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Archive for the tag “Josh Beckett”

Lowering the Bar

Photo courtesy of espn.go.com

Jon Lester is not an ace.

Don’t tell me about four straight years of at least fifteen wins (2008-2011). I don’t want to hear about how he will be the starter on April 1 in Yankee Stadium. Thirty starts? 200 innings? Good. But not great. Lester may be confused about what it means to be a legit ace, but I’m not. There aren’t many, but you know one when you see one. Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia stop losing streaks. Not only do those players expect their respective teams to lean on them, but they embrace it. You can count on them. They’re dependable.

And for the past year and a half, Lester has been anything but dependable.

With that out of the way, it’s important to begin figuring out exactly what we can realistically expect from him in 2013. That Cy Young-type season that many of us have been waiting for is not coming. I feel pretty confident in saying that. At the same time, there is absolutely no reason why Lester cannot return to his very good (not great) form from a couple of years ago.

Bouncing Back

I’m going to keep this relatively simple. In 2012, Lester was downright bad. The southpaw consistently struggled early in ballgames, racking up high pitch counts, and often times, getting hit rather hard. Stats aside, the former 19-game winner did not look like himself. And the numbers lend credence to that.

Lester’s average WAR (wins above a replacement level player) from 2008-2011 was 5.2. His WAR last season? 0.4.  He went 9-14 last season. His ERA was 4.28. Raise your hand if you think that those numbers will improve.

No Beckett? No problem

Josh Beckett will never, ever, ever receive the credit he deserves in New England–injuries and a poor attitude sealed his fate with most fans. In 2007, Beckett’s right arm almost single-handedly won the Red Sox their second World Series Championship in four years. You should be proud to have the opportunity to say you watched him pitch that season, especially in October. But that doesn’t mean that his influence will be missed.

For the first time in Lester’s career, the Red Sox will open the season without Beckett in their rotation. I’m not a hater of the Texas native, but it’s impossible to simply dismiss the idea that some of his bad habits may have rubbed off on guys like Lester. Even if Beckett was still pitching for the Red Sox, Lester is his own man. He’s not a kid — he’s 29-years old. But still, Beckett is a guy that younger pitchers undoubtedly looked up to. Like or not, he was, for a period of time, a role model to pitchers who came up through the Sox’ system. The hope is that a different tone will pervade the clubhouse this season, espeically with regards to the starting staff. Will the extraction of Beckett lower Lester’s ERA a full run? Of course not. But I’m willing to bet it won’t hurt.

The Farrell Factor

During Farrell’s tenure as pitching coach (2007-2010) of the Red Sox, Lester experienced a great deal of success. He went 54-23, fanned 8.6 batters per nine frames, and posted an ERA of 3.40. It was the stretches of dominance during that four year period that raised fans’ expectations for Lester. In the offseason that followed the 2010 season, Farrell left Boston for an opportunity to manage the Blue Jays, not knowing that the Red Sox would soon have a managerial vacancy themselves. Lester’s 2011 campaign was not an abject failure–he finished year the year 15-9 with 124 ERA+ (adjusted ERA), both quite good. But that was overshadowed by his dismal finish to the disastrous season. Lester’s ERA in his final six starts was a robust 5.40. The Red Sox went 1-5 in those games, and the big lefty looked completely and utterly gassed. He walked too many hitters and allowed bad mechanical habits to persist.

Farrell did not return to Boston as the team’s pitching coach, so it would be silly to assume he will have as much involvement with the staff as he did from ’07-’10. It would be equally foolish, however, to think that Farrell will simply sit back and watch Lester repeat the mistakes he has been making for the past year and a half. Aside from pitching poorly, Lester has received criticism for his overall presence on the mound. Instead of seeing that mean, competitive Lester, we received the complaining, umpire-blaming version. Showing up umpires on the regular makes you appear like a six year old, and that’s never a good look. I believe Farrell (as well as new pitching coach Juan Nieves) will work to reallocate Lester’s focus towards the hitter, rather than the guy calling balls and strikes.

