Back from London, and unlike the Red Sox ownership group that apparently prefers sequestering over there save for an occasional detour to Baltimore for a halfhearted spin session, I not only recognize that the 2012 Red Sox are hopeless but have a clear-eyed idea of what is necessary to restore faith and even a winning record in 2013.
It’s quite simple, actually:
1. Dump Bobby Valentine.
2. Dump Josh Beckett.
(Actually, they’ll profit anyway, even with the season in a death spiral, but I figured that word might get ownership’s attention. So while you’re presumably here, Mr. Absentee Owner, sir, can we agree that the honorable thing to do would be to admit the
sellout distribution streak is over, ditch the word “brand” from your public vocabulary, give away a few bricks instead of hawking them, stop playing “Sweet Caroline” when the Red Sox are losing, and tell Lucchino to knock off the patronizing, tone-deaf, half-offensive, half-comical letters to the fans. Even the most faithful are on to you now, and that doesn’t mean Doris Kearns Goodwin and Ken Burns. Thanks for your time. Yes, you can go back to soccer now.)
For all of the nonsense — the texting silliness that would embarrass a middle schooler, the inexcusable lack of communication between the manager and his coaches, the bizarre handling of the Carl Crawford situation — this is not worse than 2001. The worst guy on this team would not crack the top 10 miserable jerks among that group. The core of this team is not a lost cause for the long term, as much as it is for the remainder of this season, and has been for a while. That second wild-card will be fun the day the win-or-go-home games are played, but over the course of a season it seems certain to prolong a pretender’s foolish belief that it can be a contender.
The primary reason for the Red Sox’ downfall from a preseason postseason favorite to an American League also-ran before August is complete is obvious, and it’s not so much the relentless ration of injuries or a manager who is a decent tactician with an eye for talent and an atrocious fit in every other way.
It’s that multiple players with track records as star-caliber performers have had down years or been downright awful. You know about the every-fifth-day-misery from alleged co-aces Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, but the offense isn’t innocent in all of this, either. Dustin Pedroia‘s OPS is 62 points lower than his career worst of .819 in 2009. Jacoby Ellsbury‘s slugging percentage is down more than 200 points from last year. Adrian Gonzalez, with an .833 OPS, 15 homers, and a 118 adjusted OPS, is having a season similar to Kevin Youkilis in 2007 (.843, 16 homers, 117 OPS+). That’s good, but not good enough.
Pedroia, Ellsbury and Gonzalez were in the top eight in MVP voting last year. It will be a surprise and a mistake if a stray vote is earned among the three of them this year.
I can’t come up with any reason other than rotten coincidence that their most proven players, save for David Ortiz, have let them down. The Red Sox don’t have a player with a bWAR higher than 2.7, which is the threshold Gonzalez, Pedroia and Ortiz all are stranded at right now. Logic suggests that with reasonable health Gonzalez, Pedroia and Ellsbury, in that order, will be better a season from now, just as they were better a season ago.
It’s tempting to want to napalm this whole frustrating team, or at least its core, but that’s just not realistic, nor is it smart. You’re better off betting that those players do bounce back rather than trading them off at bottom dollar.
There are already encouraging signs that things will be better. Gonzalez is hitting .369 with a 1.065 OPS in the second half, Lester has a 0.98 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in his last 33.2 innings over five starts, Pedroia has a .900 OPS over the last month, Carl Crawford showed more flashes of his dynamic Tampa Bay self during his 31 games this year (while playing through an injury, no less) than he did all of last season … good things, all of them, and hopefully hints of good things to come.
If not for the relative intrigue of watching the likes of Ryan Lavarnway, Jose Iglesias (call him up already), and Franklin Morales over the next 40 games, you almost wish they could abandon this season now and get started on the new one immediately.
Of course, there are a couple of other people they need to abandon first, starting with one former core player who has become a malignancy. Josh Beckett simply cannot return. He is the declining, stubborn, publicly indifferent face of everything that has gone wrong for this franchise since September 2011. It will not be easy to discard him, because of his salary, his 10-5 rights, his declining stuff, and the self-inflicted damage to his reputation, but it must happen, and here’s hoping Ben Cherington has the green light and the savvy to make it happen.
They shouldn’t worry about him rejuvenating himself elsewhere, whether that’s with the Texas Rangers or the Sugar Land Skeeters, because cutting him out of this clubhouse is necessary for a fresh start. For someone who was essential to a championship just five years ago, it’s disappointing that it has to end this way, but then, disappointing is a word that is permanently attached to Beckett’s time here. He’s had moments of greatness, but based on his ability, he’s an underachiever. Consider: His most similar player from ages 27 to 31 is Kevin Millwood. I’d rather have Kevin Millwood. Get Beckett lost.
The same goes for the manager. Bobby Valentine has his strengths — it must reflect on him somewhat that so many secondary players have thrived — but whatever he brings to the dugout is negated by his incredible and possibly intentional knack for making every situation worse.
His habitual sarcasm and “accidental” word choices — such as referring to Bob McClure’s time away as a vacation, or revealing various details of Crawford’s status that put the outfielder on the spot — happen so often that you have to believe it is always intentional. The feuds with his coaches are and were absurd, and the notion that he’s a tough manager was disproved yet again, just as it was with the 2002 Mets. He’s not a tough manager. He’s a passive-aggressive one who backs down when his calculated offhanded comments cause a stir.
You can’t be no-nonsense when you’re creating half of the nonsense yourself. If McClure’s firing is a sign that Valentine will be back, at the least as a bridge to John Farrell, then whatever optimism that exists for next season has to be tempered by the knowledge that even when things are going well, the manager will turn brush-fires into blazes, disingenuously pleading, “who, me?” at every controversial turn.
In areas where it makes sense, the Red Sox are desperate for change. Valentine never will, and getting rid of the manager who was supposed to signal a fresh start but who only made it all worse is the first step. If he somehow takes Beckett with him when he goes, it would instantly become the best thing he’s done during his time here.