a huge star to a movie for which they have a title and a basic premise and then they say, “We’ll worry about the script later.”  I assume this happens with just about every Nicholas Cage movie.

Anyway, Crawford’s first season in Boston was mostly a disaster, with the manager losing confidence in him after three games and moving him to the bottom of the order, where he was never comfortable. Why is he here, and why did they spend all that money, for the guy to hit 7th or 8th?

Then there was the wrist injury. Then there was the even more serious elbow injury. Then there were the attempts to come back to soon, making the elbow injury potentially worse. Then he came back, regained his 2nd spot in the batting order, and starting hitting the ball as soon as he showed up. Everything’s great, right?

Then he stopped hitting. Then the manager dropped him in the order, again, despite hitting higher in the order against lefties earlier in his return. Then the manager started to pull him, the fastest guy on the team besides Ellsbury, for defensive replacements late in games because he doesn’t want Crawford hurting his elbow on throws.

So yeah, none of this makes sense. If Crawford is still really that hurt, why doesn’t he just get Tommy John surgery now so he can be ready for the start of 2013? And why doesn’t the team come up with a clearly defined role for a guy in whom they are investing $142 million? Is that too much to ask?

He’s got five years left on his contract. It’s still salvageable. But the effort to rebuild Carl Crawford into the great player he was has to start now.

JON LESTER: I could not be more frustrated, sad, angry, upset, you-name-the-negative-emotion than I am right now about Lester’s absolute stinker of a season. From day one, it’s either been mediocrity or sub-mediocrity from one of baseball’s best left-handed pitchers. There is no reasonable explanation for why he’s pitched so poorly at a time when the club needs him the most.

Not just that, but there’s been nothing positive about Lester’s body language, his attitude and his general demeanor at just about any given time this year outside of an overplayed Ford truck commercial. You can tell it’s eating at him inside and based on his comments, he wants so badly to get over it and pitch well. For that, I give him credit.

Other than his inability to pitch well, it’s hard to see what has got Lester so down. He overcame a terrible disease. He plays a game for a living. He has a beautiful wife and young son. He was a World Series ring and a no-hitter to his name. He’s 28 years old and has financial security.

Is it because Francona and John Farrell, who molded him into the pitcher he was before 2012, are out the door? Is it because he’s accepted that Boston is “the s***hole it used to be” and believes everyone from the media to the fans are against him? Or is it simply because of his poor performance?

The answer is not to trade him. At 28, his best years could still be ahead. I believe Lester is still a great pitcher. Maybe 2012 is just an aberration. But the team has no shot of success this year or next unless Lester pitches to his potential.

JOSH BECKETT: In the course of a few months, Beckett went from being a terrific pitcher I truly respected to being the Red Sox player I have most actively disliked since the heyday of Carl Everett’s head-butting and dinosaur-disbelieving.

Just about any self-respecting ballplayer would look back at the events of last September, look at both his on-field and off-field conduct and say, “I’m gonna show those bastards something when we get back.”

Instead, Beckett has been below-league-average starter the whole year. He looked roughly the same in spring training shape-wise that he did in September, which is to say he was not exactly cut like Gabe Kapler.

Injuries could play a role. His ankle injury last year was serious and he’s dealt with an inflamed shoulder this year. Because of that he’s apparently tried to become more of a finesse pitcher, throwing 90-92 instead of the customary 95-98 of his better years. The results have been mixed and his first inning struggles have become more infuriating by the outing.

I’ve heard a lot of people say Beckett is like Lester in that he could easily be pitching better. I disagree. I think this is what Beckett is now, basically a 4th starter getting paid like an ace.

And you know what? I could accept all that, if it appeared Beckett gave a crap. Or half a crap. Or any portion of a crap.

The fact that Beckett played golf instead of taking the mound with a sore lat wasn’t nearly as bad as his reaction to the whole thing. But he pitched like absolute garbage against Cleveland and put everyone off by not appearing the slightest bit remorseful about the uproar he caused, or even appearing to understand what it was that he’d done wrong.

