RED SOX: Why Fire Farrell?

420px-John_Farrell_7-27-13

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.

Advertisements

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

800px-Manny_Ramirez_Parade

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 Boston.com) 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

IMG_0398

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.

BACK TO THE BASICS

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.

THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB

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.

WHAT THEY MEANT TO ME

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.

MLB: Lester, Buchholz Bouncing Back

clay-lester

It was not my plan to write on Red Sox-related topics every week when I re-started by blogging career this season. But I feel like the best thing about the 2013 season to date, for me at least, has been the resurgence of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.

There were times last year when both guys seemed so lost, so out of sorts that I wondered if they’d ever regain the form that made them so formidable not that long ago.

Buchholz, 28, was horrendous from the outset of 2012, got sick but then came back strong. By the end of the year he was the most consistent pitcher on the team, but it’s still hard to call it anything but a lost season for him (4.56 ERA). He did make a career-high 29 starts, however.

Lester, 29, for reasons I still don’t understand, went from being one of the most consistent starters in baseball, and one of the finest left-handed pitchers in the game, to astounding mediocrity. He went over 200 innings but his 4.87 ERA and drop in strikeouts (225 in ‘09 and ‘10, 182 in ‘11, 166 in ‘12) were definitely alarming for a starter Lester’s age. Brian MacPherson has a good comparison of Lester to other elite AL lefties here.

But that’s all different now. Through three starts each, Lester sports a 1.42 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 18/3 K/BB while Buchholz has a microscopic 0.41 ERA, also an 0.95 WHIP with 23/10 K/BB.

Each guy has made hitters look silly with the best of their stuff, making all of their pitches work and without much fear of using any pitch in any situation. I always felt like Buchholz may have better stuff than Lester, and that’s borne itself out so far this year.

Most importantly, the Red Sox have won all six of their starts, all coming against AL East opponents.

Some of the renewed success of Buchholz and Lester must be attributed to the return of John Farrell. Since the start of 2010, these guys have worked with five different pitching coaches (Farrell, Curt Young, Bob McClure, Randy Niemann and now Juan Nieves). It seems working with Farrell and Nieves, and the idea there will hopefully be some stability in those positions going forward, has helped significantly.

With Josh Beckett gone, Lester and Buchholz have taken it upon themselves to be leaders and positive influences for the pitching staff. It’s easy to be positive when you’re actually pitching well.

For Buchholz, the key will be remaining healthy and on the mound. His dominating performance Sunday against Tampa where he took a no-no into the 8th inning was an important statement for what he can be. But he’s never made 30 starts in a season and can, once and for all, shed the title of “fragile” if he can keep it together.

Lester has corrected whatever mechanical or mental issues that plagued him a year ago. He’s thrown a lot of pitches in his starts so far, but on Saturday, while I was sitting in the right field grandstands, Lester got stronger as the game went on. Being efficient will be his biggest test in 2013.

Thanks in no small part to these two, the Red Sox have a 2.07 ERA for their starters through 11 games. With enough offense to go around and a deep bullpen, there’s no reason this team won’t compete all year as currently constituted.

And with Lester and Buchholz pitching like this, it’s not hard to imagine the Red Sox being more than just competitors in 2013.

***

I don’t have much more to offer on the topic of Carlos Quentin than what’s already been said ad nauseum, but it’s clear his rage was in the wrong place this week when he charged the mound and knocked Zack Greinke out for at least two months. Was eight games enough for Quentin’s suspension? I say no. As much as I’d like to see Quentin have to sit as long as Greinke will be out, that’s probably a bit too punitive. I still wish MLB would factor in the severity of the opposing player’s injury in determining discipline as the NHL does.

Fair or foul? D’backs owner Ken Kendrick forced some Dodgers fans sitting behind home plate at Chase Field to change their shirts Friday night, or move to a different location. The Dodger blue was apparently uncouth in such a high-visibility area of the park. If you plunk down $3,000 for a suite, should you be allowed to wear whatever you want, within the boundaries of good taste? What I find funny is the fans seemed so willing to don the gear of an opposing team to keep their seats. I can’t imagine ever doing something like that, even if it came with free booze.