What to Expect

This isn’t exactly a contract year for Lester, but it is close. The Red Sox hold a team option for 2014 worth $13MM. I can’t really see them declining that option, but anything can happen. Either way, it is imperative for Lester to have a good year, not only for the Red Sox but for him personally as well. Nothing is standing in Lester’s way of having a year looks something like 16-8 with an ERA of 3.70.

He is not Verlander or Sabathia. We know that. But Lester is who he is, and over the years, we’ve learned that that typically means more success than failure.

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.

News on Baseball, the Red Sox

Photo via boston.com

Ahhh. That’s better.

After an absolutely brutal Sunday evening, it is important to remember that life goes on. You’ve got to be able to go out there and get ‘em the next day. So today, that’s what we’re going to do.

Mike Napoli and the Red Sox made their deal official last week. It consists of $5MM guaranteed for one year. The powerful right handed hitter will have the ability to make up to $13MM as long as he does not spend any time on the disabled list due to a hip injury. Expect the Red Sox to add some insurance at first base in case Napoli breaks down. A bit more on Napoli later.

Craig Breslow successfully avoided arbitration (and then some) as he and the Sox came to terms on a two-year pact worth $6.25MM on Saturday. The Red Sox possess a team option worth nearing $4MM for the 2015 season. Breslow was acquired by the Sox at the trade deadline last season from the Diamondbacks. The lefty specialist is a Yale graduate and a Connecticut native.

— Courtesy of the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham, here is the list of players that the Red Sox reached agreements with, avoiding arbitration:

OF Jacoby Ellsbury: $9 million
RHP Joel Hanrahan $7.04 million
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia: $4.5 million
RHP Andrew Bailey: $4.1 million
RHP Alfredo Aceves: $2.65 million
RHP Daniel Bard: $1.8625 million
LHP Franklin Morales: $1.487 million
LHP Andrew Miller: $1.475 million

— A couple quick notes on the arbitration process: Headlines are often misleading, especially for those who are not familiar with the the process. (As an aside, if you’re not well-versed in the stimulating world of salary arbitration, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Seriously.) For example, “Ellsbury signs one-year deal with the Red Sox worth $9MM.” That is true. He did. But it makes it seems as though he could have signed elsewhere. I saw a few people on Twitter who are fans of other teams saying things like “we easily could have gotten Ellsbury if the Red Sox only gave him a one-year contract!” Players who are eligible for arbitration are also under team control–they’re not free agents–it’s just a matter of negotiating salary for a one-year deal, like Ellsbury, or a multi-year agreement, like Breslow.

— Despite the fact that it took well over a month for the Red Sox and Napoli to finalize the deal that they first agreed to, in principle, on December 3, I never thought the two parties would go in different directions. The Red Sox needed Napoli to fill a gaping hole at both first base and in the middle of their lineup. As it turned out, Napoli needed the Red Sox to serve as a landing spot to rebuild value as a free agent. The Rangers approached Napoli about returning to Arlington but were ultimately turned away–not because he didn’t want to return to Texas but because he will have more of an opportunity to play day in and day out in Boston. Nolan Ryan and Co. do not have an obvious need at first base or catcher. It is easy to see Napoli spending 2013 here, experiencing success, and subsequently leaving in free agency, but I wouldn’t make that assumption. Napoli isn’t represented by Scott Boras, and 2013 could easily be the first year of a nice little marriage between the former Ranger and the Red Sox.

Francona: The Red Sox Years hits shelves on Tuesday. From everything I have heard/read, I think this book is going to be real good stuff. I wouldn’t expect Tito to expose John Lackey, Jon Lester, and Josh Beckett for drinking beer and acting completely unprofessional in the clubhouse during the 2011 season, but I would anticipate some great stories from the eight years he managed in Boston — some of which will be funny and entertaining while others make John Henry and Larry Lucchino look quite bad. No matter what, it will reaffirm what we already know–managing in Boston is not easy. The two book covers below illustrate that point. Long live Tito.

