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A Timely Champion: How a game in April told us a lot about the 2013 Boston Red Sox

Photo via wcvb.com

The Red Sox won a game in early April on a cool, cloudy day against a division rival by a score of 3-1. It was one simple game plucked out of the first week of what is a long six-month regular season. There were no extra innings. There were no walk-offs.

Sitting in the right field bleachers on April 8, Opening Day at Fenway Park, I had no idea that the performance I was witnessing would, in many ways, come to epitomize the eventual 2013 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox.

I believe that the members of this year’s Red Sox team genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. Furthermore, I’m confident that the guys in that clubhouse truly cared about one another–a trait that Terry Francona often highlighted as being vital to any team’s success. There is no doubt that the 2013 Red Sox possessed a unique blend of character, camaraderie, and yes, chemistry. Sometimes, however, teams that are labeled as possessing good chemistry often have their talents overlooked. Teams bereft of talent that bulge with chemistry don’t win 97 games, and they certainly don’t win championships.

When an average pitcher does not have his stuff on a given day, there is a good chance that major league hitters will make him pay. Conversely, when a pitcher who is supremely talented, like Clay Buchholz, lacks his usual sharpness, there is still an opportunity to be successful. April 8 was one of those days for the slender righty. Against a relatively tough Orioles lineup that featured excellent hitters like Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Adam Jones, Buchholz tossed seven frames, punched out eight batters, and earned his second win in as many starts. By all accounts, he was masterful on that spring afternoon in Boston. Here is what Buchholz said after that game: “I didn’t really have one thing that was working the whole day. [I] Was up in the zone, couple of balls hit early that would’ve gotten out stayed in the park. Other than that it was sorta a grind there for a little bit.” Must be nice, right?

Players — the actual guys who put on the uniform — routinely tell us about the importance of chemistry, so who are we to dismiss it simply because we can’t quantify it? Nevertheless, talent, for me, always wins out. Give me talent before anything else. And this Red Sox team provided us with plenty of it.

In 2011, the Red Sox possessed a talent-laden roster. On paper, they looked like an absolute wagon. Theo Epstein and Co. added Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to a core group of quality players that was already in place here. For much of the season, things seemed to click. The vast majority of the 2011 campaign was actually wildly successful, but no one will ever remember the good days of that summer (on August 9, the Red Sox were 29 games over .500). Instead, fans will recall a dreadful September in which the team went 7-20, relinquishing a nine-game lead for the only Wild Card spot, and, of course, chicken and beer. All of those things may be true, but the focus shouldn’t be on Bud Light and Popeyes. The proverbial finger should be pointed directly at that team’s lack of depth.  Kyle Weiland started five extremely meaningful games (three came in September) for the Red Sox in 2011. The righty was, as you might expect, absolutely awful (7.66 ERA in seven appearances). He last pitched in a major league game in April of 2012. The fact that Weiland played a legitimate role in the Red Sox season and subsequent collapse is rather embarrassing. Ben Cherington, who was the assistant GM of the Red Sox in 2011, had a keen understanding of the importance of depth when he assembled this year’s squad.

On April 8, when Buchholz was finished baffling Orioles batters, he turned things over to Andrew Bailey who looked excellent in his first two appearances of the season. Bailey kept rolling, punching out two of the three batters he faced. Joel Hanrahan pitched the ninth inning of that game, allowing one run. It was clear that the Red Sox had identified their setup man and closer. Of course, no one knew that the pair of hard throwing right handers wouldn’t throw another pitch after July 12.

When a team loses its all-star closer to a season-ending injury, they’re usually not able to replace him with another former all-star who is a proven back end of the bullpen piece. But that’s exactly what the Red Sox did when Hanrahan went down with a torn flexor tendon, and they were able to turn to Bailey. Ultimately and somewhat unsurprisingly, Bailey was lost for the season and required surgery to repair his shoulder. John Farrell turned briefly to Junichi Tazawa before handing the keys to the car over to Koji Uehara on June 26. Uehara never gave them back as he accumulated 21 regular season saves and seven in the postseason. He made sure to collect hundreds of high fives along the way.