Then came the endless string of starts after which he has refused to speak to reporters, including Wednesday, after his wild pitch directly resulted in the loss. Who is telling Beckett this kind of behavior is acceptable? If Nolan Ryan was his team owner, do you think any of this would be happening?

Again, he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him. And it’s not even clear at this point that he actually cares about baseball, about pitching, about even acting like he cares.

This point was driven home recently when a TV camera spotted a mounted beer bottle opener on his locker at Fenway emblazoned with the words “First Class White Trash.” Could there be a more clear indication of someone completely lacking in self-awareness?

So do us all a favor, Josh. If the Red Sox come to you by next Tuesday at 4 p.m. with a trade out of town, don’t rely on what I’m sure will be your natural inclination to be a complete jerk and hold the team from whom you’re presently stealing money hostage.

It’s OK that you’re no longer the pitcher you were in 2007 when nothing would stand in your way to a World Series title. Because of your attitude, we’d just like you to be that shell of an ace somewhere else.

Waive those 10/5 rights and become someone else’s overpaid problem. Come to the realization that there’s no way you or the Red Sox will get any better until you stop infecting this clubhouse and leave.

Heck, I’m sure you’ll even have the chance to be getting paid by two different teams at the same time. How cool is that?


There is light at the end of the tunnel, people. Perhaps this organization suddenly becomes functional, all of the current players play the best baseball of their lives the last two months and they go on to the playoffs and the World Series. The talent is currently here for that to realistically happen.

But don’t hold your breath. What the Red Sox should do is sell at the deadline then take a long, hard look at the roster in the offseason and come up with an actual plan, one that doesn’t take into account what people in Pink Hats will say. Do what’s best for the team. There are still smart people in the organization and lots of them. This can be fixed.

This can be fixed.

I’ll be repeating that to myself for many days, months and probably years to come. And maybe eventually I’ll believe it.


RED SOX: Suffering a Nation of Fools

Photo: Keith Allison

Something amazing has been happening of late among those who follow the Boston Red Sox.

There has been a growing chorus, be they fans, commentators, “writers” who spend more time behind a radio mic than in the press box and other general blowhards, who have accused the local baseball franchise of something so outlandish, so obscene, so patently untrue it honestly makes me wonder if their drinking water has been laced with that hallucinogenic stuff from “Batman Begins.”

They insist the Boston Red Sox, I repeat, the BOSTON RED SOX, are cheap.


I’m not kidding.

This happened. Or, is presently happening.

Let’s forget the present ownership group has kept a player payroll in the top five among MLB teams for the entire time they’ve been in charge. Let’s forget they’ve poured millions into Fenway Park to give fans the ultimate baseball experience every time they walk in. Let’s forget all the other Boston teams have won championships this past decade yet people still remember the Red Sox World Series title in 2004 the most fondly and the Red Sox always tend to be at the center of every fan’s mind, no matter what the calender says.

Put all that aside and just use some reason for a minute. The Red Sox are cheap? What about the Red Sox over the last 10 years has been cheap? Anything?

And even if they’ve spent about $8 million on free agent contracts this winter, why are they knocking the club for making sound business decisions in a market that didn’t really cater to their needs?

I’m stunned at the narrow view when it comes to this topic.

Last offseason, the Red Sox committed $142 million to Carl Crawford and a $154 million extension for Adrian Gonzalez after he arrived for prospects (and considering the not-insanely-better duo of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder earned contracts of $240 million and $214 million, respectively, how good does that Gonzalez contract look now?). They exercised a $12.5 million option for David Ortiz and are set to pay him more than that in 2012 pending the outcome of arbitration. The previous winter, they spent $82.5 million on John Lackey (yes, that did happen).

Facts are facts. Because of these commitments, trades, draft choices and very laudable efforts to lock up important pieces to long-term (and in most cases, very reasonable) contracts, the Red Sox went into the winter realistically not needing to address any starting positions except for right field, nor did they need to address the top of the starting rotation.

These two facts alone meant the Red Sox had no need to go on a 2011-esque spending spree in 2012.

They pulled two fine trades to address the back end of the bullpen, getting young flamethrowers Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey while not giving up pieces that figured to be central to their 2012 success. They even got slick-fielding, solid-on base outfielder Ryan Sweeney in the Bailey deal to compete for time in right field.

