The perennial contending Boston Red Sox are in flux. No one saw the collapse of 2011 coming at the end of that season and nobody thought a team that won 90 games, even if it missed out on the playoffs, would be a disaster in 2012. The Red Sox came unglued quickly and while Boston fans have no patience for a long rebuilding process it is a wide open question just what this team will look like next season.
The Red Sox were one of the most powerful teams of the first decade of the 2000s. Right now they are not even one of the most powerful teams in their division, the American League East. The comings and goings of players late in the 2012 season, coupled with the lack of interest in re-signing other players this off-season means there probably will be a huge number of new faces on the roster in 2013.
The Red Sox are used to bringing in a couple of big guns a year to fill slots. This time it’s going to be wholesale change and there’s no way of knowing if there are enough big-time players on the loose and interested in Boston to do the type of makeover necessary. The team has the bucks to spend, but it must find the right players to spend the money on.
On top of that the Red Sox will start 2013 with their third manager in three seasons. Terry Francona was blamed for the 2011 meltdown and was hastily discharged when he shouldn’t have been. Reaching for a change of pace the Sox hired Bobby Valentine, who was readily capable of alienating players and did so before he was fired. Now the team will be mentored by John Farrell, recently of the Toronto Blue Jays. While popular in Boston as a pitching coach Farrell did not truly shine in Toronto, so it is premature to say he is the right guy.
The roster revamping began in August. The floundering Red Sox waved the white flag when they shipped pitcher Josh Beckett, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, and outfielder Carl Crawford to the Los Angeles Dodgers, shedding millions and millions in payroll. Just the other day the Red Sox announced that they were allowing James Loney, who came to the team in the Dodgers trade, Cody Ross, Aaron Cook, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Scott Podsednik, and Vicente Padilla to move on in free agency. Some of them would be nice to have, but only for less money than they will want and on one-year contracts.
The team did agree to a two-year deal with designated hitter David Ortiz, who may be aging, but who also was having a terrific season before he got injured. Keeping Ortiz makes sense, was good for public relations with the fans, and if he can keep hitting the way he did when healthy in 2012, he will be a critical element in the batting order.
So now there is plenty of space on the roster and plenty of money to spend. Josh Hamilton is the best hitter available in free agency, though if he was smart he would stay with the Texas Rangers. It’s going to be difficult to figure Hamilton’s value given his history with drugs and alcohol. He has conquered that problem and is able to function as a great player, but he admits his addiction is an ongoing battle.
Of all things, third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who was sent to the Chicago White Sox last year, is a free agent, and could come back to Boston.
The Red Sox need a couple of front-line starting pitchers, a sure-thing closer, and one or two big-hitting outfielders. Those are big holes. This is not a franchise used to being stuck in last place (it was the first such finish since 1992) and the team will want to make a statement by rejoining the playoff hunt. To accomplish that the Sox will have to be lucky to find the right players to fill the right spots and spend wisely to obtain them. It is a very challenging assignment for general manager Ben Cherington.