Bloody Sox

Red Sox Rants — and other random opinions about sports

The disentheofication of the Red Sox

If reports are correct, the Boston Red Sox will be making a whopper of a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers today, trading Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto for a grab bag of prospects (and James Loney). If this happens, today will be the best day for the Red Sox since they last clinched a World Series (2007). Making that statement is enough of an indictment of the way this team has been managed, I suppose. But I won’t leave it there.

Theo Epstein almost destroyed the Red Sox before he fled town for the ivy covered walls of Wrigley Field and the Chicago Cubs, hampering them with fat, long-term contracts for underperforming players. I truly thought it would take years before the Sox would be able to right the ship, but it looks as if Ben Cherington might just have made the deal of the decade. That doesn’t mean I am happy to see Adrian Gonzalez go. He could never, of course, live up to his contract. But he is an excellent first baseman, and he is a solid, middle-of-the-order hitter. Still, the Sox need to free up the money for his salary to plug other holes.

Carl Crawford showed signs of becoming the player he once was with Tampa Bay before deciding to get Tommy John surgery earlier this month. He too, however, could never be worth the $20 plus million the Sox owed him for the next five seasons.

As for Beckett, well good riddance.

So now Ben Cherington will have some payroll flexibility to mold this team into his own vision. I hope and expect he’ll not follow in the arrogant footsteps of his friend and mentor, Theo Epstein. That means a return to relying on prospects and making smart free agent signings, not because you CAN dole out tons of money, but because you’re filling a real need with a reliable player. Whether or not he is able to do this remains to be seen. But now at least he has that chance.

No pitchforks

Someone is going to have to explain to me what exactly it is that the Boston Red Sox players did that is so bad.

Earlier this week the intrepid Jeff Passan got a few people to not go on the record to tell the story of a meeting players had with ownership. Oooo. That’s dreadful!

Tell me one other job in America where you can’t talk with the person signing your paycheck.

From the frothing at the mouth I’ve heard on MLB Radio (normally a fairly level-headed media outlet), you’d think the players stormed the castle carrying pitchforks and torches, demanding Bobby Valentine’s head.

Nothing is further from the truth, of course. Even Passan’s story makes that clear. Someone, probably Adrian Gonzalez, texted ownership (as the players are invited to do) with concern about how Bobby Valentine handled a rough outing by Jon Lester. This prompted owner John Henry to invite the players to meet with him to discuss the issue. This meeting was held on an off day, yet 17 players went to it. That’s how important it was to the players. They aired their grievances and went back to playing ball (admittedly not very well). This is how mature organizations behave. Where’s the controversy?

Passan reported that some players said they couldn’t play for Bobby Valentine anymore. Okay, who are those players? The meeting took place almost three weeks ago and I’m unaware of any players quitting. The supposed ringleaders, Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez, are still playing and in fact playing well. Gonzalez was recently named AL player of the week.

Again I ask, what’s the problem here? Why are we making such a big deal of this? The players had their chance to discuss issues with ownership, back to business. They had put this behind themselves until Passan dug it up.

Some feel, I guess, that players should be loyal to a manager no matter what, and that loyalty extends to NEVER talking with anyone but the manager. Seriously? Is that how it works at your job? Is that how you’d want it? If you think your supervisor is abusing your colleagues, is making decisions that hurt your business, you mean to tell me you would not talk to HIS/HER boss? If that’s the case, you’re an idiot. And a bad employee.

Beyond all this, how the Red Sox handle THEIR business is… THEIR BUSINESS.

The only thing that matters is the play on the field. You want to criticize the Red Sox for that, I’m with you.

Defending the fans

Last night, Josh Beckett removed himself from the Red Sox/Tigers game in the third inning. In the rainy ballpark, his back had begun to spasm and he had walked in a run. As he walked off the mound, Beckett was showered with a rain of boos from the crowd on hand. Today, Boston.com sports reporter Pete Abraham takes these fans to task for booing an injured athlete, and reminding Sox fans of what Beckett has contributed to the team the past seven seasons.

