By Craig Forde/Boston.com Correspondent
As the Red Sox collapsed in September of 2011, the bricks that had built up a successful team began crumbling. It wasn’t long after the season before players and staff started falling off, too. The Red Sox were supposed to be competitive this year, but the foundation continued to crumble as the Sox missed the playoffs for the third straight year. Let’s take a look at some of the moves this season that helped turn a contender into a Red Sox team that finished with the worst club record in more than 40 years.
GONE: Terry Francona
The man who guided the Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years, then did it again three years later, was shown the door.
RETURN: Bobby Valentine
Say what you will about the Bobby Valentine era in Boston . . . seriously, say what you will. Having been out of Major League Baseball for a decade, Valentine may have been in over his head from the get-go. If his tenure could be captured in one wrap sandwich, it would have to be a turkey.
GONE: Theo Epstein
The general manager who was in place through two World Series championships became the second casualty. After nine seasons with the Sox, Epstein resigned less than a month after the great “chicken and beer’’ scandal did in a team that had been in first place on Sept. 1. The Brookline High School graduate became president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs.
RETURN: RHP Aaron Kurcz, RHP Chris Carpenter
While it took Epstein less than a month to latch on with the Cubs, it took much longer to figure out the compensation that the Red Sox would get for him. Kurcz, an 11th-round pick in 2010, spent his 2012 season with Double A Portland and was an Eastern League All-Star. Carpenter was ranked the 13th-best prospect in the Cubs system by Baseball America heading into 2012. After a DL stint to start the season, Carpenter worked his way to Boston, making seven relief appearances, posting a 1.59 ERA over 5 2/3 innings, while flashing a high-90s fastball.
GONE: RHP Jonathan Papelbon
A free agent after the 2011 season, the All-Fenway Park closer jumped ship when the Philadelphia Phillies dangled a four-year, $50 million contract, with a fifth-year vested option for $16 million. After amassing 219 saves — most in Boston history — Paps shipped off to Philly when the Sox declined to offer him anything close.
RETURN: 2012 draft picks #31 and #37
Papelbon was a Type A free agent, and thanks to new rules, the Sox received two draft picks to compensate for losing their closer. With the 31st overall selection, they took Florida LHP Brian Johnson (pictured), whose season with Lowell was cut short when he was hit in the face with a line drive during a start at Fenway Park as part of Futures at Fenway. Six picks later, the selection was RHP Pat Light out of Monmouth. He is a workhorse who logged 101 1/3 innings and posted an 8-3 mark with a 2.40 ERA and 102 strikeouts.
GONE: 1B/3B Kevin Youkilis
Youkilis became the first major piece to fall out during the 2012 season. A disagreement with manager Bobby Valentine, coupled with the emergence of young third baseman Will Middlebrooks, made Youk expendable. He was shipped off to the Chicago White Sox in June.
RETURN: RHP Zach Stewart, OF Brent Lillibridge
Because Youkilis suffered through slumps and injuries, his trade value was not as high as it may have been in prior seasons, so the return was not impressive. Righthander Zach Stewart (pictured), once a highly touted prospect for both the Reds and Blue Jays, is now with his fourth organization and has yet to find a definitive role. He may best serve the team as a reliever if he can get his good stuff back. Brent Lillibridge lasted exactly one month with Boston before he was traded to Cleveland for minor league pitcher Jose De La Torre.
GONE: 1B Lars Anderson
Anderson’s name had been bandied about in Boston for years as a possible future star. Unfortunately, he was never able to break through and spent the majority of his time in Pawtucket. With Adrian Gonzalez locked into first base for years to come (or so we thought), Anderson’s time was limited, so he was sent to Cleveland at the trade deadline for minor league knuckleballer Steven Wright.
RETURN: RHP Steven Wright
A former second-round pick, Wright (not pictured) brought the knuckleball back into the Boston organization, filling the void left by Tim Wakefield. He looked strong down the stretch during Pawtucket’s Governors’ Cup run, and could make his way into the pen next season.
GONE: RHP Matt Albers, OF Scott Podsednik
In another trade deadline deal, the Sox shipped reliever Matt Albers (pictured) and outfielder Scott Podsednik out to Arizona.
Podsednik, who was initially acquired as a free agent in May, would return to Boston after the Diamondbacks released him three days after trading for him. He would play in nearly every game over the last two months of the season.
RETURN: LHP Craig Breslow
A LOOGY (lefthanded one out guy) by trade, Breslow showed he could do more than just get one man out. He appeared in 21 games, striking out 19 batters over 18 1/3 innings while posting a 2.95 ERA. He and catcher Ryan Lavarnway formed the first-ever Yale battery in MLB history.
THE BIG ONE — GONE: RHP Josh Beckett, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, OF Carl Crawford, INF Nick Punto
The Sox decided to cut bait, and although the trade deadline had passed, they utilized the waiver wire to make a deal of epic proportions with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Gone were the salaries and attitudes of Beckett, Gonzalez (pictured), and Crawford, with Punto thrown in for good measure. This was the proverbial white flag being raised by the Sox on the 2012 season.
RETURN: 1B James Loney, INF Ivan De Jesus Jr., RHP Allen Webster, two players to be named later.
Loney and De Jesus were not considered the centerpieces on the return side of this one, but they bring with them the most major league experience. Webster (pictured) is considered by many to be a future starter, though he faltered in his two starts with Portland. The players to be named later are OF Jerry Sands, who could be a serviceable backup outfielder with a strong bat off the bench, and RHP Rubby De La Rosa, who should be the gem of this trade for Boston.