There is no doubt that Cherington knew what he was doing when he added Hanrahan and Uehara to a bullpen that already had two guys who possessed arsenals that lend themselves to the closer role. Bailey was a proven closer, and Tazawa is an excellent pitcher who rarely walks a batter and has the ability to throw in the mid-90’s. Heading into the season, a case could be made that there was some redundancy in the Red Sox bullpen, but, because of that depth, they were able to overcome attrition and turn what easily could have evolved into a weakness into a legitimate strength.

Depth is something that general managers can build. To a certain extent, they can control it. Could Cherington have splurged, gone out and signed a sexy free agent, like Josh Hamilton? You bet. But it would have limited his ability to infuse talent around the diamond and build depth in certain areas. David Ross, Jonny Gomes, and Uehara are three good examples of players who Cherington could have simply passed on without getting a ton of pushback from the fanbase. Timeliness, on the other hand, is a characteristic that general managers do not have much control over, but most good teams seem to find a way to come up large in big spots.

Wei-Yin Chen was matching Buchholz blow for blow, frame after frame. The Red Sox offense was essentially lifeless. Chen was dealing. Then Dustin Pedroia led off the bottom of the seventh inning with an infield single. Mike Napoli then jolted a ball to center for a double. Will Middlebrooks followed with a strikeout for the first out of the inning. Daniel Nava stepped in, batting from the right side. He took a ball and fouled off the next pitch. Chen’s third offering was clobbered by Nava. When the ball landed beyond the big green wall in left, it was 3-0 Red Sox. A game and an afternoon that had been a pitcher’s duel in every way suddenly and indelibly changed because of one well-timed swing.

Nava, the man who delivered the deciding blow that day, is a player who likely wouldn’t have been in the lineup that afternoon if David Ortiz had been completely healthy at the beginning of the year. Ortiz would have been the designated hitter. Gomes would have moved out of the DH role and slid into left field against the southpaw. But because of the Red Sox outfield depth, Farrell had the ability to use the versatile Nava in left that day. An undrafted former independent league standout, Nava’s talents are often overlooked because of his remarkable story. In reality, Nava is a very good ballplayer. He finished eighth in the American league with a .303 average, and his .385 OBP was good for fifth among AL hitters. And on this day in early April, Nava was incredibly timely.

The 2013 Red Sox are going to be remembered as an unlikely champion, a group of guys who loved baseball and beards. But for those of us who watched this team everyday, we’ll recall them as a talented, deep collection of players who had a knack for getting the timely hit. Time after time after time after time.

Red Sox, Blue Jays: What to watch for

Photo via weei.com

The pitching matchups. The Red Sox, on paper, have the upper hand on the 9-17 Blue Jays in each of the three games during the series. Jon Lester will take the mound on Tuesday–opposed by Brandon Morrow. Clay Buchholz draws Mark Buehrle on Wednesday, while Ryan Dempster will take on either Josh Johnson or J.A. Happ. The Jays’ starting pitching, like much of their team, certainly does not lack talent, but the Red Sox hurlers are absolutely rolling right now.

Lester’s demeanor. The big lefty is an emotional guy. And he has no problem admitting that. However, I firmly believe that when Lester doesn’t get a close call (or two or three) he can let his emotions negatively affect his pitching. I’m confident that John Farrell has had discussions with him about showing up umpires while he is on the mound–like he did during his last start on Wednesday. It just doesn’t help your cause as a pitcher. Nevertheless, as long as Lester is pitching well, I don’t care if he gives the umpire the finger (seriously don’t do that — you’ll get ejected). But when his antics begin to affect his ability to execute his pitches — that’s when it becomes a problem.

Jose Bautista is back. The powerful right handed hitter did not play in any of the three games against the Red Sox earlier this month due to a minor ankle injury. He will be back in the Jays’ lineup this time around and is 10-45 against Lester with four home runs to his credit. (Side note: Brett Lawrie is back too. And he is an important player. I also really appreciate his hard-nosed approach to the game).