I agree with Pete, fans should not boo Beckett or any other athlete for an injury. But, of course, that’s not why the fans were booing. They were having a collective gut reaction to an unlikeable player, one who regularly makes it known he doesn’t care what the fans think. Beckett was part of the chicken and bear brigade last year. Remember the September collapse when Beckett appeared to be out of shape and regularly provided sub-par performances when his team needed him most. When chicken-gate was outed to the public, instead of being contrite, Beckett was belligerent and seemed mostly to only care about who snitched on him. Then, earlier in this season, Beckett had to skip a start due to stiffness or some such ailment, only to have it revealed that the day before his skipped start, he was playing golf. His performances this year have been extremely inconsistent, crossing into terrible on at least a few starts. Not only that, he’s surly and he may even have contributed in a small way to the trading away of Kevin Youkilis.

So the fans booed Josh Beckett, not the injury. Not the right thing to do in the circumstance, but nevertheless understandable  (don’t forget the fans were getting rained on too and they couldn’t dry off in the dugout between innings).

Pete Abraham tells us that Beckett has been an elite pitcher in the league, which we should appreciate. And we should. Although the Sox couldn’t get any of the other 29 clubs to make a trade for Beckett, so maybe he’s not as valuable as Pete implies.

But this is beside the point. Fans by definition are not logical in the way Pete asks us to be. In fact, the last thing Pete or anyone else whose living depends upon professional sports should want is rational fans. What happens to the Red Sox does not put food on my table or money in my checking account. Materially a Red Sox win is no more meaningful to me than some guy in Pecoima finding a plastic ring in his box of Cracker Jacks. Being fans costs us. It costs us money. It costs us time. It costs us heart ache, and we get nothing tangible back for our passion. Nothing but the ingratitude of the spoiled athletes who get wealthy from our fanaticism.

If we fans were rational, we would not spend hundreds of dollars taking our families to games. We wouldn’t spend precious time reading meaningless articles about meaningless athletes. We wouldn’t dole out $100 for an uncomfortable “authentic” jersey with Beckett’s name on it. We wouldn’t waste three-plus hours every evening listening to Joe Castiglione call the game on the radio.

Fans actually die at ballparks trying to get a souvenir baseballs for their kids.

No, fans are not rational. And if they were Pete Abraham and Josh Beckett would both be working in different fields. Because no one would go to the ballpark, no one would read the sports section. In fact, there wouldn’t be a ballpark or a sports section. What would Josh Beckett be doing if fans were rational and didn’t waste so much time and money supporting him and his team? He’d probably be selling cars or in some other occupation that would actually require him to be nice, and to care about what his customers thought of him. He’d smile and say, “thank you.” Either that, or he’d be on the bread line.

But fans are not rational. In Boston they’ve demonstrated their crazy support, spending their hard-earned money to sell out Fenway Park for over 750 games in a row.

And we really don’t ask for much. Just make us think you enjoy the game. That you appreciate us. That you understand how lucky you are to be making millions of dollars playing a game. If you do that, we’ll love you no matter what. Just ask Mike Lowell or Trot Nixon. But if you can’t be bothered to do that, then don’t be surprised if we boo.

Should Josh Beckett have been booed last night? No. But you might as well ask should the fans even have been AT the ballpark in the first place?

Boston.com reruns Sox wins to bolster GM’s delusions

I saw this photo and headline on Boston.com’s Red Sox page today:

Unfortunately, this big win for the Red Sox came nine days ago. But you’ll notice the little story under the EXTRA BASES heading in the right column about general manager Ben Cherington’s insistence that the Red Sox will be buyers at this year’s trade dealine, despite the fact that they are behind at least half a dozen other teams for the last playoff spot. Apparently Boston.com is running reruns of Red Sox victories in order to keep Cherington’s glasses rosie.

 

Another Nick Cafardo love letter to Bobby V.

Nick Cafardo definitely has a crush on Bobby Valentine. He’s been Bobby’s biggest booster since even before Valentine was hired to manage the 2012 Boston Red Sox, shucking aside any claim to journalistic integrity in the process. The latest love letter from Nick to Bobby is the perfect specimen.