Hopefully by now you’ve learned the story of Evan Gattis, the Braves’ catcher who’s overcome incredible personal adversity and is presently tearing the cover off the ball, including this truly insane homer off Stephen Strasburg. My favorite thing ever: he went to Venezuela to play winter ball and the fans called him “El Oso Blanco,” or, “The White Bear.” Gold.

Buster Olney tweeted Sunday the Rangers are “doing early reconnaissance and prep work” on a possible trade for Giancarlo Stanton. Later Sunday, Peter Gammons tweeted that the Rangers, Mets and Red Sox are among the teams to inquire on Stanton, but the Marlins aren’t making a deal now. As with all the Marlins’ best players, the question isn’t if Stanton gets dealt but when. He’ll be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, will continue to get more expensive and probably wouldn’t mind getting the hell out of South Florida. The Rangers seem well-positioned to make any kind of big trade they want, be it for Stanton or David Price, given their wealth of prospects and younger players. The question, as it was with the Justin Upton sweepstakes over the winter, is whether they really want to pull the trigger.

It seemed like most people had the Rays pegged to be either first or second in the AL East this year on the strength of their pitching alone. But watching them this weekend, it really struck me how poor their offense is. Going into Sunday, they ranked dead-last in team OPS at .601 so far this year. You wonder how long they wait to call up Wil Myers, the prized outfielder who clubbed 37 homers in the minors last year and came over from KC for James Shields over the winter. But even Myers might not be enough.

My music recommendation for the week: “Wakin on a Pretty Day” by Kurt Vile. Until next time.

MLB: Get Over It, Blue Jays Fans

john-farrellIt takes a lot for anything in sports to surprise me anymore. But I can honestly say I met the reaction of the fans in Toronto to the return of their old manager John Farrell with a healthy dose of bewilderment.

Farrell was showered in boos, cat calls and obscenities from every corner of Rogers Centre during the Red Sox’ weekend series with the Blue Jays. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why.

Sure, Farrell didn’t leave under the best of circumstances. The 2012 Blue Jays had many problems and Farrell was criticized for his handling of the clubhouse.

But while I’m not privy to exactly how the negotiations went down, I feel certain no one held a gun to Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos’ head Luca Brasi-style and told him he had to let Farrell go.

Just a year before, the Blue Jays refused to allow Farrell to flee to Boston unless the Sox ponied up the exorbitant price of Clay Buchholz.

That the Blue Jays were willing to let Farrell walk 12 months later for Mike Aviles (whom they’d later trade to Cleveland) speaks volumes about how they valued Farrell. After all, he amassed just a 154-170 record and dealt with the aforementioned issues last year.

Farrell has paid the city of Toronto, its fans and the people he worked with there nothing but compliments since leaving, and that graciousness continued this week in the face of so much disrespect.

Fans seemed to focus their venom on one comment by Farrell where he called his current position in Boston his “dream job.” Did he realize what kind of backlash that kind of sincere comment would make? Probably not.

But let’s take inventory of some irrefutable facts. Farrell spent four seasons as the pitching coach in Boston, where he built strong relationships with people throughout the organization. He was still highly-regarded and clearly highly-valued by important Red Sox figures even after he left for Toronto.

Since the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993, they have not been back to the postseason once. They have one second-place finish to their name, never winning more than 88 games. Few times have the Blue Jays been truly terrible (their 67-94 season in 2004 was the worst), but they are almost always mediocre and never really relevant.

Since 1994, the Red Sox have nine postseason appearances, two World Series titles, two AL East titles, two years where they came within one game of winning the pennant, just three losing seasons and one year that was an abject failure (2012). Farrell himself was pitching coach on three playoff teams, including the 2007 World Series Champions.

So forgive Farrell for having the outrageous idea the Boston job might be better than the one in Toronto.

Neither he, nor the Blue Jays, nor the Red Sox could have foreseen the circumstances under which Terry Francona would exit Boston and the ensuing debacles that would lead to Farrell eventually getting his “dream job.”

So why can’t the fans let this go? Farrell didn’t want to be in Toronto. The team didn’t want him to be there that badly anymore, either. The Blue Jays pulled several major moves in the offseason and have their best team in years on paper.

Part of me thought the ferocity of their hatred came from all their years of frustration coming to a boil. Their team has been fighting for relevancy for 20 years.

