The end of an era has come. The once and thought to be future kings of Boston baseball have been removed and will soon be forgotten. The castle has crumbled around Red Sox management and has fallen down upon them. A payroll of $173 million has been withered down to a mere $45 million commitment in salaries next season. The parapet is destroyed, and a shield of invincibility that surrounded the Red Sox for the last decade no longer protects owners John Henry and Larry Lucchino. On the eve before free agency, a time to rebuild is at hand.
The process has already begun in the hiring of new manager John Farrell, but much work is yet to be done. The question now is: how far do the Red Sox go? If the recent past says anything, it would say to exercise caution. Just two years ago the Sox committed roughly under $300 million in salary to superstar players Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. In the second year of their contracts, both were quickly whisked away to the Dodgers, along with perhaps the biggest villain in Boston, Josh Beckett. The players that were supposed to lead this team to more glorious and triumph-filled years failed to even make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. The takeaway from this is simple in a sense that the Sox should be cautious in signing big name free agents such as a Josh Hamilton this offseason.
With mistakes in the past, the Red Sox should look to players who have had success playing in Boston. Cody Ross is one of those players. Ross, coming off one the best years in his career, thrived in the atmosphere of Fenway Park. He hit 13 of his 22 home runs at home, using the Green Monster in left field and a dead-pull hitting style to his advantage. Ross will also likely not be as expensive as other free agent outfielders in a very thin market.
The time has not yet come for David Ortiz’s valiant exit. Big Papi must be resigned, as he has proved again and again that he is the warrior the Sox need to move forward. Leadership is essential for a team that so evidently lacked it last season. The Red Sox have a leader in Ortiz, and he should not be dismissed when he is so clearly needed. He batted .318 with 23 home runs in 90 games last year before being bogged down by injury. A healthy Ortiz next season is just what Boston needs in this rebuilding process.
One player the Sox do not need back is Kevin Youkilis. He will be available, as the White Sox have declined his $13 million option for the 2013 season. With the Red Sox, the Youk man was the finest of knights, beloved by fans for his ferocious tenacity and workhorse ethic. Unfortunately, these qualities cannot compensate for Youk’s nagging back problems and evident decline. In the 2010/11 seasons, he missed a total of 102 games, most of them due to an assortment of injuries. He hit just .233 in his remaining 42 games with the Sox before being traded to Chicago in order to give the young Will Middlebrooks a full time job at third base.
There are many problems still with the pitching staff, but the hiring of Farrell is a start. The hope is that Farrell, the Sox pitching coach for five years until 2010, will help return Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz to their former selves as dominant starting pitchers. If Lester and Buchholz can succeed in doing this, perhaps it is possible that the Red Sox can have the beginnings of a strong pitching staff. The next step in bolstering the rotation well enough to compete next season would be to trade for Angels’ starter Dan Haren. Although he had a down season last year, Boston could be a great place for him to start fresh. With adding Haren to the mix to a rejuvenated Lester and Buchholz, the Sox could have the makings of a much-improved pitching staff next year.
Obviously the bullpen will need to be addressed after it blew a total of 22 saves in 57 opportunities last season. The overall defense too can be improved as it finished 14th in baseball with 101 errors last season. Furthermore, what is to be done with John Lackey, perhaps the most disliked Red Sox currently on the roster? Again, much has yet to be done.
This is not a road map or a guide that will lead to the future success of Boston’s beloved baseball team. However, a sense of hope is back in the city, as the managerial dictator Bobby Valentine is gone. Farrell enters into the rubble of a franchise in need of great help. The stronghold can be rebuilt and fortified once more, as it has been done in the past. Sox ownership should know very well by now, that in a city such as Boston, winning heals all wounds. Now it should only be a matter of caution, patience and a short amount of time before order in Red Sox baseball is restored.
Red Sox fans can take a deep breath and let out a sigh of relief. The short, yet disastrous era of Bobby Valentine is done. It’s over. Thank goodness the nightmare that was the 2012 season has come to an end. The Sox have moved on and already taken the first important step in trying to forget their worst record since 1965. John Farrell is the new face of hope in Boston and the right man for one of the most difficult jobs in baseball.
Before going into why Farrell is the right choice for the Sox, one thing has to be made clear. It will take a heck of a lot more than a new manager to fix Boston’s copious amount of problems. This job is not meant for one man alone. That being said, Farrell is unquestionably the right start to help Red Sox Nation, at the very least, wake up from this nightmare.
What’s most important is simple and obvious. John Farrell is not Bobby Valentine, and that is a great thing. However, Farrell is the man whom General Manager Ben Cherington may have wanted all along for the job dating back to last season. Farrell, unlike Bobby V, is already saying all the right things. He said yesterday at his introductory press conference that he believed in “an up-tempo, aggressive style of play.”
“I think to play that style of game, it does create an attitude, which I think is critical to win at the Major League level, and that’s to be relentless,” said Farrell. “With our effort, with our preparation, with the work and the competitiveness that we take the field every night, that is of the utmost importance in how we play.
This is exactly the type of rhetoric Red Sox fans want to here from the new manager. Words such as aggressive, effort, preparation, work, competitiveness and relentless are not words used to describe last year’s team. Unlike Bobby V, Farrell is a man who understands his role. Of course it’s one thing for Farrell to say he wants an attitude of relentless. It’s another thing to put these words into action. The point, however, is that he already understands what needs to be different about next year’s Red Sox team.
Farrell understands what Boston needs to be a successful ballclub. He should know because he’s been here before. Farrell was the pitching coach under Terry Francona from 2007 through 2010. There is a sense of familiarity with the players, coaches and management that should already be present. He has relationships with previous players such as Jon Lester, who according to ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes, is excited to have Farrell back with the Sox.
“I think it’s a good thing,’’ Lester told Edes. “He helped mold me into the pitcher I am, the player I am. My work ethic, the work I do between starts, he really helped mold all of that.”
It is clear that players already have respect for their new manager, starting with the ace of the pitching staff in Lester. Almost equally as important as respect, Lester credits Farrell in helping him become the pitcher that he is today. In his rookie season in 2006, Lester walked nearly five batters per nine innings and had a 1.64 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched). By 2010, Lester was an all star and finished the season fourth in the AL Cy Young race. All of his improvements came under Farrell until his decline in the 2012 season. Lester finished the year with a 9-14 record and a career-worst 4.82 ERA.
Not only is it important that Lester had success under Farrell but so too did the entire pitching staff. In Farrell’s first year as pitching coach, the Red Sox ranked first in the league in ERA and WHIP. Boston went on to win the World Series that season. Last year, the Sox pitching staff was abysmal, finishing 12th in the league with a team ERA of 4.70. Farrell could be the answer the Red Sox need to solve their most urgent problem in pitching.
Bobby V couldn’t fix the issues that faced the Red Sox in his first year as manager, but he was the wrong man from the start. In Farrell, the Sox bring in a familiar face and a respected coach. He is the fresh start the Sox have been searching for since the demise of Francona and the collapse of the 2011 Red Sox. Cherington cannot miraculously heal the team of all its wounds with the signing of John Farrell, but it is undoubtedly the right start.