On a day made for change, Josh Beckett and the Red Sox generally stayed the same. Beckett pitched. He got hurt. And the Red Sox simply picked up the pieces and moved on without him.
And so, even in the absence of any shakeup at the annual major league trading deadline, maybe we will still get to find out if the Red Sox are indeed better off without their onetime ace.
You just can't make this stuff up, folks. Subscribing to the same passive approach they adopted last offseason, the Red Sox shuffled around a few role players on Tuesday in deals with the Arizona Diamondbacks (acquiring Craig Breslow) and Cleveland Indians (dispatching Lars Anderson). A few hours later, Beckett's back locked up on the Fenway Park mound, and the Red Sox are so uptight these days that they reprimanded their broadcasters for reporting that Beckett had back spasms(plural) instead of a back spasm (singular).
Whatever. You know the drill. You say blister, they say avulsion. The wrapping paper is particularly important at Fenway Park.
Here's the real problem: the Red Sox keep acting like this is all some kind of mathematical fluke and/or string of horrid luck when we all know there is so much more to the story. In the aftermath of a clubhouse implosion last fall, the Red Sox fired their manager, reorganized their medical staff and reassigned clubhouse personnel. They never really addressed the core problem - the behavior and attitude of their players. The Red Sox made cosmetic changes to a house in disrepair - there's that wrapping paper again - and they somehow expected the roof to stop leaking.
Amusing, isn't it? When this current Red Sox administration took over, they were all too eager to literally rip down the walls at Fenway and all but openly mock their predecessors for lacking creativity and generally taking a hands-off approach. They traded Nomar Garciaparra. They jettisoned Pedro Martinez and Johnny Damon. They even eventually cut ties with Hanley Ramirez and Manny Ramirez.
But now that it has come time to address issues they created rather than inherited, the Red Sox are downright passive to the point of near paralysis.
In retrospect, is this really about Beckett, or is it about the strategy at Yawkey Way, particularly in the last 10-11 months? Some of us suggested last fall that the Red Sox should seriously consider trading Jacoby Ellsbury when his value was highest, and the return on Ellsbury is now far less than it would have been then. Beckett's value was higher then, too. But the Sox stubbornly decided to keep the band together while entrusting it to the care of Bobby Valentine, the Machiavellian manager who looks more like Captain Queeg with each passing day.
With Valentine, as esteemed New York Post baseball writer Joel Sherman so aptly put it, sometimes there seems to be a method to the madness. Sometimes it just seems like madness.
The fact that the Red Sox are above water at the moment is a testament solely to the nomads currently making their home here, a group that includes Pedro Ciriaco, Franklin Morales, Andrew Miller and Alfredo Aceves, among others. Those men are far better off not knowing any better. That list previously included Ryan Sweeney, who might have been traded on Tuesday had he not punched a door on Monday night and injured his hand, effectively ending his season.
But that's how things have been going for the Red Sox this year. Sox officials might argue that they have demonstrated patience with regard to their roster, but it certainly feels far more like inaction. Sweeney could have been traded weeks ago. Instead, he has gone 8 for 64 dating back to June 2, which means that he has hurt the Sox on multiple levels.
Eventually, he hurt himself, too.
Beckett's injury is merely the latest example of the Red Sox ultimately getting what they deserve. For a moment, let's dismiss all talk of last September, of Beckett's attitude, of him being out of shape. Let's deal solely with the facts. For a man who was the No. 2 pick in the draft - as was Justin Verlander - Beckett has underachieved. He has never won a Cy Young. He has never been a Rookie of the Year or a Most Valuable Player. (Verlander has won all three.) Beckett certainly rose to the occasion in the Octobers of 2003 and 2007, but there is a difference between being a great pitcher and a great big-game pitcher.
During his seven seasons in Boston, Beckett has never finished consecutive years with an ERA under 4.00. Only once in his career has he ever pitched as many as 180 innings in consecutive years. Beckett this year is on pace for 173 innings, but that presumes that Tuesday's mishap will not derail him for any stretch of time.
And so what, exactly, are the Red Sox expecting to happen here? For Beckett to suddenly turn into a younger Roy Halladay? Or do they look at Beckett as a hardball version of David Krejci, a player who is along for the ride for long stretches of the regular season with the hope that he will elevate in the playoffs?
This season, lest anyone forget, Beckett is 5-9 with a 4.54 ERA. The Red Sox are 7-11 in his 18 starts, though that includes Tuesday night, a game the Sox trailed by a 1-0 score when Beckett called for the training staff to come to the mound. (The Sox went on to win, 4-1.) The Breslow acquisition means the Sox can plug Franklin Morales back into the rotation and not really skip a beat, which is precisely what the Sox should do.
From this point forward, in fact, the Red sox might be advised to start treating Beckett like what he effectively has become - an end-of-the-rotation starter. He doesn't perform consistently. And he can't stay on the field. Unless or until that changes, the Red Sox simply cannot regard Beckett as any kind of real presence on their pitching staff because he simply does not produce like one.
Simply put, Beckett shouldn't get the benefit of the doubt anymore. He does not get a spot in the starting rotation by default. If the Red Sox don't want to eat his salary in any kind of trade, they need to eat it by lessening Beckett's role and influence on their fortunes.
Trade or no trade, it's time to move on.
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