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Offseason Swap Series: Boston Red Sox

| On 28, Nov 2011


By Matt Van Wormer

At the beginning of September, the Red Sox looked they were going to be able to coast into the playoffs as either the AL East Champion or, at the very least, the Wild Card.  We know now that neither of those opportunities materialized as the Sox had one of the worst collapses of all time.  How can they put that ending out of their mind and focus on 2012?  That’s just one of the five questions I asked Chip Buck from Fire Brand of the American League, a Boston Red Sox blog and fellow member of the Baseball Blogger’s Alliance.  Chip gave me some great insight to his team, so let’s get to it!

DTTWLN? 1 – I hate to start things off on a sour note but really, it’s the only first question that can be asked.  What happened???

It was a combination of poor defense, awful luck, injuries, and regression toward the mean that really did it.  Given the circumstances of the situation, it was sort of unprecedented.  We could replay September 1000 times, and the Red Sox would probably make the playoffs 997 times.  It was both fascinating and brutal to watch.

I know people point to chicken, beer, and video games as the catalyst, but it’s nothing more than a convenient scapegoat.  They’d been partaking in that stuff all season (including during a 81-41 run), and the only time it became a problem was after the collapse.  Had the Red Sox made the playoffs, the media would have been championing the club’s tremendous clubhouse chemistry.

As a whole, the Red Sox starting pitching had been overperforming their peripherals all season.  In reality, September was somewhat of a regression toward the mean. Actually, it was a regression beyond the mean.  Then again, what do you expect when you’re running an injured and ineffective John Lackey; an old Tim Wakefield; a green Kyle Weiland; and a wildly inconsistent Andrew Miller as your 2-5 starters for a little over two weeks?  Losing Youkilis and Drew didn’t help either as it took veteran presence out of the lineup.  If they’re both healthy (especially Youk), the Red Sox probably make the postseason.

DTTWLN? 2 – Terry Francona was obviously the fall guy for the horrible September that the Red Sox played and now he’s out as manager.  Was that the right move to make or should they have held on to Francona?  Who should take his place?

I don’t see Francona as the fall guy.  I certainly think the collapse helped push him out the door, but I think it was of his own volition.  In hindsight, there were moments where he didn’t seem as energetic and focused.  I think he knew he wasn’t as effective in the clubhouse, and it was time for a change.  I loved the guy, and it was really sad to see him go.  Still, baseball is a business.  Personnel, as cold as that sounds, come and go.

As for Francona’s replacement, I was initially on board with Pete Mackanin.  I was really impressed with the manner in which he handled the Boston media.  He was poised, said all of the right things, and mentioned a reliance on statistical analysis.  Management didn’t feel the same way, and they’re no longer considering him for the job.  Now, my choice would be the completely unavailable John Farrell, who is managing the Blue Jays at the moment.  Out of available candidates, I’d love to see Joe Madden’s right hand man, Dave Martinez, get called for an interview.  I think he could be a very good manager.

DTTWLN? 3 – Theo Epstein has been running this team very well for the past decade.  How easy will the transition be to the new front office staff?

I don’t think it will be a tough transition.  Cherington was not only one of Epstein’s top lieutenants during his tenure, but also part of the committee that ran the Red Sox during the winter of 2005 when Epstein was wearing gorilla suits and touring with Pearl Jam.  Cherington’s been with the club since 1999.  He has a diverse background on both the scouting and statistical side of the equation, and seems to be very well prepared.  I’m pretty positive about the club’s future going forward.

DTTWLN? 4 – What do the Red Sox need to do during this off season to get better and put the end of 2011 out of their mind?

The Red Sox need to get back to their core principles of team management:  player development, payroll flexibility, and maximizing player value.  They’ve maintained the player development aspect, but they’ve gotten away from the other two.  I think they need to stop giving long-term contracts to players on the decline, and instead sign undervalued players to short term deals in order to fill holes.  This is especially true given this winter’s weak free agent market.  In essence, they need to get back to the model they used from 2003-2005 when they picked up Kevin Millar, David Ortiz, and Bill Mueller on the cheap.

DTTWLN? 5 – Is 2012 going to be a rebuilding type year or will the Red Sox, once again, be right in the thick of the American League East race?

The Red Sox will be right back in the thick of things next season.  We need to keep in mind that the Red Sox went 81-41 over a 122 game stretch in 2011.  Their lineup is incredibly solid. Any lineup that contains Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carl Crawford is going to score a ton of runs.
Their rotation returns three excellent pitchers in Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz.  The bullpen is a coin flip, but it should benefit from Daniel Bard pitching the ninth.  The building blocks are definitely in place for a World Series champion.  The big question is who will the club bring in to fill in the rest of the holes.

So there you have it.  The Red Sox hit some tough luck down the stretch but will most likely bounce right back, no matter who ends up leading the team in 2012.  Will it be Bobby Valentine or will the Red Sox take Chip’s advice and talk to Dave Martinez?  Red Sox Nation, and all of baseball, are waiting to see who takes the reins in Bean Town.

Photo: Greg Fiume/Getty Images


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