Jose Reyes is not back. He is nursing a severe left ankle injury suffered in mid-April during a game against Kansas City–a devastating blow for a struggling Blue Jays team. Reyes, as he so often does, showed us why the Marlins, the Jays, and a myriad of other teams salivated over acquiring his services as he blistered the baseball around the Rogers Centre in Toronto during the early-season series against the Sox. The guy is an elite talent at a primer position. We’ll wish him a successful recovery, but we certainly won’t mourn his absence during the next three games.

— (Keeping up with the theme) Shane Victorino‘s back. Literally. His back. It’s sore. According to reports, there is only inflammation present, and, by all accounts, the Red Sox are determined to keep Victorino off of the disabled listed. It’s worth noting that Jackie Bradley Jr. was back in Pawtucket’s lineup on Tuesday serving as the designated hitter. That is a solid indicator that Victorino will in fact be able to avoid a trip to the DL. However, he will not be in the lineup on Tuesday night. Daniel Nava has served admirably in right field.

The closer situation. Joel Hanrahan was officially activated by the Red Sox today. Although Farrell has not formally disclosed who will work the ninth during the next save situation, he has indicated enough to make fans believe it will be Andrew Bailey who gets the ball.

If that is the decision, I agree with it. Bailey, by and large, has been outstanding in Hanrahan’s absence. His stuff plays in the ninth–his fastball has shown a tremendous amount of life. And when he is healthy, he has proven to be excellent. For now, I would leave Bailey alone and ride things out.

Update: CSNNE.com’s Sean McAdam reported that Farrell informed both Bailey and Hanrahan that Bailey would remain the closer. Look for Hanrahan to work a few low leverage situations as he is eased back from his hamstring injury.

Deep Depth

Photo via bostonherald.com

On Wednesday night, Andrew Bailey ran to the pitcher’s mound from the bullpen at Progressive Field in Cleveland and recorded three consecutive outs. He pocketed his first save of 2013, and the Red Sox notched their tenth win of the season.

The scene was similar on Thursday night for Bailey and the Red Sox in the ninth. Strike out. Foul out. Ground out. Save. Ballgame.

It was a pair of uneventful ninth innings — just what you’d want from your closer — but it represented something larger, something that the Red Sox desperately missed last season: bullpen depth.

In 2012, before Bailey even pitched in a regular season game, he underwent surgery on his thumb due to an injury he may have suffered during a collision at first base during Spring Training (it was pitching coach Bob McClure who disclosed that Bailey first felt soreness in his thumb when he was squeezing his bottle of shampoo in the shower). With Daniel Bard transitioning from eighth inning reliever/fireman to starting pitcher, Bobby Valentine was left to choose between Alfredo Aceves and the newly acquired Mark Melancon.

Aceves was anointed the closer, and like many members of the Red Sox bullpen, he failed. His command suffered greatly in the role, but he was far from the being the only ineffective reliever.

April 21, 2012. It was a Saturday afternoon game at Fenway Park against the Yankees. And it epitomized the utter disaster that was the Red Sox bullpen. The Sox lineup pounded out crooked number after crooked number early in the ballgame. They had racked up nine runs before Mark Teixeira hit a seemingly innocuous solo home run off of Felix Doubront during the lefty’s last inning of work. Doubront left the game after the sixth with 9-1 lead, and when Cody Eppley threw the last pitch of the game it was 15-9, in favor of the Yankees. Vicente Padilla, Matt Albers, Franklin Morales, Aceves, and Justin Thomas (Junichi Tazawa gave up one hit and no run in his 1.1 innings of work) combined to allow 14 runs, 13 of them were earned. The Yankees won the game, and the Red Sox bullpen was downright atrocious.

To be fair, it’s not as if the Red Sox bullpen was relinquishing nine-run leads from the first pitch of the season all the way until Game 162. In fact, the bullpen turned things around a bit following their aforementioned implosion on April 21. From April 23-May 25, the Sox ‘pen posted to lowest ERA in the big leagues. So while things may not have been as bad as they were that Saturday afternoon at the Fens in April, it’s fair to say that the Red Sox bullpen was much more of a weakness than it was an asset last season.