Two Thoughts on the Red Sox

—-On November 24, 2005, the Red Sox came to terms with the Marlins on a deal that was headlined by Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell coming to Boston, while Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez moved south. Sanchez turned out to be a fine pitcher — he is in line to make a ton of dough this offseason — and Lowell, who was viewed as nothing but a salary dump by the Marlins, captured the 2007 World Series MVP. But that Thanksgiving Day Deal came down to two pieces: Beckett and Ramirez.

So would the 2013 Red Sox make that same deal during the offseason before an extremely important season? Would GM Ben Cherington trade top prospect Xander Bogaerts for a young, raw power arm? It’s a tough question. Cherington played an integral role in the group that orchestrated the deal that brought Beckett to Boston seven years ago while former GM Theo Epstein was on a hiatus. He’s also the same guy that sent Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Nick Punto packing this past offseason, simultaneously regaining financial flexibility and acquiring a nice load of quality prospects.

I believe that if the opportunity presented itself, Cherington would let go Boegarts, a promising talent, to acquire a potential ace.

—-No one is really talking too much about him, but Dan Haren would be a nice fit for this team. The Angels did not make the 32-year old right handed pitcher a qualifying offer. In turn, the team that signs him will not have to relinquish a draft pick. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, teams are less concerned about Haren’s nagging back than they are with his hip. The guy has injury issues–there’s no doubt about that. But Haren an absolute innings eater. Before 2012, a year in which he tossed 176 frames, Haren had thrown at least 200 innings in each of the previous seven seasons. A one-year deal with a large figure attached to it would be ideal. Overpay in the short term.

Going Back to Cali

Carl Crawford was in Pensacola, Fl., on Thursday, awaiting surgery. That day, his left elbow was operated on by Dr. James Andrews. Roughly two days later, Crawford, who is two injury-plagued seasons deep into his seven-year $142MM contract, was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers as a piece in a mega-deal that also brought Josh Beckett and Nick Punto to the hills of Hollywood.

But don’t get lost in the shuffle. Don’t get caught up in the noise. This nine-player trade was all about one very talented first baseman: Adrian Gonzalez.

The Dodgers and GM Ned Colletti had been sniffing out the former San Diego Padre  since before the trade deadline. Ben Cherington and the Red Sox rebuffed any attempts by the Dodgers to acquire the talented Californian during the month of July, refusing to give up on their hopes of reaching the postseason. As the Sox continued to plummet further in the standings, it became easier for front office members to recognize the need to do something that would drastically alter the path that this team was on.

Then Friday came, and Gonzalez was claimed off waivers by the Dodgers.

Then Beckett.

It is true that at this juncture the Red Sox could have simply pulled Gonzalez back off of waivers and, as long as Beckett waived his 10-5 rights, washed their hands clean of the much-maligned right handed pitcher. When the Dodgers plucked him off of the waiver wire, the Texas native and the remaining two-plus years of his contract at roughly $16MM a pop was officially their problem.

But that isn’t what happened.

Instead, Cherington (and Larry Lucchino) saw an opportunity, an avenue to bolster a farm system bereft of quality starting pitching prospects and gain a plethora of financial flexibility. The player who would pave this road was none other than Gonzalez. It is important to make one thing abundantly clear–the Dodgers would not have assumed the contracts of both Beckett and Crawford without including Gonzalez, let alone sending two of their top three pitching prospects back East. Gonzalez is what made this deal happen.

When the dust settled, roughly $260MM dollars was shipped from Boston to Los Angeles in the form of Crawford, Beckett, Gonzalez, and Punto. In return, the Red Sox received first baseman James Loney, pitching prospects Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, and two position-player prospects Ivan De Jesus Jr. and Jerry Sands. (In the interest of being accurate, De La Rosa and Sands are believed to be the two “players to be named later”. This will not become official until after the season as they were placed on waivers and did not clear them). For now, the former Dodgers farmhands are just names to most fans, but there is a truckload of both legitimate talent and potential sprinkled among the Red Sox’ haul. The real prize for the Sox, however, is the financial breathing room that has been afforded to them.

