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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Red Sox Reboot Creates Many Questions

Boston Red Sox fans have agitated for the better part of the 2012 season for the team to facilitate major change as a way to address their disappointing play since the end of last year. News reports of a completed earth shattering trade suggest that the front office has finally heeded those wishes. Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto have been jettisoned to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a raft of A- to B+ level prospects (Rubby De La Rosa, Jerry Sands, Allen Webster, and Ivan De Jesus) and veteran first baseman James Loney, making it the most significant trade in terms of money in baseball history. The Red Sox are expected to send back only a fraction of the remaining money owed to the departing players, making it a textbook salary dump. This trade is the equivalent of the Red Sox hitting the reset button and make their immediate and distant futures complete unknowns and fraught with questions.

What will Boston do with all their newfound money?: The Red Sox are shedding a little over a quarter of a billion dollars in previously committed money. The ownership group, already known for their deep pockets, will have unexpected flexibility heading into the off-season. The natural urge would be to leap back into the fray and spend, spend, spend, to get back to instant contention, but the question must be asked, is that really the wisest move?

The two marquee free agents this off-season will be pitcher Zach Greinke and outfielder Josh Hamilton. Both are fantastic players, but also come with well-documented off-field issues that would seemingly make them horrible fits in the Boston sports scene potboiler. It is widely assumed both Greinke and Hamilton are better suited for smaller market teams, which would dim any spotlight that might derail their production. Certainly there are other players to be had, but emerging from their team chemistry disaster, it will be interesting to see if the Red Sox go for an instant rebuild or bide their time in finding the right players to make their next run at October glory.

Will free agents even want to come to Boston?: With all the drama surrounding the Red Sox this past season, it’s hard to imagine the team is a destination spot for many free agents. While they may have plenty of money to splash around, sometimes a player’s  decision whether or not to sign with a team comes down to small details like comfort and fit. Over the past two decades Peter Angelos and his dysfunctional Baltimore Orioles proved that simply having money to spend wasn’t a panacea and there is a good likelihood that the debacle Boston descended into could put them in a similar position.

Anyone with a television or a smart phone has seen Boston players thrown under the bus by the manager (Kevin Youkilis), shredded by fans and media (Crawford, Beckett and John Lackey), and constantly injected into soap opera-worthy storyline (essentially the entire 2012 team; right down to the bat boys). For the Red Sox money to mean anything they are going to have to repair their reputation, which has fallen into near disrepair.

Clearing copious amounts of cash off their books won’t help the Red Sox if they can’t alter their current reputation of being the baseball version of Days of Our Lives. They would be best served to hand over player leadership roles to Dustin Pedroia and Cody Ross, who both have a rare blend of a gritty playing style and infectious fun loving likeability. They are as apt to run through a brick wall for their teammates as they are to Saran Wrap their cars in the players’ parking lot. Believe it or not, guys like that can make a big difference when it comes to recruiting players.

What about the coaching staff and front office?: The trade will clear a lot of dead wood in the form of lackadaisical players and exorbitant contracts, the coaching staff and front office needs a similar purge. Now that some of Theo Epstein’s biggest albatrosses are on their way out of town, new GM Ben Cherington deserves a chance to show what he can do with roster and financial flexibility. This won’t be possible unless he can stop being the eunuch of team President Larry Lucchino, who is widely thought to be pulling many of the puppet strings once Epstein departed for greener pastures and deep dish pizza. Lucchino, notorious for his massive ego, isn’t going anywhere, so it will be incumbent on Cherington to be resourceful and have his voice heard. It’s unclear as to who orchestrated this trade, but given its impressive magnitude, signs are positive that the front office is finally starting to work cohesively.

It’s also hard to imagine the Red Sox moving forward without a major change to their coaching staff. Bobby Valentine has taken the lion’s share of the blame for this season, but it seems like the entire staff has contributed to the toxicity. Recently deposed pitching coach Bob McClure and Valentine had about respect for each other as a dog and a fire hydrant. Bullpen coach Gary Tuck is also said to similarly incommunicado with his skipper. It’s clear that this unit is one that needs to be blown up if the team is to take positive steps forward. At this point their jobs should all be fair game. Valentine isn’t the dynamic type of manager that the team should tie itself too. If the team wants to be able to attract free agents, Valentine has to be sent out of town on a rail. The dream scenario would be luring Tony LaRussa out of retirement. His pedigree and ability to attract talent wanting to play for him would be the quickest way to create a fresh attitude and scene in Boston.

There is a new world order in Red Sox Nation. Where hope once seemed like a distant memory, new possibilities now abound. However, be cautioned that the change is in the air doesn’t mean there are any guarantees. The Red Sox have decided to take an unexpected turn down an unknown path, and only time will tell if it leads them to where they want to go.


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