Just like 2012, this year’s Red Sox team lost their closer early. Joel Hanrahan was placed on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring on Tuesday. He is still experiencing soreness.

Hanrahan wasn’t available on Monday, and yes, Bailey blew his first save chance on Patriot’s Day against the Rays. But this year’s Red Sox are much more capable of dealing with the loss of a key member of their bullpen. With Hanrahan on the shelf, John Farrell has the luxury of turning to Bailey, a guy who the Boston Globe’s Chad Finn accurately characterizes as “a statistical comp for Jonathan Papelbon during his three seasons in Oakland.”

What if Bailey falters in the role? The Red Sox have options.

Tazawa has emerged as one of the most reliable options out of the bullpen, not only on the Red Sox, but in the entire American League. He has everything that a manager would look for in a closer–he has excellent stuff and refuses to issue free passes. Ideally, Tazawa will not be asked to close ballgames in 2013 but should Bailey and Hanrahan succumb to injuries or fail to perform, the Red Sox have a legitimate third option. Not many teams can say that about the backend of their bullpen.

Do the Red Sox have one of the game’s top tier closers like they did when Papelbon was still employed by the team? No. But they do possess a tremendous amount of depth that should only deepen as pitchers like Hanrahan, Craig Breslow, and Morales return from injury.

Baseball is a war of attrition, and the bullpen is certainly not immune. The 2013 Red Sox, unlike last year, stand a real chance to succeed in battle.

Motivation May Fuel Red Sox in 2013

Photo via espn.com

If you’re looking to gauge what the 2016 Red Sox will look like, the 2013 roster is not a good place to start.

GM Ben Cherington unexpectedly and creatively unloaded three lucrative long term contracts last August. Josh Beckett (signed through 2014), Adrian Gonzalez (signed through 2018), and Carl Crawford (signed through 2017) were suddenly no longer in the fold, leaving the Red Sox a roster bereft of talent but provided the organization with plenty of financial flexibility.

Improvement was undoubtedly needed, but they were not going to put their newfound fiscal flexibility in jeopardy this offseason.

That resulted in a revamped roster that includes several newly signed veterans who have experienced success in the past but are coming off disappointing seasons. Cherington exhibited discipline by staying away from the Josh Hamilton‘s and Zack Greinke‘s of the free agent world. Instead, he set his sights on players with less raw talent who were willing to accept shorter term deals–guys who have something to prove.

Acquisitions via trade and free agency, combined with a couple of team controlled, soon-to-be free agents, have left the Red Sox with several key players who will enter 2013 with a tremendous amount of — let’s face it — money riding on this season.

And we all know that there is nothing wrong with a small fire being lit under a player, even if the flame is fueled by the dollar bill. In fact, that is often when the results are the most fruitful.

——

Jacoby Ellsbury is the most obvious and the most important player that falls into this category. The 29-year old center fielder recently agreed to a one-year deal worth $9MM, successfully avoiding arbitration during his final year of eligibility. Following the 2013 season, Ellsbury will be a free agent and quite an enigmatic one. We know the damage he inflicted on opposing pitchers in 2011, a year that saw him post a .321/.376./.552 line. Ellsbury was a hardware hoarder that year as he appeared in his first All-Star game, took home the Silver Slugger Award for his position, and nabbed his only Gold Glove. Do you want to make a case that he, not Justin Verlander, was the American League’s Most Valuable Player? Good. Do it. You can certainly make a sound argument. Scott Boras definitely will when Ellsbury officially hits free agency.

But he has a lot to prove. Ellsbury’s critics will point to 2010 and 2011 and claim he’s injury prone. And if he’s not injury prone, he is certainly a slow-as-molasses healer. It would be hard to debunk that theory. When healthy, the talented center fielder has the ability to carry a team for a long period of time. Barring any ailments during the spring, Ellsbury will enter 2013 with the opportunity to solidify himself as a legitimate candidate to receive a nine-figure deal in free agency. Should he spend a great deal of time on the disabled list or simply struggle to produce at the top of the Red Sox’ lineup, it will further muddy the water on Ellsbury’s value as a free agent. It is officially put up or shut up time.