Digest this–Crawford signed a seven-year $142MM contract. To put that in perspective, the left handed hitter who relies on his legs will be 35-years old in the final year of his contract, making $21MM. It’s a ridiculous figure for a player with Crawford’s skill set who is in his prime and unquestionably healthy–never mind the fact that he underwent Tommy John surgery less than a week ago.

To say that Crawford’s personality did not mesh with the pressures that come with playing the game of baseball in the city of Boston would be an understatement. And now, that is no longer a problem of the Red Sox.

Beckett’s situation is different. He is the middle of a four-year contract extension that was given to him in 2010 by former GM Theo Epstein. He has succeeded and, at times, thrived in Boston. It may be hard for some fans to admit, but Beckett is a postseason hero, a linchpin of the 2007 World Series Championship.

But times have changed. Beckett is no longer the committed competitor he once was. He has evolved into the face of what is wrong with the Red Sox. Whether that is fair or unfair, he undoubtedly has done nothing to disprove that assertion. More importantly, he is owed roughly $32MM over the next two-plus years, and his fastball is sitting at a diminishing  91 MPH. And now, that is no longer a problem of the Red Sox.

Going forward, the Red Sox have an absolute ton of money at their disposal. According to Alex Speier of WEEI, the Red Sox have gone from around $100MM in locked up, guaranteed dollars to $39MM in 2013 (not including arbitration eligible or pre-arbitration eligible players). The 2013 free agent market is not exactly flush with talent, however.

It will be vital for the Red Sox not to succumb to old habits–signing a player to a lucrative, long-term contract just because he is the best available option. Not only is it bad way of conducting business, but it is lazy way of conducting business. Cherington certainly sounds like he is willing to put in the work.

“Find value in the market. Find the best opportunities. You’ve got to find players that fit your roster and your team, find the players that are going to deliver the best performance on the field in Boston and try to find those using resources in the most efficient way.”

Because of the blockbuster trade that became official over the weekend, Cherington and the Red Sox will have financial and roster flexibility to reconstruct one of the premier franchises in baseball.

They can thank Gonzalez for that.

Quick Hits – Red Sox

Before we delve into all things Red Sox, I’m going to be upfront by saying that I’m not going to directly deal with the latest off the field soap opera. If I touch on it in passing, that’s all it is–a passing thought. It’s not that I don’t believe it is important (it is), but I loathe the drama that seems to follow this team. Hearing about it day after day makes me want to do this. I care about baseball. I care about what occurs between the lines. I hope you do too.

Let’s one-stop shop.

Jason Varitek is not fit to manage the 2013 Boston Red Sox. He is not far enough removed from the situation. Managerial experience is not a prerequisite for me, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Maybe in the future, Captain, but right now is not the time.

— The thought of another hiring process makes me tired just thinking about it, but it is probably inevitable. John Farrell is ideal but less than likely. My early guess? Sandy Alomar Jr.

— The Orioles are better than the Red Sox, and that hurts to admit. I was dead wrong about that team. Wei-Yin Chen has been excellent, and Adam Jones is a fun player to watch.

— Reports have come out lately that because of the turbulence and clubhouse that seems to follow the Red Sox like the plague, free agents will opt to sign elsewhere during upcoming off-seasons. Not the case. The worst clubhouse in the league can suddenly be the most attractive when the dollars are counted. Players follow the dough. The rest barely matters.

— Some ardent Red Sox fans jokingly talk about rooting for another team as our Local Nine continue to fade. I’ll admit that it is fun to wish the Pirates well or hope that Josh Reddick‘s squad out west finishes strong. In reality, it provides me with absolutely no comfort. I’m a one-team kinda guy.

— Every time you hear or read a story about how awful the Red Sox clubhouse is — pretend they were winning before coming to a conclusion. Let me elaborate with the help of an example.

  • The Red Sox are 20 games above .500, and John Lackey is “double fisting” after a win in the clubhouse on the road in Cleveland. Lackey, unlike Jacoby Ellsbury in 2010, remains with his team, despite being unable to contribute on the field due to injury. A couple of beers to go with the post-spread after yet another win is anything but a big deal. Big Lack performed poorly in his first two-years with the Sox, but it is clear that he is dedicated to his teammates and the organization.

