The Red Sox need fixing. With their 49-50 record alone, that much is obvious. Yet the stench in Boston extends beyond the team’s sub .500 record and its spot in the American League East basement. This is a ballclub in need of a dramatic change in culture.
Coined one of the best teams ever assembled by the Boston Herald before the first pitch of the 2010 season was thrown, the Red Sox owned the best record in baseball when last September arrived. Then the team seemed destined for the World Series did not even make the playoffs after a monumental collapse that saw it squander a nine-game lead over Tampa Bay for the American League wild card spot.
The subsequent firestorm featured the departure of longtime manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein, and produced news of starting pitchers eating fried chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse on days they were not pitching instead of supporting their teammates in the dugout.
Instead of cutting ties with culprits like Josh Beckett (who along with John Lackey, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz drew the ire of Boston media members because of “chicken and beer gate”) and Kevin Youkilis (who media reports indicate was the source who leaked the “chicken and beer gate” story), both players returned and the Red Sox added the combative personality of Bobby Valentine to replace Francona.
Media reports indicate that most Red Sox players either dislike Valentine, or tolerate him. Saddled with injuries and in the midst of tension with his manager, Youkilis was traded to the White Sox. Most of Red Sox Nation would like Beckett to be the next player shown the door, and many of the same fans would tell you that Valentine can join him.
Though the Red Sox are still in contention for a wild card spot, at 49-50 they have shown few signs that they are capable of mounting a prolonged winning streak. The fact that Boston is 13-24 in games that Beckett and Lester start is a key reason why. The Red Sox need Beckett and Lester to serve as reliable top of the rotation arms.
Instead, they are the weak links in a rotation that also features Clay Buchholz (who has logged a 1.77 ERA in three starts since the All-Star break after an atrocious first half), Aaron Cook (who has a 3.50 ERA and has pitched well since returning from the disabled list) and 24-year-old rookie left-hander Felix Doubront (who is 10-5 with a 4.54 ERA and leads the team in wins).
Since it appears that the Red Sox will not make the playoffs for the third consecutive season, it is time to make changes with the roster where possible. Rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks, David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are the lone core players who will undoubtedly return next season. Ortiz will be a free agent, but the Red Sox will make every effort to retain him.
Though Lester allowed a career-high 11 runs in his last start and is having the worst season in his career, he is still just 28, under affordable team control and when right, he is one of the better left handers in the game. The Red Sox are unlikely to deal him, nor will they trade the soon-to-be 28-year-old Buchholz, who has top of the rotation potential.
The Red Sox have some talented core players and an array of promising prospects who are either major league ready or near major league ready. Instead of making a trade deadline move designed to contend this season, here is what the Red Sox should do to prepare for a World Series run in 2013 and beyond:
- Trade Beckett. This will require eating some of Beckett’s remaining contract, which pays him $15.75 a year through 2014. It will be worth it. Call it addition by subtraction. Because of Beckett’s track record as a successful starter most seasons when he has been healthy, the Sox could get useful prospects in return. Who they get is irrelevant at this point. Like it was with Youkilis, it is time for Beckett to pull on a different team’s uniform to improve the culture in Boston.
- Sell high on Mike Aviles, Aaron Cook and Kelly Shoppach. All three players would bring value to a contending team. Aviles is a run producer at shortstop, and the Red Sox have 22-year-old defensive whiz Jose Iglesias waiting at Triple-A Pawtucket. Since Lackey will return next season fully recovered from Tommy John surgery (and lugging an albatross of a contract that lasts through 2014), there is no room for Cook with the presence of Lester, Buchholz and Doubront. Cook’s trademark sinker looks good, and there are planty of teams who can insert him into their rotation. Shoppach hits left handers well and he is a solid defensive backup catcher. The Red Sox have 24-year-old power-hitting catcher Ryan Lavarnway at Pawtucket, and he will join Saltalamacchia next season at the latest. Why not inject some life into the listless Red Sox roster by giving Iglesias and Lavarnway playing time? Cook can be replaced by 26-year-old left-hander Franklin Morales, who wants to start and was impressive in a short stint before returning to the bullpen recently.
- Shape the bullpen for next season. Alfredo Aceves is under affordable team control, and he is one of the most versatile relievers in the game. He is likely better suited as a set-up man than a closer. Ditto for Daniel Bard, whose move to the rotation was a disaster but is showing signs of regaining confidence and command at Pawtucket. Aceves and Bard will be ideal set-up men for Andrew Bailey, who will soon start a rehab assignment after injuring his thumb in spring training.
- Do not trade Ryan Kalish and Cody Ross. Outfielders like Ryan Sweeney and Daniel Nava are expendable and one or both could be traded soon. Kalish is 24 and could earn the starting right field job next season. He is hitting well at Pawtucket and deserves playing time with the Red Sox again this season. Ross has 16 home runs and is one of the team’s few productive right-handed bats. His swing is perfect for Fenway Park, he seems to like playing in Boston and he would be an asset next season when the team expects to be a contender again.
- Fire Valentine, if not now, then after the season. The Valentine experiment has not worked out. It is not his fault that the Red Sox have one of the worst starting rotations in the majors, but his lack of communication with players, and his inability to get along with just about anyone, makes him part of the problem. The clubhouse culture will get better when Beckett and Valentine are cut loose.
Do not mistake the Red Sox for the Cubs. They have the core players, the top prospects and the money to build a legitimate World Series contender for 2013.
This year is just not proceeding as planned, just like the end of 2011. The Red Sox roster needs reshaped, and negative influences like Beckett and Valentine need to be removed.
Then – and only then – will Boston continue playing when the regular season ends.