Like Ellsbury, closer Joel Hanrahan is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility and is eyeing a big payday next offseason. Hanrahan was traded to the Red Sox from the Pirates earlier this winter in a swap that cleared some clutter on the 40-man roster for Boston, while giving Pittsburgh some salary relief. The power righty has already been given the keys to the car by manager John Farrell who swiftly and shrewdly made his decision to unseat Andrew Bailey as the closer apparent in favor of Hanrahan. That is good news for a player entering the most important season of his career. It also comes with added pressure. Bailey, as injury prone as he may be, is a proven commodity. He can close ballgames. If Hanrahan struggles early, Farrell may look to make a change. He is keenly aware of how badly the bullpen meltdowns of yesteryear affected the Red Sox in April. The pressure and spotlight are on Hanrahan. The stage is Boston. His response will dictate whether or not he receives the fat, multi-year contract offer he will undoubtedly seek next offseason.

Hanrahan’s likely battery mate, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, will have plenty of motivation this season to build on his 2012 campaign. The soon-to-be 28-year old switch hitter had a breakout year of sorts last season, establishing himself a legitimate power hitting backstop. Saltalamacchia is hardly a player without warts, however. He managed to post a .288 on-base percentage in each of the past two seasons, a miserable, yet consistent feat. He strikes out too much and is starkly better when hitting from the left side of the plate. Despite his flaws, Saltalamacchia is a catcher who has pop, and that’s valuable. If he can find a way to not fade as the season wears on, retain his power, and improve his on-base skills (even marginally), Saltalamacchia could be in line for a multi-year deal from a team following the season.

Saltalamacchia isn’t the only player with catching experience on the Red Sox who will be looking to parlay a productive 2013 into a big contract next offseason. Last week, Mike Napoli officially signed a one-year deal worth $5MM, a far cry from the original three-year, $13MM agreement the two sides agreed to on December 3. The reason for the hold up and subsequent $34MM reduction in guarunteed salary? Avascular necrosis–a condition that destroys bone due to lack of blood supply to the specific area. It sounds bad, and it is. But it was caught early, and according to doctors, should not get worse. Still, it cost the 31-year old a ton of dough this offseason. Naturally, Napoli will look to respond with a productive 2013 and prove to clubs that he deserves a multi-year deal. He is in the right lineup and the right ballpark to bounce back.

Stephen Drew is looking to repair his stock as a free agent that, like Napoli, has been marred by injury. Drew, a Boras client, agreed to a one-year deal with the Red Sox that will pay him $9.5MM in 2013. Once a top level performer at his position, Drew, due to a vicious ankle injury that occurred in July of 2011 and forced him to miss the first three months of 2012, did not garner a great deal of interest in free agency. With a strong performance in 2013, Drew will almost certainly see more teams bid on his services next time around. As long as Drew leaves camp healthy, it is hard to envision a scenario where he will not be the Red Sox’ Opening Day shortstop. He will have an opportunity — not unlike Adrian Beltre in 2010 — to capitalize on the ever-intense baseball environment in Boston. His ankle issues seem to be behind him. Health and productivity at a shallow position are all that stands between Drew and a much more memorable crack at free agency.

Cherington and the Red Sox are hoping to take advantage of the motivation that comes naturally with a player operating on a one-year deal. One-year pacts are essentially wagers entered into by both the player and the team. If the bet works out, the player almost always has a big payday waiting, and the team receives the benefit of a playoff run.

In 2013, the Red Sox will gladly go all in.

Housekeeping: Nieves, Napoli, Upton

Juan Nieves was named pitching coach of the Red Sox Wednesday. Nieves served as bullpen coach of the White Sox from ’08-’12. His selection came as a bit of a surprise as pitching guru Rick Peterson was the lead dog prior the announcement yesterday. The 47-year old Puerto Rico native once tossed a no-hitter for the Brewers in 1987. He has some New England roots too. Nieves spent his high school years attending Avon Old Farms Prep in Connecticut.  But it was ultimately the relationship he formed with a 24-year old highly-touted Indians prospect he met while pitching in the Puerto Rican winter league.