A team’s win-loss record dictates how it is perceived by the media, by the fans. Nothing else matters.

— Red Sox brass is criticized for being too concerned with public opinion. Wins and loses take a backseat to how the average fan perceives the ball club, sort of thing. A large segment of fans are busy hitting blogs and radio talk shows clamoring for the Sox to rid themselves of Josh Beckett and Lackey Eat the cash and move on. If John Henry and Co. permits GM Ben Cherington to work a trade that would ship one of the two (or both) malcontents elsewhere this off-season, wouldn’t he just be catering to popular opinion? Just sayin’.

No Voice, Just Noise

“You’re right that some of his [Josh Hamilton] at-bats aren’t very impressive from the standpoint that he doesn’t work deep into the count. He’s swinging at a lot of bad pitches. He just doesn’t seem to be locked in at all. So what you’re hoping is that his approach will change, and he’ll start giving quality at-bats because there’s a lot of those at-bats that he just gives away.” – Nolan Ryan, President of the Texas Rangers

The Boston Red Sox do not have a voice. John Henry, despite the mass-email that he sent to various media outlets and beat reporters on Monday, is not the backbone of the organization. Larry Lucchino may, according to Henry, run the Red Sox, but when he speaks (or writes), it’s hard to not feel like you’re being sold something. Ben Cherington can be refreshingly honest, but he does not possess the autonomy necessary for a GM to be completely successful. Lucchino lurks. Castration occurred early for Bobby Valentine. He is a hard-nosed manager being forced to toe the company line. Because of that, fans are much more apt to roll their eyes when he speaks, not listen.

From ownership, to baseball operations, to the on-field leaders, the Red Sox have proven to be exceptionally good at organizationally undercutting one another.

Let’s examine.

Dale Sveum, Cherington’s first choice as the next Red Sox manager, is pushed aside by Lucchino in favor of Valentine, a sexier name who brings a reputation that runs perpendicular with Terry Francona’s style. Before Valentine is done unpacking, a combination of Dustin Pedroia and Cherington scold him for being himself, something he was seemingly brought to Boston to do. Would I publicly criticize a veteran player like Kevin Youkilis? No. But I’m also not Valentine, and when you make a hire like the former glasses and mustache-wearing Mets manager, that type of incident should be expected.

Roughly two months ago, Valentine makes a comment to rookie third baseman, Will Middlebrooks, as he comes off of the field follow an inning where he apparently made a couple defensive miscues: “Nice inning, kid” — or something of the like. It was a completely innocuous comment, designed loosen up what was likely a white-hot Middlebrooks. A player in the dugout witnesses the exchange and deems it necessary to mention it to a member of the Red Sox front office. Valentine is later approached by ownership, discouraging him from making comments similar to the one he made towards Middlebrooks.

It has been dysfunction at its finest.

Worst of all, there is not a figure like Nolan Ryan or Cam Neely to set an organizational tone for the Red Sox. Both Ryan and Neely, although experiencing success in two different sports as players, serve as presidents of their respective franchises and command the respect that is often needed to bridge the gap between ownership and on-field employees. Do you think Henry, Lucchino, or Cherington could get away with criticizing David Ortiz‘ approach at the plate the way Ryan (see above) dissected Josh Hamilton’s two weeks ago? Me neither.

The Red Sox advocate the idea of everyone contributing before a decision is made. Everyone gets a seat at the table, sort of thing. But that is likely the root of the problem.

No one in that organization just goes to work and does the job assigned to him. The players know that ownership will listen when they complain. Sometimes they’re even rewarded for their gripes. Cherington is promoted to be the GM and oversee baseball operations, but Lucchino pauses his perpetual Red Sox sales pitch to choose the manager, subverting his new GM’s authority. Henry has deep pockets but seems disinterested with the product he owns.