To wit: Roy Halladay’s prime was wasted on middling team after middling team; J.P. Ricciardi’s tenure as GM was mostly a disaster; they gave B.J. Ryan $47 million, for which they got two decent years; they had a manager in the late-’90s who lied about serving in Vietnam, eventually leading his his dismissal; after two incredible years they traded Roger Clemens for pennies on the dollar; Chris Carpenter had a 4.83 ERA in six years there before blossoming into one of baseball’s best pitchers in St. Louis; I could go on, but you get the picture.

I liken this to how Montreal Canadiens fans boo Zdeno Chara at every turn over the Max Pacioretty hit even years later. I’d be hard-pressed to believe Habs fans would care remotely as much about Chara this long after the hit if their team had won anything in recent years.

But then, Friday night, it hit me. When Jose Iglesias got plunked on the arm with a pitch and started writhing in pain, the fans booed. The booing got louder when Farrell emerged from the dugout. But they were booing the simple act of an opposing player getting hit with a pitch and reacting in pain.

In that moment, I realized how amateurish Blue Jays fans at that game truly were. And I guess it’s hard to reason with, or understand, such absurd behavior.

***

Nick Cafardo offers his take on the nonsense in Toronto, calling the fans’ antics “silly.” Cafardo makes a good point about how college basketball coaches change jobs all the time under similar circumstances, however I’m not sure that comparison makes Farrell look better.

Like Farrell describing his “dream job,” does it really make a lot of sense for Texas fans to get on John Hamilton for calling Dallas a “football town?” Really? Are we somehow doubting that football is the most important sport in Texas? Hamilton, meanwhile, has bigger fish to fry, including really unfortunate treatment of his family in Texas. It’s just a game, people.

I suspect when the Braves spent greatly in money and players this winter to get B.J. and Justin Upton in their lineup, they were hoping for results like what happened in Atlanta Saturday night. In case you missed it, this was pretty damn cool.

You know what’s not cool? A 16-year-old Japanese pitcher who was forced to throw 772 pitches in a week during the Koshien national baseball tournament. Jeff Passan takes a closer look at the culture that creates such astonishing abuse.

In honor of the start of the season, Jay Jaffe wrote this thoughtful piece for SI on 20 ways baseball can be improved. It’s a good read and while some are far-fetched (I highly doubt we’ll see Opening Day declared a national holiday, as much as I’d love it), many are very practical. You may see me tackle some of these in this space soon.

I’ll end these blogs every week with a YouTube video of a song you should be listening to. First up are Local Natives, whose sophomore album Hummingbird has been among my favorites of the year so far.

Like this blog? Hate it? Want to ask me something or have an idea for a future blog? E-mail me at jakeodonnell21@gmail.com or tweet me @jaketodonnell.

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.

SIMPLE DYSFUNCTION BREAKS YOU CLEAN IN HALF

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?

UNFOCUSED OWNERSHIP TO BLAME

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.

THE PLAYERS AREN’T WITHOUT SIN

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?

LAST THOUGHTS

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.

Really.

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 WEEI.com’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.

BRUINS: The Unforgettable Ride

June 15, 2011 is a day I’ll remember as long as I can remember anything. It’s the day the little brother of the Boston sports scene became the man of the house.

It’s been over a month since the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, their first since the heyday of Orr and Espo in 1972. Looking back now, it’s easy to remember just that moment of victory, the images of Zdeno Chara, Mark Recchi, Patrice Bergeron and Tim Thomas lifting the greatest trophy in sports above their noggins, the duckboat rides watched by millions and the ongoing party that lead to one player who was allegedly sent home for having a bit too much fun.

But before that, there were many amazing games and breathtaking saves and heroic goals, all moments that can never be forgotten. There were twists and turns that seem unreal now, including calls (myself included) for the head coach to be fired during the playoffs.

So many factors got this team to that final whistle in Vancouver, where all the only tasks remaining were a handshake line and a trophy presentation. In some instances, the Bruins played like the best team. In others, they were more lucky than good. In all, the team took advantage of the bounces, played their hearts out, got past potentially devastating injuries, won three Game 7s and came back to the Hub as incredibly deserving champions.