Much was made following the season about addressing clubhouse chemistry following the September beer-and-fried-chicken scandal. For not a lot of money, the Sox added Nick Punto and Cody Ross, both recently part of World Series Championship teams and who both have the Mike Lowell/Sean Casey clubhouse gene and will fill needed roles on the field.

(Ross initially wanted a three-year contract for $18 million. The Red Sox signed him at one year for $3 million. Just thought I’d mention that.)

All the while, the team is scheduled to have the highest payroll in franchise history in 2012 and will almost certainly go over the luxury tax threshold for the seventh time in nine seasons, according to’s Alex Speier.

So forgive me for failing to see how the Red Sox have suddenly become cheap.

There is, however, one move that has puzzled many in this regard, and I believe there is an explanation for it that’s ultimately not about money.

The Marco Scutaro-for-some-lousy-pitcher trade wasn’t about dumping his $6 million salary (or, more accurately, his $7.67 million luxury tax hit), in my opinion. While it could be viewed that way, the team knew they needed to add an outfielder capable of starting, while also knowing Crawford’s wrist surgery could keep him out for the start of the season.

The Punto signing meant the Red Sox had a surplus of shortstops with Scutaro and Mike Aviles already under contract. Without signing another outfielder, the untested Aviles would have been thrust into a backup outfield role. Adding an outfielder (Ross) meant they could use Aviles exclusively in the infield, where he’s much more comfortable, albeit not a great defender.

Punto is a bench player but fields well, as does prospect Jose Iglesias, who needs to find his bat at Triple-A early this season in order to make an impact in the Majors this year.

Scutaro, while still an excellent contact hitter, is 36 and missed 49 games last season. Defense on the left side of the infield will be critical in 2012 with Kevin Youkilis not getting any younger.

My guess is Ben Cherington and crew ran the numbers, on both offense and defense and saw that an Aviles/Punto/Iglesias platoon at shortstop and 350 to 450 at bats from Ross was a net gain over keeping Scutaro. Otherwise this doesn’t happen.

The unanswered question is why all the Red Sox could get back for Scutaro was Clayton Mortensen, a swingman who sported a 9.42 ERA in Triple-A in 2011. On that level, this was definitely a bad trade. The Rockies were kind enough to take all of Scutaro’s reasonable salary and they were apparently the only team willing to do so.

Perhaps Cherington is more averse than his predecessor to making trades where the Red Sox pay for players to play for other teams. That, in my mind, is a welcome change. Either way, I see how the trade made sense outside of the money that so many are clamoring about.

As I mentioned above, the Red Sox are likely to pay luxury tax again in 2012, this time at an estimated 40 percent clip. The Red Sox hate paying luxury tax for good reasons that seem to be lost on many people. For 2011, the Red Sox paid about $3.4 million in luxury tax. That luxury tax money goes to MLB and gets shared in some fashion with other clubs.

So I ask a practical question: Why should a business want to spend a not-insignificant amount of money on something out of which they see virtually no benefit? Teams can very easily avoid paying luxury tax, and not see their money get flushed down the toilet, by simply not passing the threshold. It’s not like paying income or property taxes.

Can the Red Sox afford to pass the threshold? Clearly they can and will. Do the Red Sox essentially print money at this point? Of course they do. Do we have any idea what kind of revenue this club brings in each year? No, but it’s probably more than we can guess.

This isn’t about the club crying poverty, which they haven’t. This is about making smart business decisions beyond this year. If they can eventually get under the luxury tax threshold by 2014, they’ll reset the percentage they have to pay, which will pay huge dividends in the future.

Saving money is important going forward. There is no doubt the Red Sox are taking a chance by likely going into spring training with a competition for the fourth and fifth rotation slots, just as the Yankees took a similar chance going into 2011, a chance that led to another division title for the Bombers. Convincing Roy Oswalt to sign a one-year tender to come north, which is still a distinct possibility with the money from Scutaro’s deal, would at least create some stability.

But there was no reason to overspend this year on starting pitching when next winter is really where this team should be focused.