That kid was John Farrell.

—- Last year, Mike Napoli had an extremely disappointing, injury-plagued season. He finished his 2012 campaign with a .227/.343/.469 slash line. The bulky right handed hitter still contributed 24 home runs. Consequently, the Rangers chose not to make Napoli a qualifying offer (one-year, $13.3MM).

What does this mean for the Red Sox?

Well, they can pursue Napoli knowing that they will not have to relinquish a draft pick. GM Ben Cherington will be looking for a first baseman with some pop, and Napoli can catch a little bit too. He’s 31-years old and is less than stellar defensively. Nevertheless, it would be wise of Cherington and the Red Sox to pursue Napoli who will not be looking for an overly long-term pact.

—- Rumors swirled Wednesday evening concerning Justin Upton who is perpetually on the trading block. Like almost every free agent or semi-available player, the Red Sox seem like a good fit. Reports indicated that they would be in on the 25-year old right fielder. Upton is a quality player who is under control for the next three seasons. It’s hard to blame the Diamondbacks for shopping Upton, given the haul he would bring in return. And one can understand why a plethora of teams would stand in line for a shot at obtaining his services.

But when it surfaced that Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers would be looking for some combination of a starting pitcher and third baseman, the Red Sox essentially fell out of the Upton sweepstakes. The Sox are certainly not swimming in quality young pitching, and Will Middlebrooks is not going anywhere.

David Ortiz Inks Two-Year Deal

On Friday, the Red Sox and David Ortiz agreed to a two-year deal worth $26MM. He’ll have the opportunity to make an additional $4MM in incentives. Here is my abbreviated breakdown of the multi-year pact.

The Good: Ortiz can still flat-out hit. The two-time World Series champion is back to getting on-base at a tremendous pace. He is back to taking the ball to the opposite field with authority. In 2012, the native of the Dominican Republic posted an impressive .318/.415/.611 line. He blasted 23 home runs for good measure. And it was all done in 90 games.

The Bad: Ortiz played in 90 games last season. He injured his right Achilles’ tendon while rounding the bases on what would be a home run off the bat of former Red Sox Adrian Gonzalez. He is going to be 37 years old in 13 days, and ideally, the Red Sox would’ve continued to go year-to-year with Ortiz. It would have ensured that the slugger remained motivated, while limiting risk for the team.

The Emotional: Big Papi is the face of the Red Sox. He is a legend in these parts and will be in the same conversation with Bobby Orr, Larry Bird, Ted Williams, and Tom Brady when it comes to the Mount Rushmore of Boston sports. He should never not be a Red Sox.

The Takeaway: Would Oritz have gotten a multi-year deal worth the same amount of dollars on the open market? Probably not. Nevertheless, it is a fair deal based on the financial situation of the Red Sox. They can afford to overspend a bit for shorter term deals. The team possesses financial flexibility in the here and now, and it is important to preserve that for the foreseeable future. From a personnel standpoint, the free agent class simply does not offer what a healthy Ortiz can bring to the table–a unique blend of average and power. The Red Sox could have played hardball with Ortiz and his agent, but if a reasonable deal, like this one, could be reached, what is the point? Finally, GM Ben Cherington is in a much better position this offseason than last. John Farrell is the manager, and Ortiz is signed and presumably happy. Both of those problems were far from being solved one year ago.

Time to Let Go

Moving on is tough. Change is difficult. The past can often seem better than the present. For the Boston Red Sox and its fans, this couldn’t be more true when it comes to their ball club. Nevertheless, it is time to look forward.

It is about 2013, not 2004.

Terry Francona is not walking through that door.

Francona will always be beloved in these parts. He brought Red Sox fans salvation in 2004 and again three years later. Tito is arguably the greatest manager in Sox history. And that’s part of the problem–he is history. He’s not the manager in Boston any longer. In fact, he’s now the enemy (a relatively benign enemy in the form of the Cleveland Indians, but an enemy nonetheless). On April 16 — when the Indians visit Fenway — Francona will officially begin attempting to beat his old club.

