Without a single spring training game yet being played, it is apparent that all is not well in Red Sox Nation. A franchise that became synonymous with stability and efficiency has disintegrated into chaos and uncertainty over the past six months. Despite numerous changes meant to address the disastrous way the 2011 season ended, 2012 already looks murky, with no ready solutions or explanations in sight.
One of the strangest areas of concern for the Red Sox is their front office, which appears to have lost its mojo practically overnight. It is convenient to associate this with the departure of boy wonder GM Theo Epstein, but there has to be more to it than that. The ownership group, team president, and handpicked GM successor Ben Cherington, are all intimately familiar with the way business has been run for the past decade, so there should be no excuse for their sudden lack of effectiveness.
The botched compensation negotiations with the Chicago Cubs for allowing them to sign Epstein was the first sign of trouble. Even the most inexperienced businessman would want something more concrete in place besides a generic agreement of “significant compensation” before allowing an asset to exchange hands. Had the Red Sox stuck to their guns, they could have turned Epstein into a real return. The Cubs were so desperate to land him as part of a franchise makeover, that if held to the fire would have handed over a handsome dowry. Failing to lock in a more detailed agreement, the Red Sox ended up with oft-injured, but hard throwing Chris Carpenter, whose best case scenario is as a useful bullpen piece. So much for significant compensation.
The front office/owners have also suddenly decided that money is an issue. To be fair, even the most pessimistic Red Sox fan would be hard pressed to cry poverty with the 2012 payroll scheduled to be north of $140 million. However, when chasing the likes of the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, and suddenly spendy Detroit Tigers, money is a necessity and never seemed to be a problem before during the John Henry era. Lately, the Red Sox have indicated that they do have limits, stories have circulated about Henry’s shoveling of cash into his Premier League soccer team, and the team even resorted to trading its starting shortstop for 10 cents on the dollar as a last-ditch effort to find financial relief.
A major reason for John Henry’s previous effectiveness as an owner was the way he stayed in the background and always made the story about the team and the players; never himself. This has all changed with his bizarre micro aggressions towards Carl Crawford, the man he is helping pay $142 million through 2017. Crawford endured a miserable first season in Boston, but is well known for his pride and work ethic, making a repeat of 2011 unlikely. He cares; a commodity Boston fans were left to believe lacked from the rest of the team after “Beer and Chicken-Gate.”
For some reason Henry decided doing a George Steinbrenner impersonation would be a good idea and publically stated that he was against signing Crawford because it would make the team too left-handed. While the logic of that statement makes sense in baseball terms, such actions have no benefit. Crawford was obviously disappointed with how his season went, and a front office turning on its players is noticed by others- those already on the team and prospective free agents- and not in a good way. Henry’s sentiments were irrelevant because after pen was put to paper, Crawford became a Red Sox player for the next seven seasons, for better or for worse.
For his part, Crawford has handled Henry’s public show of non-support well so far, telling reporters, "I can't do nothing about what he said, just go out and play. It was unfortunate that he said that. I wasn't happy about it, and a little surprised. It's unfortunate he feels that way." If anybody thinks this will go away; they’re nuts. These are Pandora boxes that can’t be closed once they have been opened.
It has also become apparent that despite the vast quantities of money the Red Sox have splashed out, the team lacks a true veteran leader. The media has reported that Crawford prefers to lead by example, Adrian Gonzalez is not a vocal guy, and Dustin Pedroia is as likely to place a whoopee cushion under your seat as he is to give a rah-rah speech. Kevin Youkilis’ intensity often grates on his teammates, Jacoby Ellsbury’s dedication has been questioned by teammates, and Josh Beckett massively failed at leading last year. The roster has as much talent as any other team in baseball, but they don’t have the leadership that helps create cohesion and contributes to realizing their full potential.
Many people are focused on the Red Sox roster shortcomings. Sure, a better shortstop and another quality starting pitcher or two would be great, but the team has other problems that are more pressing. It feels like they have lost their way and there is no clear map on how they can restore the brilliance they experienced during the past decade. A team with the talent and resources of the Red Sox should not portend such doom and gloom before the season even starts, but here we are. With any luck there will be more answers than questions moving forward, but right now that doesn’t appear to be the case, and in the meantime the Boston Zoo is in full effect.
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