Ideally, players would stick to hitting, fielding, and pitching. They would respect their manager enough not to go to ownership about an exchange in the dugout they witnessed–and if they did, they would not be heard. Ownership would back their manager, simultaneously fostering a sense of respect for him within the walls of the clubhouse.

Ideally, Cherington would be allowed to do the job he was assigned to do by his bosses. He is the General Manager of the Boston Red Sox because somebody believes strongly in his skills as a decision-maker when it comes to baseball operations. In turn, if Cherington believes Sveum puts his team in the best situation to succeed on the field, he should be the manager, not Valentine, not Joe Torre, not Casey Stengel.

Ideally, Henry would identify that his ball club is in complete disarray. He would care enough not to let it continue. He would be vocal. Lucchino may “run the Red Sox”, but Henry owns them. He can do what he wants–that includes firing Lucchino.

From the players on the field, to the coaches in the dugout, to the executives watching from above, there is a tangible lack of respect that permeates throughout the organization. Everyone steps on each others toes and thinks that it is perfectly fine because no one says that it’s not. When things go awry, nobody in the Red Sox organization steps up to right the ship because they’re too busy bumping into each other.

Until a sense of respect is injected back into this organization, it would be silly to expect anything but mediocrity out of the Red Sox. With or without Valentine at the helm or whether Josh Beckett is on this team or not, the Red Sox will be .500 on the field because they’re .500 everywhere else.

Dethroned

It was October 29, 2007, and the best pitcher on the planet was Josh Beckett.

The strong right handed starter had just collected his second World Series title the night before as the Red Sox completed their sweep of the Rockies. Beckett did not pitch in the clinching game but to say he had done his part in the 2007 postseason would have been a dramatic understatement.

In his four starts during the playoffs, the Sox ace absolutely stuffed the opposition. He went 4-0, tossed 30 innings, fanned 35 batters, and walked two. This guy from Texas was tough. No sarcasm. Just ask the Angels, Indians, and Rockies.

The former second overall pick did not win the Cy Young Award. He was not deemed the MVP of the World Series. But Beckett won the Red Sox a championship. Boston had an excellent team that season, but the kid from Spring, Texas, drove the bus. He was the man.

A lot has changed in just under five years.

The deadline to make a trade is at 4 p.m. today, and the majority of Red Sox followers would rejoice if GM Ben Cherington found a way to move Beckett, a guy who once sat upon the throne of baseball in Boston.

I don’t believe the much-maligned former ace will find himself in a different city this time on Wednesday. There are just too many hurdles to leap. Beckett is a 10-5 guy. He is owed over $30MM over the course of the next two-plus seasons. Teams have serious and warranted concerns about his attitude. It doesn’t help that the former Marlin is in the middle of an exceptionally mediocre 2012 campaign (5-9, 4.57 ERA). Beckett is not easy freight to move.

The disciples of 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Michael Felger and most Red Sox fans for that matter would advocate brass eating a large chunk of Beckett’s salary in an attempt to expedite the departure of the heavily criticized right hander. The argument comes down to a very simple question: Is Beckett part of the solution or part of the problem? Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as the inquiry.

For me, Beckett is not obviously part of the solution enough to stand firmly against the idea of moving him. In other words, I would be okay with shipping him to another team–only if the Red Sox did not carry the responsibility of paying any of his remaining salary, for this year and beyond. I’m not stupid enough to ask for a prized prospect in return for a guy who is playing under Beckett’s contractual status and not performing at a high level. At the same time, I’m unwilling to make Beckett the scapegoat for all that is wrong with the Boston Red Sox.

Beckett’s departure from this team is not the elixir that the masses crave. Trading the polarizing righty will not erase the bad signings that this organization has made over the course of the past 5-7 years. Getting rid of the Texas Tough Guy will not solve the communication issues that plague the Red Sox. Believe it or not, trading Beckett will not make Jon Lester locate his fastball any better.

Whether the 2007 postseason hero is with this team tomorrow or not, the Red Sox face a plethora of problems that run deeper than the right arm of Beckett. But no matter what, he will never regain the status he once had five years ago.