With a month of perspective, I’d like to highlight some of the reasons why the Bruins are spending their summer vacation with the Cup.

A LESS BUMPY PATH

What I’m about to say takes nothing away from what the Bruins accomplished, but facts are facts: things happened to other teams, especially in the Eastern Conference, that helped the B’s become champs.

This discussion starts invariably with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sidney Crosby was on his way to a career season, scoring 66 points in 41 games, when he was sidelined with a concussion and did not play after Jan. 5. Crosby’s fellow superstar, Evgeni Malkin, then blew out his knee, missing the season after Feb. 4.

Behind the sterling goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury and Dan Bylsma’s can-do coaching style, the Pens still managed a four-seed in the East and took Tampa to seven games in the first round before bowing out. With Crosby and Malkin healthy, it’s hard to imagine Pittsburgh would have been an easy out in Eastern playoffs. We’ll never know, but the Bruins benefited from their misfortune.

The top seed in the East was Washington, who beat the Rangers in five games in the first round. The Bruins were on a collision course with the Caps for the East Finals, but the most surprising of all playoff results would befall Washington when Tampa swept them in the conference semi-finals. I don’t know if Alex Ovechkin is hockey’s Karl Malone, his teams tend to shrink from big moments and this year added to his line of playoff disappointments. Again, the Bruins lucked out by not facing them.

Philadelphia, the defending East champs, suffered from goalie schizophrenia with Peter Laviolette unable to make up his mind on which atrocious netminder should fail miserably in the playoffs. The Flyers dealt with injuries with Chris Pronger appearing in just three postseason contests while Jeff Carter missed the first two losses against Boston. There would be no letdown against Philly anyway, but it’s clear the Flyers weren’t at their best, leading to the major changes we’ve seen this summer.

The Bruins went to the wire twice in the Eastern Conference playoffs as the styles of Montreal and Tampa proved to be major challenges. But all season I felt the East was wide open, and any team that got hot at the right moment could get to the Final.

It sure wasn’t easy, and I hesitate to say the Bruins ever “got hot” at least in terms of stringing together victories, but the B’s certainly had the hot goaltender and the hot defense and the strong line chemistry to get to the Final.

I wasn’t thrilled about playing Vancouver. In fact, I wasn’t thrilled about playing any of the West’s top three teams (Vancouver, San Jose or Detroit). Top to bottom, those teams all had more talent than the Bruins. But none of those teams had their determined mix, and none of them had Tim Thomas, either.

The Canucks were missing some parts on defense and seemed totally out of sorts on offense once the Sedin sisters and Hungry Hungry Burrows were shut down. Throw in the Luongo meltdowns and the Bruins were able to edge out a team that was probably better on paper.

The Bruins proved worthy of standing atop the NHL mountain when Game 7 ended. But they got help. While it doesn’t take away from the victory, it must be acknowledged.

THE MALIGNED COACH

I’m not a huge Claude Julien fan. You probably knew that already. Even after they won the Cup I STILL felt like maybe he isn’t the right coach for this team long-term.

But…credit needs to be given. Twice during the playoffs the Bruins found themselves down 0-2 and twice the team came back. Julien did not allow them to get down and steered them in the right direction.

I hammered Julien for sitting Seguin in favor of Michael Ryder, and through the first three games of the Montreal series, I wasn’t wrong for feeling that way (0 points, 3 SOG). But in Game 4, Ryder pulled through big. He wound up playing every playoff game and scored 17 points (he totaled 41 points during the regular season).

I next hammered Julien for playing Shawn Thornton instead of Seguin in Game 3 of the Final. I tweeted the move (which came after the B’s scored two total goals in the first two games) meant Julien didn’t care about winning the series.

Well, I was wrong. Thornton brought toughness and energy for the rest of the series and Seguin wound up playing the last four games anyway due to Nathan Horton’s concussion.

Maybe after winning the Cup and bringing the right attitude and preaching the right style of play I should cut Julien some slack, and trust that he knows more about this stuff than I do…

Wait, what am I saying? I just lost my sports fan instincts there for a second. Of course I know more about this than Julien! Now where’s that phone number to call Felger and Mazz?