Check out the MLBTR list of free agent starting pitchers next offseason. Have you heard any radio yammerer or online commenter mention the names of Joe Blanton, Matt Cain, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Dan Haren, Tim Hudson, Colby Lewis, Francisco Liriano, Jake Peavy and James Shields as possible reasons why the Red Sox haven’t gone crazy spending this year? I highly doubt it.

This isn’t about a soccer team. This is about a team that has spent a lot of money in the past, some good and some bad. This is about an offseason where they didn’t have a lot of needs and didn’t see a free agent market where their concerns would be addressed by spending money. This is about maneuvering a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that will certainly impact trades, the draft and free agency in ways we can’t yet comprehend.

This is about a team with an astoundingly strong offense, an improving defense, a trio atop the rotation that when healthy most clubs would kill for, a plethora of options for the remaining rotation spots, a deep bullpen with hungry young arms, a general manager who has soaked in the personnel triumphs and failures of his franchise for more than a decade and a manager eager (and I mean EAGER) to prove himself once again.

As we learned last year, you can’t win a World Series in December, January or February.

But if they fall short again, anyone who claims it was because the Boston Red Sox were cheap never looked deeper than the surface.


“It Is Designed To Break Your Heart”

“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped and summer was gone.” – A. Bartlett Giamatti, MLB Commissioner 1989, Die-Hard Red Sox fan

Just like that it happened.

Just like that it ended.

Just like that, I was stunned.

Wednesday night is the kind you dream of as a baseball fan. The kind you long for when winter grips you, when spring arrives in earnest, when the summer drags on, when fall brings these potential contests. In both leagues, so many things regarding the Wild Card races were unresolved. This was a night that so many millions of fans will never forget.

I won’t ever forget this night. As much as I might like to.

The phrase I keep coming back to is it never should have come to this. When Papelbon came in to get three outs to ensure at worst a 163rd game, it never should have come that. The Red Sox started the season 2-10 and ended the year 7-20. In between they went 81-42, had a high-powered offense, deep starting pitching and a tough bullpen. They played smart, they played hard, they had a good manager, they stayed mostly healthy and had a nine game lead on Sept. 1.

It never should have come to this. Had the Red Sox won one more measly contest not just in September but at any time during the season, none of this would have happened. But throughout September, everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. They lost to good teams. They lost to bad teams. They lost to teams with nothing to play for. Their starting pitching, even key cogs like Lester and Beckett, couldn’t get people out. So many players got hurt and couldn’t contribute. The bullpen was overtaxed. The offense could not come through in key spots. They made incredibly stupid plays on the basepaths. Beat writers were talking about the team getting way too comfortable at the worst possible time.

Outside of Ellsbury, Pedroia, Aceves, Scutaro and Papelbon, it barely seemed like this team had a pulse for a whole month, at the same time a red-blooded crew with a $40 million payroll in Tampa was rolling off win after win and killing the Red Sox head-to-head. After weeks of crazy games, it all came down to one night.

Right now it’s hard to remember everything I just watched. The Yankees took a 7-0 lead and appeared to be cruising to an easy victory while parading out meek arm after meek arm. Pedroia went deep, Scutaro gunned down a runner at the plate, and pulled one of the sickest double plays of the season to keep the game at 3-2. Lester gave everything he had on three days rest and kept the team in the game. Meanwhile, I knew deep down that score in Tampa would not stick.

In Baltimore the rains came. Right at that time, the Rays finally started making noise, finishing with a homer from Longoria in the 8th. OK. The Yankees still have a one run lead. All they have to do is get three outs and it makes everything else easier. The Sox would at least be guaranteed of a game tomorrow.

Two quick outs for Corey Wade. Then Dan Johnson pinch hit for Fuld. Two strikes. One strike away…and he drilled it off the foul pole. I doubled over.

The Yankees had tapped out all options. Michael Kay said the remainder of guys available included Scott Proctor and that was it. Proctor, who blew the game against the Sox on Sunday night, has long been the butt of jokes about how Joe Torre abused his arm during his first stint in New York. Now Joe Girardi was going to abuse him until the game ended, i.e., until the Rays walked off with the win. After being down 7-0.

