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Time was ripe to change Sox

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  January 20, 2010 08:45 AM

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So OPS and run production have given way to UZR and defense, raising the question of whether the Red Sox are better or worse. But look at the bright side. Baseball in Boston just got interesting again.

The rest of the sports world is preparing for the AFC and NFC championship games this weekend, but here in New England we already rest in the wasteland of deep winter. Truth be told, the next truly meaningful game played by a Boston sports team will not take place until spring, when baseball begins anew and the NHL beginsits postseason. This is the problem when every pro team in town begins its year with championship goals.

Here and now – from the Patriots and Red Sox to the Celtics and Bruins – making the playoffs is not fulfilling enough anymore. We know too much. We treat the playoffs like a forgone conclusion and save for those all-important 16 Sundays from September through December, the regular season has been all but completely devalued.

All of this brings us to the Red Sox, who have undergone significant change since we saw them implode against the Los Angeles Angels at Fenway Park in October. Spring training is now less than a month away. The Red Sox have brought in John Lackey, Marco Scutaro, Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron, among others, and there are now more questions about the team than there have been since the spring of 2007.

Can they win it all? That is hardly a question we need to answer now. (But if you're asking for snapshot evaluation, the temporary answer is no.) Still, general manager Theo Epstein has shown both a willingness and proficiency to improve the Red Sox during the season, and if the last 10 years in Boston sports have taught us anything, it is this: It's not how you start. It's how you finish.

That said, purely with regard with entertainment value, let's be honest. The Red Sox were starting to get a little stale. Save for the Manny Ramirez/Jason Bay exchange – a decision based on business as much as (or more than) anything else – the Sox effectively have played the last three seasons with the same nucleus that Epstein built during the winter of 2006-07. That team won a title right out of the gate. Television ratings have since spun back as surely as the Sox have regressed, suggesting some level of complacency – with the Red Sox, it is all relative, of course – that did not previously exist.

Translation: The Sox needed to shake things up a little. Most of us would have preferred to see them do that by keeping Bay or replacing him with Matt Holliday while adding Lackey and someone like Adrian Gonzalez, but Epstein has months to keep adding pieces. Nobody ever said the renovations had to be done by March.

So what do we have here? Good question. This is all going to take some time to evaluate, which is at least a small part of the beauty. We have a reason to watch again. A year ago at this time, there wasn't a person on the planet who could have predicted that the Red Sox would take the field in early 2010 with Lackey pitching to Victor Martinez, backed up by Scutaro, Beltre, and Cameron. In the last six months, the Red Sox have ripped out the spinal cord of their defense as thoroughly as the Patriots have, bringing in a new catcher, shortstop, and center fielder, not to mention a front-end starter.

Again, let's take a moment to acknowledge that recent Red Sox success has spoiled us. In the last seven years, the Sox have made six playoff appearances and been to four American League Championship Series while winning two world titles. Last year, the season didn't even really start until the trading deadline. The Red Sox (and most all of us) were so confident in their ability to contend that John Smoltz was signed almost exclusively for the stretch run, regardless of whether the move panned out.

The point is that come September and October, we expected the Red Sox to be there. And they were.

Last week, for those who put stock in such things, an estimated 500 attended the annual Boston Baseball Writers dinner, an event that might have drawn a crowd nearly three times that size as recently as five years ago. For all intents and purposes, Boston has not seen that kind of offseason apathy since the major league work stoppage of 1994-95. Lest anyone think the drop was all related to "the economy," most anyone here would tell you that the Red Sox are recession-proof.

Several years ago, when John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino took over the Red Sox, they assured us that change was good. With regard to the 2010 season, there is still no way to know whether the Red Sox have changed for the better – and some of us have our doubts – but the proof, as always, will be in the product.

At least now we get the adventure of finding out exactly what that is.

Tony's Top 5

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5
The final chapter on Teixeira and How Red Sox pitchers work the strike zone Jan. 7, 2009 and July 17, 2009. Some actual reporting – an obsession with Mark Teixeira and the art of pitching.
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For 2011 Red Sox, there was plenty of blame to go around Oct. 1, 2011. The disgraceful collapse of the Red Sox stoked the fire in all of us.
3
Behind Garnett and James, Celtics and Heat are digging in June 4, 2012. Improbably, the Celtics pushed the Heat to the limit.
2
Thrill is back for Patriots Jan. 30, 2012. Another Super Bowl has even Bill Belichick musing.
1
You’ve got to believe June 15, 2011. On the morning of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, we all had reason to believe.
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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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