In Cafardo’s world, Bobby Valentine never makes mistakes, and if he occasionally says or does something that doesn’t work out it is just Bobby’s way:

If Valentine started up the Youk issue all over again Sunday, so be it. He actually doesn’t mind stirring the pot.

He’s refering to comments Bobby made yesterday, implying that the prickly relationship he had with Youk was all due to Kevin’s thin skin. Earlier in the season, Valentine publicly criticized Youkilis for lacking commitment. Youkilis and other players, notably Dustin Pedroia, naturally took exception to those remarks. According to Cafardo:

Youkilis, who returns to Boston Monday with the White Sox, never seemed to get over Valentine’s comment about him and held it against the Red Sox manager, who said as much before Sunday’s 7-3 win over the Rays and may have restarted the Youk Wars.

Notice that Cafardo says Youkilis “seemed” to not have gotten over the issue and the only evidence cited by Nick is Valentine. This is basically a one-sided view of the whole affair. But the question is not whether Youk got over the comments or not; it is whether he felt he could trust a manager.

Cafardo defends the trade of Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox as the right move, making the case that it was simply a matter of choosing young Will Middlebrooks over the all-star Youkilis. Look, I agree and argued even before the trade that Middlebrooks should be starting over Kevin Youkilis. But I do not buy that this was a Middlebrooks vs. Youkilis question. Youkilis has always been a team player. He would not have liked being the back up corner infielder, but he would have accepted that role if he had a manager he could trust.

It was Bobby Valentine who made this trade necessary with his stupid public comments. I wouldn’t have minded the trade so much if they’d actually gotten something valuable in return. But what the Red Sox got is the opportunity to play (career .212 hitting) Brent Lillibridge and (career .247 hitting) Nick Punto for injured Gonzalez and Middlebrooks. And the added bonus of paying 80% of Youk’s salary to hit home runs for a team the Red Sox are competing with for a playoff spot. I find it very hard to believe Ben Cherington would have made that deal if Bobby Valentine hadn’t “stirred the pot.”

But you can’t tell that to Nick Cafardo. Love is blind, you know.

Good bye, Youk.

Kevin Youkilis

It’s a sorrowful day for Red Sox Nation, although if you read the media accounts you could be forgiven if you thought the Sox had actually won the lottery when they traded Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox yesterday. I beg to differ.

Leave it to the Red Sox front office to trade a player one year removed from the All-Star squad to a team they may be vying with for a playoff berth. And did they save money in this deal? A whopping $1 million (which may be a lot to me, but is shoe scrapings to the Red Sox). Did they get some good young prospects? Nope. Just an oft-traded pitching bust, and a marginal utility player.

And why did they make this trade? Because it was easier than actually talking with Youk about a new, reduced roll with the team: super pinch-hitter, reliable and capable back up at first and third base, and credible DH against tough left-handed pitchers.

Would he have liked this roll? No. But if nothing else, Youk has demonstrated an admirable willingness to put the team’s interests ahead of his own. He rode the bus back and forth to Pawtuckett several times early in his career. He played third, then moved to first when that served the team. He played the outfield when it was in the best interests of the team to put David Ortiz at first. He moved back to third base to make way for Adrian Gonzalez. Somehow I think he would have managed to transition to a new roll if someone in the organization had said to him, “Youk, we need you on this team, and here is what we need you to do.” But by accounts that didn’t happen. What did happen is his new manager publicly questions his work ethic and commitment.

Kevin Youkilis is the epitome of everything you want in a professional athlete. He is an intense, hard-worker who put everything into being better than anyone ever projected he’d be. In my view he will always be one of the ten greatest Red Sox.

This whole episode, from start to finish, is one more reason I’m sceptical that Ben Cherington has what it takes to really be a successful GM. The right outcome here was to keep the All Star on your roster, or at least get something of actual value in return. Instead Cherington took the expedient route out of this problem, trading Youk to a playoff rival for a virtual box of balls. I guess we should be grateful he didn’t include Daniel Bard and the promise of a year’s worth of free washes for Kenny Williams‘ car.

Anyway, I wish the best to Kevin. I suspect he’s going to make even the dopes in the Red Sox front office regret this move before the end of the season.