ALL THE RIGHT MOVES

OK, maybe not ALL the right moves by GM Peter Chiarelli led to this championship. The Tomas Kaberle trade was a dud. The guy was brought in to improve the power play and scored eight PP points in 49 total games in Black and Gold. All that cost were two draft picks and a promising forward prospect. He goes down as the Bruins version of Eric Gagne.

But enough with the negative. Chiarelli pulled a number of excellent moves, between trades, draft choices and free agent pickups that led to this championship. His other in-season moves this year were terrific, shipping out the dead weight of Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart (a stay-at-home type heading for free agency rendered redundant by the emergence of Adam McQuaid) to the Thrashers (err, Jets) for a package including Rich Peverley.

Peverley didn’t put up gaudy numbers after the trade (just seven points in 23 regular season games), but provided a great third and fourth line presence and was supremely versatile by playing both center and wing. When Horty went down in the Final, it was Peverley who stepped up and played first-line minutes alongside Milan Lucic and David Krejci. Peverley responded by scoring two goals in the Game 4 shutout victory and proved an invaluable cog in the Game 6 and 7 victories.

A few days before the Peverley trade Chiarelli moved a second round pick to Ottawa for Chris Kelly. For the rest of the season and playoffs, Kelly anchored the third line, winning face-offs and showing toughness, grit and a bit of scoring from that spot. He wasn’t slowed down by a dive into the goal that broke his face in Game 3 against Montreal. He managed 13 points and a plus-11 while playing in every playoff game. The Bruins do not win the Cup without Kelly. Period.

Going into the season Chiarelli shored up the club for success, including extensions for Chara and Bergeron and re-signing the likes of Recchi, Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk. They traded underachiever Dennis Wideman and a first rounder to Florida for Horton and Gregory Campbell. We all know what Horton meant especially in the playoffs, but Campbell had an outstanding year centering the fourth line and was clearly more than a throw-in.

There was the drafting of Seguin, the future first line center who could become the best player of all. That pick of course came because Brian Burke decided Phil Kessel was worth losing two top 10 picks after ’09. Kessel has played exactly zero playoff games since the trade while Seguin already has a Cup.

But perhaps the best move of the offseason was the one Chiarelli didn’t make.

All summer Thomas’ name was mentioned in trade talks after his disappointing ’09-’10 season. Tuukka Rask was the future. Thomas was the past. Move him for a goal-scorer and move on. Well, Chiarelli knew Thomas needed hip surgery and went into the season also knowing he would have two capable goalies. Rask lost the first game of the season in Prague. Thomas won the second. That led to one of the greatest seasons ever for a goaltender, all because Chiarelli kept faith Thomas could do it again.

The beat goes on. I hammered Chiarelli for giving Andrew Ference an extension last year, but he proved to be so rock solid. Chiarelli managed to keep young guys like Krejci and Milan Lucic while knowing Kessel was the right one to move.

Despite not having anything left to prove, Recchi re-signed twice, Chiarelli knowing how important he was to the room. Recchi was the veteran leader who taught everyone how to win. I’d be worried about his void in the room, but I’m confident he’s passed on his best attributes to Chara, Bergeron, Lucic and Seguin so they can be mini-Recchis for the rest of their careers.

Unlike the ’10 Stanley Cup winning Blackhawks, the Bruins are set for continued success. They miraculously find themselves with nearly $9 million in salary cap space with Brad Marchand still to sign. They are stocked in the minors, with Jared Knight, Jordan Caron and Ryan Spooner leading the way. Oh, and they also managed to steal stud Dougie Hamilton with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft, a lean, mean D-man compared heavily to Rob Blake. Thanks again, Burkie.

THE BEST THERE IS

Tim Thomas cemented his legacy as an all-time Boston sports icon with his astounding regular season and incredible run to the Stanley Cup. By now you know the numbers and accolades: his .9382 regular season save percentage was the best in NHL history, combined with his even 2 GAA he earned his second Vezina. In the playoffs, Thomas was equally great with a .940 save percentage and 1.98 GAA as a Conn Smythe shoe-in.

It wasn’t always easy. After losing the first two games to Montreal I blasphemously tweeted that everyone had “tricked themselves into believing Tim Thomas was a goalie that plays well when it matters.” My concern was not unfounded given his scattershot style and, well, this. He also struggled in the Tampa series, allowing at least four goals in four of the games.

