Oh, the drama.
Ever since news broke that several Red Sox players met with management, demanding the swift exit of skipper Bobby Valentine, the Red Sox have dominated the headlines once more. And for about a year now, it’s been all negative. First the September collapse, then Terry Francona’s unceremonious exit, then Theo Epstein fleeing for Chicago. When the season started, Josh Beckett grabbed early headlines, and since then it’s all been about the Sox underperforming and a schism between Valentine, the players and management.
When did things deteriorate this badly?
Look, the quality of the team is a product of the staggering amount of injuries the Red Sox have had. Boston easily outpaces all other teams in total games missed due to DL assignments (and we aren’t even counting those who were unavailable for days at a time that stayed active), plus the percentage of payroll dollars lost to the DL. That’s a staggering 40.9 percent of their $172.50 million payroll, as Sports Illustrated outlines.
But it’s not just injuries that are to blame for what’s gone on the field. And no, Bobby Valentine isn’t another excuse. In a sensational piece for Grantland, Jonah Keri pretty much beat me to this article and all my points, so I’ll let him summarize the rest of the pertinent points:
Expected producers haven’t produced.
Ellsbury can largely blame injuries for his lack of production, Beckett’s fought through injuries of his own, and Pedroia’s bum thumb wrecked a big chunk of his season. But even accounting for those ailments, Boston’s stars have been huge disappointments. Ellsbury’s power stroke vanished, Gonzalez didn’t hit for three months, and Beckett and Lester have given up oceans of runs. You’re not going to win many pennants when your best players turn into pumpkins.
The Wins Above Replacement numbers don’t lie. In 2011, the Sox got 35 WAR from Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon. This year, the former five plus Alfredo Aceves are on pace to contribute 15.2 WAR. That’s a major shift.
The Sox are unlucky.
Their record stands at 57-60. But they’ve also scored 35 more runs than they’ve allowed, a run differential that produces an expected win-loss record five games better, at 62-55. They’re 24-29 in games decided by two runs or fewer, 2-6 in extra innings, and 20-13 in games decided by five runs or more. … Bad luck, bad timing, or any other term you want to use for “unusual events that don’t typically repeat themselves” can leave the biggest dent. … Boston’s 2012 stat line is littered with statistical anomalies…
Keri also touches on other things that should be mentioned instead of (or with) Valentine when blaming the team’s struggles. For example, Valentine wasn’t managing when Boston collapsed last season — Terry Francona was, and that collapse was with 278 million-to-1 odds. Keri also points the finger at the culture around the Red Sox, permeated by a rabid fan base and a media corps notorious in the league. There is simply no let-up in Boston for players, whether that’s for private time or trying to keep clubhouse happenings behind closed doors. The media is only doing its job, while the fans are simply rooting for their team. You can’t really blame either party, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t adverse results. And how about the Red Sox front office, who seems to believe that coddling its players is the way to go? This team morphed from a gritty squad with one malcontent in Manny Ramirez into a team stuffed full of entitled players.
Look, I’m not saying Valentine is perfect. He has his own issues to correct, but he’s also come into town with his own managerial style. It’s not his fault that he’s receiving pushback from players and coaches too used to the Tito way. Now, Bobby Valentine has to make excuses for his managerial style and change the way he believes players respond because of an overly-sensitive player base and a front office that is divided itself. There’s no question Valentine has made some errors, but there’s also no question that players are chafing under his managerial style simply because he’s not Terry Francona. Regardless of your personal feelings on this particular situation, for example, do you really think that word should have made it to both the front office and media that Bobby V told Will Middlebrooks “nice inning, kid” after he made two errors in one inning?
In the offseason, the Sox need to make a decision. Is Bobby Valentine the manager? If he is, the Sox need to make sure Valentine is surrounded by a coaching staff that believes in him and will work with him. Right now, it appears that Valentine only has part of the staff on board, and there are rumors that he has gone the entire season without speaking with one certain coach. There was also (perhaps the same) a coach that asked to be released from his contract once Valentine was hired. The front office personnel needs to understand that whether or not they believe Francona was the greatest thing since sliced bread, he is gone, and the front office needs to move on and buy into who is in the skipper’s chair right now.
And the players. Oh, the players. Maybe some of them will change their tune once they’ve settled into the new regime, and if Valentine returns next year with stronger backing, some players will probably fall in line. But there are others that simply aren’t working, and wouldn’t work in the city even if Valentine was gone. It’s up to GM Ben Cherington to figure out who these players are and how he can move them off the team. He can’t move everyone off the club, of course. For example, Adrian Gonzalez hasn’t exactly denied he was the ringleader behind this most recent insurrection. A-Gon’s just going to have to learn how to deal with Valentine. But when you get to players like Josh Beckett… I think everyone knows that Boston and Beckett would do well parting ways.
The Red Sox have gotten away from everything that made them successful. A cohesive environment in which everyone was on board from the top down no longer exists. Players who genuinely care about winning or losing and playing the game right are in short supply in town. Heck, even Dustin Pedroia’s reputation is no longer unscathed given the evidence he’s one of the bigger malcontents on the club, doing everything right publicly and sniping in private.
This offseason, Ben Cherington needs to be empowered to make the best decision for the Red Sox. If there isn’t any change there — and it starts at the top level with the onwers — then it doesn’t matter what kind of players are brought in next year. It doesn’t matter who manages the team. Everyone is so fixated on Bobby Valentine being the problem because it’s easier to point fingers at one person than it is a general idea that injuries, bad luck and dysfunctional front-office management is to blame.
Blame Valentine if you want. But understand he’s only a small part of the problem.