Francona tells Red Sox to kiss his ass

Terry Francona

Okay, Terry Francona didn’t really say that (at least to my knowledge). But he did decline their invitation to the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, also known as the “how can we milk more money out of this miserable team?” event.

A year ago the Red Sox were the model of a modern, well-run sports franchise. At least from the outside looking in. The truth was something much different. By the end of September, Terry Francona the only Red Sox manager in living memory to win a World Series title (which he did twice, of course) was let go, then thrown under the bus by the team, smeared in the pages of the Boston Globe. He was followed out the door by Theo Epstein — much less of a loss to the organization. Then came a surreal winter:

  • The new GM, Ben Cherington, was publicly embarrassed by the front office when his choice of new manager was summarily rejected and he had to pretend to go along with the hiring of Bobby Valentine.
  • They lost the best closer in team history when Jonathan Papelbon signed with the Phillies.
  • They pretended to replace Papelbon with Andrew Bailey, a closer with a history of injury problems they got for cheap from the Oakland A’s.
  • The throw away player added to the deal by the A’s, Ryan Sweeney, is the Red Sox starting right fielder — and (at least so far) seems the best part of that trade for the Sox.
  • They did nothing serious to build starting rotation depth, which was their biggest issue in 2011. And what they did do, moving Daniel Bard to the rotation, only weakened their bullpen further.
  • They traded their starting short stop and installed a Kansas City Royals reject in his place.
  • When Jason Varitek was forced to retire, they lost all his knowledge and experience. They replaced him with perpetual journeyman Kelly Shoppach, who has already demonstrated why the Tampa Bay Rays didn’t want to re-sign him.
  • They could not come to terms with the White Sox on compensation for the Red Sox giving permission to Theo Epstein to take their front office job. Instead they were “awarded” a fringe pitcher with a bad arm by the commissioner.

In short, the team is now a joke. And they had the arrogance to think Terry Francona would come back to help them make money off of us gullible fans. When Francona left, it seems he took all this organization’s integrity with him.

The start of a long season?

Yesterday’s 3-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers was painful. The Sox bullpen squandered a terrific outing from Jon Lester and a gutsy comeback in the 9th inning by the offense. And it feels like a harbinger of the year to come.

The 2012 Red Sox have a nice core of great players, but the rest of the team has been put together with bailing wire in an economy move to keep the team under the luxury tax. This may prove to be necessary to keep the team competitive in future seasons, but it is sure to make this a frustrating season.

And, of course, it all stems from stupid free agent signings by the boy genius Theo Epstein. Right now the Red Sox have over $50 million in payroll from Theo’s free agents sitting on the disabled list:

  • John Lackey (about $16 million)
  • Carl Crawford (about $20 million)
  • Bobby Jenks ($6 million)
  • Dice-K ($10 million)

Sadly, however, most of those players, even if they were in uniform, would not improve this team. That’s how unfortunate those signings  are.

But let me propose that Theo’s worst free agent signing was Mike Cameron after the 2009 season. Forget the $15.5 million Cameron was paid for less than 250 at bats over the parts of two seasons. Theo signed Mike Cameron to play center field because Theo didn’t have enough confidence in Jacoby Ellsbury to field that position. Ellsbury moved to left field, had a notable collision with Adrian Beltre that caused him to miss most of the 2010 season. Had Ells been playing center, that collision would not have happened and it is likely he would have had a very good season, perhaps not yet the MVP-caliber season he had in 2011, but still very good. Imagine that. Then ask yourself if Theo would have signed Carl Crawford the following off-season to an idiotic long-term deal worth over $20 million per year, a move that is certain to mean the Red Sox will not have the cash flexibility to keep Ellsbury once he reaches free agency.

I used to think that Theo Epstein was a good general manager, just not the boy wonder he was originally made out to be. But now I’m thinking that he was a sub-par GM who had the crutch of a big payroll and a little luck on his side. He has certainly left a wreck of a team in his wake, one hampered with too many bad contracts and a farm system that hasn’t contributed a single useable player since Clay Buchholz came up.