The Sox came back on. Between a few hiccups, Aceves and Bard got the job done. As has been the case all month, the hitters left men on base in key spots. Scutaro should have just kept running. Gonzalez was intentionally walked three times tonight because apparently Buck Showalter figured out Ryan Lavarnway, who went 0-5 and nine of the team’s 18 LOB tonight were his responsibility.

Meanwhile Proctor was actually getting people out in Tampa, although by the 11th he was clearly running out of steam. In the 12th, the Yankees put a couple guys on base with no outs and appeared poised to go ahead. This was happening right as Papelbon was entering the game, the Red Sox a whopping 77-0 before tonight when leading after the 8th inning.

In that moment, I felt good. Papelbon got two outs quick. It looked like Game 163 wouldn’t happen. Then Greg Golson got thrown out at third trying to score on a ground ball. And Chris Davis laced a double down the right field line in Baltimore.

One pitch away. So many times.

The Rays got out of their inning. Yet again, Proctor returned to the hill.

I watched each pitch of each game with crazy intent. Papelbon has been a rock this year. Just before these last few difficult appearances, he went a solid three months without a truly bad outing. The kind of contract year players dream about. But he got worked hard Sunday. And he got worked hard last night. Now tonight they needed him to come through again and he seemed up to the task.

Did the workload catch up to him? I don’t know. He gave up a ground rule double to Reimold to tie the game then Robert Andino, the kind of faceless villain who always seems to crop up season after season, drove a sinking liner to left field.

Everyone will want to point to Crawford’s inability to come up with the ball as a microcosm of a first season in Boston I’m sure he’s already tried to forget. But it wasn’t an easy play. It dropped in. Reimold scored. And it ends.

It could not have been more than three minutes. Just long enough to watch the long stares of everyone in the Red Sox dugout. Even though the scoreboard hadn’t been updated, people in Tampa knew. It would just take one run and their comeback would be complete.

Longoria. Who else could it have been? Line shot. Ball game. Jubilation in Tampa.

Stunned silence everywhere east of New York.


You live each day with your team in sports. It doesn’t matter what sport, although baseball elicits the most emotion for me at least. Baseball is the longest of all the regular seasons. Each day you go about your life but come home at night and the game that means nothing of true significance becomes your personal respite. For me, I eat and drink it every day. Every aspect. I’m not as hardcore as I was before bills and jobs and responsibilities. But baseball is still a huge part of my life.

I have watched my team reach the highest of highs twice. I have watched my other three teams reach the highest of their highs a total of five times in just the last 10 years.

But as I’ve said before, you don’t think about that in these moments. The moments when you feel like everything you just invested so much time and energy in was a waste.

All year I believed this team had greatness in them. I still believe they did. September was an astounding amalgam of suck for the Red Sox. I have never seen anything like it, and I sure as hell hope I never see it again.

The 2012 version of this team could be different in about a zillion ways. We could have seen the final games in Boston for so many heroes, including Wakefield, Varitek, Ortiz, Papelbon, Drew and potentially others. Francona could go. Theo could go. The whole training and medical staff could (and probably should) go.

This horrible collapse is compounded by the unknown, especially since the looming free agent season is paltry at best unless you need a first baseman, which the Red Sox don’t.

The Boston Red Sox, perhaps the strongest franchise in professional sports over the last decade, have not won a playoff game since 2008 and have missed the playoffs two years in a row. I know a lot of teams would kill for what I just described. But this isn’t acceptable.

I feel tremendous for Tampa Bay. They have a fantastic young team and they deserved to go to the playoffs. I will root for the three non-New York AL playoff teams. I don’t begrudge the Yankees for the way they managed the series against Tampa. I do begrudge the fans who basked in their own team losing so the Red Sox wouldn’t get into the playoffs. Way to show your true colors.

It all comes back to the games, to the incredible evening of baseball I just witnessed. Had I not been a fan of one of the teams involved it would have been much more enjoyable. When Ken Burns updates “Baseball” once again in 2025, this night should serve as its opening.

It will be an amazing story.

But I’m not sure I’ll be able to watch.

Because it will break my heart.

It is designed to break my heart.