The Tito Love Fest needs to end. It went on all of last year, mostly due to circumstances that surrounded the Red Sox and their former manager. Francona was dismissed at the end of the 2011 season in a manner that most people who follow the team would describe as unfair. Despite the allegations concerning Tito’s prescription drug abuse, he walked away from the rubble that befell Yawkey Way pretty clean. He went on to hook up with ESPN in an innocuous gig on Sunday Night Baseball.  Bobby Valentine, who is the black to Francona’s white when it comes to managerial style, never really got settled in Boston–much to his own device. It was easy to long for the way things were under Francona when Valentine was busy looking like a total idiot.

Tito quickly became the figurehead for anti-Establishment. Cheering the old manager meant opposing John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and to a lesser extent, Valentine. It was a theme that permeated throughout the season — Francona received the biggest ovation during the 100-year celebration of Fenway Park on April 20. In July, the ESPN analyst held court with a small group of Red Sox players in the visitor’s clubhouse at Yankee Stadium. Despite the denials from both sides, it must have been incredibly awkward for Valentine.

Franonca, however, is no longer serving in a role that has no real bearing on the welfare of the Red Sox. He is actively competing against them. Valentine has been disposed as manager, and the Sox have a new man at the helm in John Farrell who possesses many of the same coveted managerial skills as Francona but has a starkly different style. It is no longer about Francona. It’s about Farrell, and his team’s performance this summer.

Stop selling the past. Make a case for the future.

Let’s first deal with the facts. Last season was the 100-year anniversary of Fenway Park, and that is important. The aforementioned celebration this past April was necessary and well-done. The All-Fenway Team was acknowledged before the final home game of the season in September, and that too was appropriate given the circumstances surrounding the park’s birthday in 2012.

But recognizing the eight-year anniversary of the 2004 championship team? Please stop.

It’s time for ownership to stop leaning so heavily on the equity of good will that they have built up since purchasing the team. Instead, they must reinvest themselves in the 2013, 2014, and 2015 Red Sox. In turn, fans will reinvest accordingly.

Get excited about Will Middlebrooks, not Kevin Millar.

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None of this is easy. Francona was a superb manager during his tenure in Boston. Farrell owns a sub .500 record since taking over his first managerial gig in Toronto. Middlebrooks is heading into his sophomore season as a pro, and in the grand scheme of things, hasn’t done much of anything yet. Conversely, a player like MIllar helped deliver a World Series trophy to this city. It’s understandable why fans and even members of ownership gravitate towards these guys. They’re fun, likable winners.

And it’s perfectly fine to give Francona a nice ovation when he visits Fenway in an Indians uniform. Let him tip his cap and acknowledge the fans. He deserves that.

But after that, let go.

The Red Sox Take You Into the Weekend

It’s Friday. That’s a good thing. Celebrate by reading a few must-know points on the Red Sox. I’ll keep it short and sweet.

Torey Lovullo was officially hired as the Red Sox bench coach today. The former major leaguer was John Farrell‘s first base coach last season in Toronto. Lovullo is a known commodity in these parts. He managed the Pawtucket Red Sox in 2010. He also interviewed for the Red Sox’ manager job last offseason. Lovullo is a manager-in-waiting, but the take away here is that Farrell is going to surround himself with guys he trusts, knows, and respects. It is a stark difference from what the Red Sox did last year with Bobby Valentine.

— I’m eager to see who is hired as pitching coach. Farrell has a strong pitching background, but it’s important to realize that the pitching coach is the individual who will be managing the staff on a day to day basis. The Red Sox and Farrell must choose a guy who is given full autonomy over the pitchers. Rick Peterson would be a blessing.

— I have a feeling that the 2013 Red Sox are going to be very fun to watch. David Ortiz, Cody Ross, Dustin Pedroia, and Mike Napoli would be a fun core to root for.