But Tim indeed came up big when it mattered. He shut out Game 7s against Tampa and Vancouver. He allowed one or zero goals in 11 of 25 playoff contests. Once the Bruins scored the first goal in Game 7 of the Final, I knew they would not lose, solely because of Thomas. I have never had so much confidence in any player in any situation.

Thomas’ story is part of what makes his meteoric rise so compelling. The Quebec Nordiques took him 217th overall in the ’94 NHL Draft, yet he went on to complete a four-year career with the Vermont Catamounts before the professional journey began in ’97. Over the next five seasons, Thomas would lace up in Finland, Sweden, the East Coast Hockey League, the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League before finally making his NHL debut with the Bruins for four games in ’02-’03.

During the lockout, Thomas went back to Finland, where he dominated SM-liiga, Finland’s top pro league, notching a .946 save percentage and 1.58 GAA in ’04-’05. He was set to return to the league when he was persuaded to come home to play for the Bruins once again.

After winning the Cup, Thomas talked about his past in the post-game press conference. Because of how strong the Finnish league was, and how well he played there, he told the assembled press staying in Finland after the lockout would have suited him fine. He’d have been just as happy staying there for the rest of career as he would have playing in the NHL. (EDIT: He starts talking about this about 1:20 into this clip.)

It was a fascinating sentiment, but given that it came from Thomas, the super-humble family man who could walk away from this at any second and be the exact same guy, I guess it wasn’t altogether surprising.

In this world where we constantly question the dedication or motivation of our sports stars, where the quest for fame and recognition drive the daily debate, Tim Thomas is the kind of guy you feel proud to root for.

Having said that, Thomas is not a goody-two shoes. This play exemplifies Thomas’ aggressiveness on the ice, and stands as the single play by which I will always remember him and the ’10-’11 Bruins:

Game 3 was a must-win. Earlier in the game, Aaron Rome laid one of the dirtiest hits in recent memory on Nathan Horton, running both from the contest and ultimately the series. It was the karmic shift the B’s needed. They exploded for four goals in the second period and turned the game into a physical showdown they would not lose.

The Canucks weren’t going away. Despite their emasculation for 9/10ths of the series, the Sedin sisters were always there, always lurking, always potentially breaking out and taking over as they had so many times before.

About 6:30 into the third, the Sedins were out there in a rare situation where Chara was not, and Seidenberg committed a rare giveaway in front of his own net. Henrik came up with the puck and made a move toward Thomas into the crease. At the last second, the puck trickled to the left where Boychuk was waiting to make a play, although Sedin did manage to get a shot off.

Thomas knew Boychuk could make a play on the puck. That left Thomas to make a play on Henrietta.

Notice Timmy never leaves his crease. By checking Sedin away, he was saying: “No. Not here. Not now. This is my area. You’ll have to shove me back to get this space.” And nobody was more surprised by what happened than Sedin.

Just like how the Canucks must have been surprised at how good the Bruins actually were. Like any great championship team, it started with the goalie. The Bruins scored four more goals that night, winning 8-1, then took three of the next four to win the Cup.

LAST THOUGHTS

Of all the amazing things the ’10-’11 Boston Bruins accomplished, perhaps most amazing was taking a city where hockey had become an afterthought and creating an ice renaissance that could have long-lasting effects. So many kids who looked up to Ortiz and Brady and Pierce now look up to Chara and Bergeron and Thomas.

They want to pass and create like Krejci. They want to lead and score like Lucic. They want to bruise like Thornton, shoot like Boychuk, grind like Campbell and race like Seguin.

They want to come together with their hockey brethren and experience 1/10th of the chemistry, brotherhood and togetherness that created an unlikely champion.

Like the Patriots who demanded to be introduced as a team, the Red Sox who never stopped despite impossible odds and the Celtics who rallied around the African allegiance concept of ubuntu, these Bruins won together. Perhaps Thomas and the Chara/Seidenberg pairing led the way, but the team won because everyone made a difference.

Will we ever see anything like this again? Well, I guess that’s why we watch. Because we hope we might. We hope our teams will bring us the kind of joy and excitement this team brought New England.