At the trading deadline last year Theo needed to add a solid pitcher to the rotation. Quick. Who was it that he traded for? If you can’t remember, you’re not alone. A couple of weeks ago, I was amused listening to an interview with the Mariners GM who was talking about the two pitchers he traded away last summer. He mentioned Doug Fister going to the Tigers, but then couldn’t recall that he’d also traded Erik Bedard to the Red Sox. Bedard went 1-2 in 38 innings of work for Boston before going on the DL, not very memorable.

Maybe Ben Cherington will out shine his mentor, but so far I’m unimpressed. His two “shrewd” moves this off-season were his trades for Andrew Bailey from the Oakland A’s and Mark Melancon from the Astros. Right now neither of those moves seems shrewd at all, as the oft injured Bailey is on the DL and Melancon lost yesterday’s game and didn’t look too good in spring training. Of course, it is still very, very early. Melancon might pick up his game and Bailey may return from thumb surgery in the summer to anchor a revitalized bullpen. I just am not that confident in hanging my hopes on “might.”

 

Recipe for Disaster

The Boston Red Sox will open the regular season in under two weeks, but it seems that the organization is not all on the same page regarding its goals and direction. It all goes back to last year, when there was a clear schism between new GM Ben Cherington and team president Larry Lucchino about who should be the manager. Lucchino won the day and the club hired Bobby Valentine. Now you don’t hire Bobby V. unless you are going to make a serious playoff run. They gave him only a two-year contract, so you know the pressure is on him to win now by fixing the clubhouse and getting the most from his talented players.

But Ben Cherington spent the winter putting into place modest pieces, and not even bothering to seriously address the team’s three biggest issues: the 4th and 5th starting pitchers and right field. Then he trades his starting shortstop in a salary dump in which he gets virtually nothing back. Does all that sound like a GM who expects to win this year? Not to me. It sounds like a GM who wants to start getting his ducks in a row for the future — and I have no argument with that. It’s just that I don’t think anyone bothered to tell Bobby V.

Now there is controversy about whether or not the Sox should start the season with young Jose Iglesias as their shortstop. Iglesias is by all accounts a whiz with the glove. It’s his bat that’s questioned. Cherington seems to want to let Jose season some more in the minors, while Valentine is pushing to have him take the field as one of the starting nine. If your goal is to win this year, then Iglesias has to be your shortstop. The Red Sox biggest issue last year was that the starting pitching didn’t go deep enough into games, which taxed the bullpen and left them flailing around when it mattered most in September. Iglesias at short helps the pitchers. And it isn’t like he is competing with Cal Ripken for the job. Mike Aviles couldn’t break into the Royals starting lineup. If you’re telling me the Red Sox offense is going to need his bat, I’m going to have trouble not laughing in your face.

Ask anyone in the Red Sox organization what the goal for any year is and you’ll be told it is to win the World Series. They’ll never admit to rebuilding or retooling, because they don’t want to lose their lovely string of sell outs. But in fact all the evidence points to the idea that Cherington doesn’t believe this team can win this year, so he’s looking to the future. I’m just not so sure anyone else int he organization knows this. Certainly Bobby Valentine doesn’t seem to be on the same page as Ben, and that means something is going to have to give. As Larry Lucchino has already hung his young GM out to dry, I suspect Ben Cherington is in for a long first year on the job — if he makes it that far.

“I was just being a teammate”

Jason Varitek announced his retirement from baseball yesterday. The long-time catcher and team captain will be missed on the field more than some pundits will acknowledge. At his retirement ceremony yesterday, Varitek got emotional when seeing all his teammates who came out to celebrate his career. He talked about how hard it is to walk away from the players he has played the game with.

When asked by the Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy about the iconic moment from his career when he smite Alex Rodriguez in a 2004 game against the Yankees, Varitek answered by saying, “I was just being a teammate.”

That is the perfect legacy for Jason Varitek.

Varitek was offered jobs with other teams, but like Tim Wakefield, Jason wanted to end his career as a Red Sox. That feels like an old fashioned sentiment, but one I greatly appreciate. That’s why Jason Varitek has transcended the measure of his career statistics and is one of the truly great Red Sox players of all time.

Thank you, Jason, for giving us 15 years of thrills — not to mention two World Series championships and four no hitters.

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