September of 2011 is well known for Red Sox fans. For my father, it was the Red Sox of old, as the team from his generation shown through. I as a Red Sox fan had been spoiled. Two championships in four years and multiple playoff appearances had led me to believe that the Red Sox were a normal, successful franchise. Babe Ruth had moved over, the curse had been reversed, and Boston had, while not forgotten, at least become at peace with the year 1918. My father assured me that this 2011 September performance was not out of the ordinary. The years of 1946, 1975, 1986 and 2003 were more my dad’s style; the more of the Murphy’s Law Red Sox.
The 2012 club was muddled about in mediocrity for the first half of the season. The post-trade deadline deal that sent Sox pitcher Josh Beckett, OF Carl Crawford and superstar Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers dumped $250 million in salary. This showed the Red Sox knew they needed to reform; they needed to make amends and rebuild their roster because the overpaying of superstars to attract them to Boston was not working.
The Red Sox recognized this and are trying to put that plan in action this offseason; minor additions and role-players. A team that finished 69-93 a season ago can obviously do a lot to improve, but this was different. Jim Bowden, a former GM of the Washington Nationals, wrote that the Red Sox were the second most improved team in Major League Baseball. Bowden is a well-respected mind in baseball, and being a reader of nearly all his columns on ESPN, I respect his opinion as well. Why, then would he say that, because I believe it is just not true.
The Red Sox offseason has been highlighted by the acquisitions of Outfielders Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, First Baseman Mike Napoli, Shortstop Stephen Drew and Pitcher Ryan Dempster.
Ben Cherrington, Red Sox General Manager, has repeated the same phrase over and over again when looking for free-agents and described them as “good character guys.” Jonny Gomes is one of those good-character men. The Oakland Athletics defector comes over at the age of 32 and with a new 2-year, $10 million contract. He also comes over as an owner of a .262 batting average, 104 strikeout total (One-third of his 2012 at-bats) and playing less than 100 games for the third straight season.
Another of those high character men is Shane Victorino, the former Phillies Outfielder who signed a 3 year, $39 million contract. He described his future impact on the Red Sox clubhouse as “fun” and “loud,” promising to be high-energy. Victorino has a higher upside than Gomes, though he’s the same age at 32. The Hawaiian-native owned a .255 Batting Average last season, but did not strike out often, only 80 times in 666 at-bats. Meanwhile, he drew 53 walks, showing that he can still get on base. However, Victorino and Gomes both boast only pedestrian 1.6 and 1.1 Wins Above Replacement (WARs) in which their play is compared to an average MLB starter.
A peculiar signing by the Sox was the Mike Napoli acquisition for 3 years and $39 million. Napoli hit just above the infamous Mendoza line last season, coming in just over .220 at .227, with 125 strikeouts, 24 homeruns and only 9 doubles in one of the most “hitter-friendly” ballparks in the country and not all the concerns are offensive. His defense – and Napoli was signed to replace Adrian Gonzalez at first base – has been spectacularly poor over the last two seasons. Now, no one expects Napoli to be like Gonzalez with his presence at the plate, but he comes to Red Sox without an open DH position (David Ortiz has that covered) and with a void at first base. The Sox need a first baseman after trading away large prospects like Anthony Rizzo and the failure of development with Lars Anderson. Do they think they got one in Napoli? Can he hold up with health (his hip is nagging) and his defense? Napoli can also play behind the plate, which, in the Sox eyes makes incumbent Jarrod Saltalamacchia expendable.
Why, though? Saltalamacchia and Napoli had nearly the same stat lines in 2012. Salty hit .222 with 25 homeruns, 17 doubles and 139 whiffs. Next season however, Salty will be 28 where Napoli will be 32. Salty is also making $2.5 million per year as opposed to Napoli’s (if he signs) $13 million. It does not make sense that the Sox would pay $10.5 million more for someone who’s older and produces at the same rate as a cheaper incumbent. Plus, Saltalamacchia provides the creative challenge for every visiting radio and television announcer that the plain Napoli couldn’t!
If the Sox want high character guys, they could sign me for a lot less than $39 million.
A man whose services were not necessarily wanted because of his character, but probably his performance on the mound, Ryan Dempster was added to the Sox rotation from free agency. At 2 years $26 million, the Dempster signing seemed to be low-risk because of the shortened time. The Texas ace was added in hopes that he could be a pitcher to contribute 200 innings to the starting rotation that was not very good last year. Collapses from Beckett and Jon Lester headlined while Clay Bucholz’s struggles continue in his fifth year, mostly with staying healthy. Dempster, meanwhile, has gone over 200 innings four out of the last five years, the exception being in his 173 innings last year. Dempster’s 3.38 ERA is a full point lower than Bucholz, the Sox 2012 leader, at 4.56. Essentially, Dempster will have a limited amount of time – two years – to pitch for Boston in a time where Boston will not be competitive and will merely lessen the pain at the front of the rotation. The Dempster signing is a bit odd as the Sox could have taken that $26 million and used it on a younger core or even re-signing Cody Ross.
Cody Ross was the type of high-character guy that Ben Cherrington wanted when he went out and got Gomes and Victorino. Ross hit .267, slugged 22 homeruns and played in 130 games last year as well as won over Sox fans with his aggressive, “dirt-dog” attitude. His signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks for 3 years and $26 million marks the squandering of another opportunity for the Red Sox. Ross, at the same age as Victorino and Gomes, signed for $13 million less and produced better than they did. Ross was on the 2012 Sox squad and publicly declared his wish to play for the Red Sox, asking them to resign him. Why, then, did the Sox not do so? Ross leaving marks another blemish on the Red Sox offseason.
The biggest decision that left all Red Sox fans wondering “Why?!” was the signing of Stephen Drew. A shortstop that played less than 50 percent of last year, he also only hit .223 with 7 homeruns. Now I’m not saying every position should have a power hitter stocked there, but when the Sox committed $9.5 million over one year, I had to wonder what the Sox were doing. They already have Mike Aviles who will turn 32 (compared to Drew’s 30) but played in twice the number of games, hit twice the number of homeruns, and hit nearly 30 points higher than Drew. Aviles also made only $1.2 million last year, yet he was more than four times cheaper than Drew and outperformed him on the field. I guess the most obvious positive in this situation is that the Drew signing was only one year and if he does not pan out, then the Sox can part ways with him rather easily. Also, the future in Xander Bogaerts and Jose Iglesias were viable options in the minors (though Iglesias hit .135 last season with the Sox).
All in all, the 2013 Red Sox will be very different than the Sox in 2011. Not just roster wise, but also in the clubhouse. With Beckett’s bad attitude out and Victorino and Gomes’s “loud” and “fun” vibes coming in, will the Red Sox clubhouse really be revamped? The Red Sox outlook doesn’t look good, they’re predicted for around 70 wins by the Baltimore Sun, but they will have a good clubhouse. But, can that clubhouse stay positive even on a losing streak? Can the Red Sox be competitive with all the improving the AL East has done? Will they return to the Red Sox of old, the same team that will muddle in mediocrity, maybe going .500? Overall, will the Red Sox faithful – who were so famous throughout the 2000s when times were, to quote the 8th inning anthem, Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, “So good!” – remain faithful and proud in their team? I guess my father’s generation, those who were faithful through all the heartbreak once before, will wait around and see.