— The Red Sox would be smart to stay away from B.J. Upton and Justin Upton. The former is a free agent who doesn’t get on-base. The latter is a good player who is under contract for reasonable dollars, but it would require quality young talent to get him here. Spend your minor leagues commodities on pitching. Or don’t spend them at all.

My Thoughts on John Farrell

John Farrell was officially hired as the 46th manager in Red Sox history on Sunday. Ben Cherington and Co. got their man. And Sox fans should be happy about that. Here’s why.

This time last year Blue Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos wanted Clay Buchholz in exchange for John Farrell. It was just one year ago that the Jays’ front office thought that Farrell was worth a pitcher who is good and has the potential to be a legitimate front of the rotation starter. The Red Sox obviously rebuffed the Blue Jays’ request and hired Bobby Valentine. One year later, the asking price dropped considerably as the Jays accepted infielder Mike Aviles in exchange for their manager who still had one-year remaining on his three-year deal. Detractors have pointed to Farrell’s questionable in-game management (overly aggressive on the base paths) and the disruptions within Toronto’s clubhouse. It is accurate to say that there are fragments of truth buried in each of those two criticisms. However, the fact remains that just 12 months ago the Jays thought very highly of their former skipper–enough to demand Buchholz in return.

Farrell knows the demands that come with managing a baseball team that plays in Boston. There are no surprises here. Farrell served as the pitching coach from 2007-2010. He oversaw a staff that won a World Series, and one that went all the way to Game Seven of the ALCS. He knows the landscape, the demands, and many of the players. Familarity, coupled with two years of separation from the tumult in Boston, makes Farrell a nice fit.

The hiring process was completed relatively quickly. This could have carried on for awhile. Figuring out compensation for a manager or front office executive is never easy as we saw with the Theo Epstein to the Cubs saga last year. The Red Sox, however, were able to acquire Farrell in a reasonable amount of time. This will allow them to begin the process of assembling their 2013 squad immediately. And that, of course, is the most important part of the offseason.

Farrell was the unanimous choice by everyone involved in the selection process. That means John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and, most importantly, Ben Cherington agreed that Farrell was the best choice. Remember that that was simply not the case last time around. Cherington did not want Valentine. Lucchino did. Lucchino won. There was dysfunction from the beginning. Things go smoother when everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Is Farrell perfect? No. Does he have his warts? Yes. Most importantly, is he the right man, at the right time for the job? Time will tell. In the meantime, there is no doubt that his hiring has restored a sense of order, a feeling of confidence about the future of this team–something that players, brass, and fans alike can appreciate.

Waiting for Farrell

The Bobby Valentine era lasted less than one calendar year, but it felt like a decade. I’d love to be able to tell my readers that I saw the writing on the wall when Valentine was hired, that I knew he would about as useful as a warm fart on a hot day. But I can’t. I was very, very wrong.

But that’s okay, right? We’re all wrong at some point. Hell, I thought majoring in English was a good idea.

It’s time to get caught up on the Red Sox managerial search that I hope doesn’t last as long as the one that brought Captain Idiot to town. One thought per bullet. Let’s go.

  • John Farrell is the clear front-runner for the job.
  • I don’t put much stock in Farrell’s sub .500 record as a manager in Toronto.
  • Terry Francona’s record as a manager was terrible when he was hired by the Red Sox.
  • Francona is probably the greatest manager in Red Sox hisotry.
  • By “much stock”, I mean none.
  • The Blue Jays wanted Clay Buchholz for Farrell last season.
  • He has one-year left on his deal, rendering him a lame duck manager.
  • The asking price, if any, will be much, much less.
  • Larry Lucchino and Paul Beeston are very good friends.
  • Paul Beeston is the President of the Blue Jays.
  • I wish my last name was “Beeston”.
  • Farrell isn’t the be all end all, but I believe he brings a great deal of really good things to the table.
  • I won’t be heartbroken if Farrell isn’t managing this team in 2013.
  • No matter who the Red Sox hire, he must be able to earn the trust of the players, communicate well with brass, and manage the pressure that comes with being the skipper of a baseball team that plays in Boston.
  • I hope the Red Sox get their man.

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