It is the All-Star break. This means that the Red Sox can’t lose any games, and no more players can get hurt unless they pull an Irving Fryer or get hit by a bus. New England can catch its breathe, breath deep and so some version of “Serenity now!”, “Goosfraba!” or “Calgone, take me away!”. It was a most frustrating first half of the season. There has been lots of analysis. I thought I’d throw in my 2 cents worth, which is probably more logical and levelheaded than people like CHB, or his nemesis The Schill.
What Went Wrong
It would be easier to ask what went right. Injuries. Check. Bad manager’s moves. Check.
The main problem, from my perspective, is starting pitching. This should sound familiar, because I said this was the main cause of the September Slide of 2011. They got nothing out of Lester and Beckett, and Buchholz was hurt. This is nearly a replay. Lester and Beckett have nearly respectable ERAs and have pitched very well in 2 or 3 games apiece. But these guys are not supposed to be on the north side of respectable. They are supposed to be pitching 7-8 innings a start, not 5-6. They are supposed to be leading the staff in ERA, wins, Ks and every other pitching state aside from saves and holds. But they aren’t. Not close. You’d be happy if they were the 4th and 5th starters, but they are the 1st and 2nd.
I say it is the pitching because they are close to the top in nearly every offensive category. They are scoring plenty of runs. This despite missing 2/3rds of the starting outfield for all but a handful of games, and playing guys not previously on the 40 man roster much of the time. The problem has been the starting pitching.
Why so bad? I’m not sure. We could blame Salty, but they seem to like working with him. Can’t really blame McClure since all this started under Curt Young’s watch. The common factor seems to be the pitchers. They lack aggressiveness, nibbling at the plate instead of going after guys. They are pitching with fear and timidity instead of the confidence a guy like Pedro displayed. They spent too much time looking for the rat instead of in the mirror.
It has been hard for position players to get settled in. So many guys have spent time on the DL that you need a supercomputer to keep track of the number of line ups that Valentine has used. And sometimes you clearly have to question those line ups. Like why is Cody Ross, one of your most productive players, sitting in the first game of a day/night double header the Saturday before the All-Star break. He’ll get plenty of time to rest from Monday to Thursday. You need to win and Cody gives you a far better chance than the utility man he stuck out there.
Valentine has made plenty of mistakes. He leaves pitchers in too long. He uses too many pitchers- though the starting rotation hasn’t given him much help. He has a pinch runner for Ross even though Ortiz is ahead of him on second. If they actually tied the game, they would need Ross. He seems too short-sighted at times. His game management has been mediocre at best. They got the bullpen sorted out after a disastrous start, but there are just too many nagging issues with this team.
Ortiz assures us there are no problems in the clubhouse- the players all get along. Ortiz’s sanity needs to be questioned. While having an incredible year at the plate, he’s been running his mouth about his contract. He’s out of touch with reality regarding DHs. I understand, he’s watching guys getting over $20 million this year on the DL or hitting singles (okay, he leads the team in doubles, but we need more than 6 HRs out of A-Gon, whose power has gone). But the DH is like a relief pitcher now- not where teams dump lots of money. Welcome to the new economic realities of MLB where even the Yankees are trying to not pay the tax. This new economic reality that Theo didn’t anticipate when he signed Carl Crawford to a deal that essentially means they cannot extend Jacoby Ellsbury or get a real ace for the pitching staff.
Where to Go from Here
There is no easy way to resolve this conundrum. Some of the players who have kept the Red Sox afloat, like Daniel Nava, are regressing to their mean. We should expect others to do the same. Thankfully Ellsbury is due back. Possibly Crawford, until he blows out his elbow anyway.
What the Red Sox need to do is shed salary. Much easier said than done. You can’t just trade a guy and eat all the salary. That keeps you in the luxury tax. They need to identify players that still have value, but have been under performing in light of their salary. I suspect getting Beckett out of the clubhouse might help the Red Sox reclaim Jon Lester from mediocrity. He might stop all the whining and start concentrating on what to throw next. Then again… maybe he won’t.
That really is the problem. The salary you need to shed is the long term deals that were signed by Theo. You need to shed the malcontents who can’t seem to identify why they are under performing on a regular basis. Trading Ross, Shoppach, Avilas etc. won’t gain you much of anything long term in terms of financial relief. It would allow you to bring up Iglesias, Lavernaway and either Linares or Kalish up sooner. Sweeney might get you some relief and a decent prospect.
The more I think about this, the more I fear we are in for a long few years as some of these contracts finally expire and give the Red Sox some breathing room under the cap. Barnes, Bougart and other young players will have to wait for those deals to come off the books.
The return of Ellsbury, Buchholz and Crawford may be enough to push this .500 team into the wild card. But that won’t amount to much aside from a financial bonus to owners and players. The fans will continue to face the reality that this team is flawed and there is no easy fix. There might not be any fix except for expiring contracts.
Valentine needs to do better. He needs to make better in game decisions. He needs to start talking to the players and other coaches. He needs to get everyone on the same page. He needs to get Papi to shut up about his contract (I know, Francona failed there too). Maybe the club house leaders (do I hear crickets?) need to find him every time he talks about it. These guys only seem to speak the language of money so the kangaroo court needs to penalize guys for errors, missed plays, bad attitudes on the mound all that stuff. It is time to reign in the selfishness that seems to be rampant on this club and make them a successful team again. Maybe some of the clubhouse leaders should have gone on a retreat with Damon and Millar. Now I might finally be onto something.