Red Sox Trade Talk

In a three team deal made last season, the Red Sox acquired Erik Bedard from the Seattle Mariners. The Sox shipped Tim Federowicz, Stephen Fife, and Juan Rodriguez to the Dodgers who sent Trayvon Robinson back east. Robinson wasn’t a member of the Sox for long as he and Chih-Hsien Chiang headed to Seattle while Bedard joined a staff in Boston that had been limping along.

Bedard was not the sturdy crutch the Red Sox rotation desperately needed. The Sox missed the playoffs, due in large part to their inability to find quality outings from their starters. As the trade deadline approaches, the Red Sox find themselves in a similar position–a World Series offense and a Little League World Series starting pitching staff.

One could argue that last year’s version of the Red Sox was much better positioned to qualify for postseason play. I’m not going to debate facts, but the point is that this year’s team, like the 2011 squad, is in the thick of the playoff hunt, despite the bed-wetting that occurred at Fenway Park over the weekend. And if the members of the Red Sox front office believe that this team is one piece away from making the postseason, I would appreciate it if they would bring in a better starter than a soft lefty with bad knees who is on the back nine of his career.

Matt Garza would be an ideal addition. Unfortunately, there are a number of things that muddy the trade waters for not only the Red Sox, but many soon-to-be active teams around baseball. The complicating agent at work here is of course baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement. But that is a story for a different day.

Let’s take a look at what we can glean from how the Red Sox approach this year’s trade deadline.

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Could the Red Sox actually be sellers?

The short answer here is an emphatic ‘no’. It’s not easy for a big market team that plays in front of a demanding fan base to begin to auctioning off pieces. The current ownership current group is obsessed with sellout streaks and commemorative bricks. It’s easier to push the product when their team is successful, or at least operating under the cloak of success. Yes, the Red Sox may be a .500 ball club, in last place in their division, and looking up at six teams in an expanded Wild Card race, but I wouldn’t look for brass to make a move that would end up qualifying the team as sellers. If the Red Sox end up going 0-6 on their road trip that will send them into the Texas heat and back north to play the Yankees, however, it may force the organization to hold a mirror up to its face and take stock of reality.

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Ben Cherington’s first crack at the deadline

The first-year GM had the right idea when he sent Jed Lowrie to the Astros for Mark Melancon and Josh Reddick to the A’s for Andrew Bailey in the offseason, but neither deal has proved to be wildly successful. Cherington will always be compared to his predecessor, Theo Epstein, who may be most well-known for the 2004 deadline deal that shipped one of Boston’s most beloved sports figures, Nomar Garciaparra, to Chicago. The three team swap netted he Red Sox Orlando Cabrera, Dave Roberts, and Doug Mientkiewicz. A historic comeback and a World Series championship later, and all of a sudden, Cherington has his work cut out for him.

It would not be an absurd deduction to think that Cherington would be conservative during his first trade deadline as GM, especially given the climate of the market–everyone’s in it and no one is out of it. It is a seller’s market. However, Cherington was part of the team in the fall of 2005 that pulled the trigger on the deal that brought Josh Beckett to Boston and sent prized prospect Hanley Ramirez to the then Florida Marlins. Epstein was on leave at the time. So what does this mean for the Red Sox, seven years later? It’s clear that Cherington isn’t afraid of parting with young, top tier talent if an opportunity to improve presents itself.

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Gauging how the team feels about its minor league assets

If Cherington and his team determine that Jon Lester and Beckett are capable of turning their lackluster seasons around, it would be reasonable to believe that they view the Red Sox as a playoff team. The second half of that contingency is necessary in order for the Sox to pursue a deadline deal. You’re typically not going to move young talent in the middle of the season if your team does not possess a real opportunity to play beyond the month of September.

For the sake of this argument, let’s assume that the Red Sox view themselves as legitimate contenders and will look to add a piece or two next week. Matt Barnes and Xander Bogaerts are two blue chips prospects in the Red Sox system that would certainly garner interest from GM’s across baseball.

Matt Barnes is a starting pitcher currently at High-A Salem. He is 22-years old, throws hard, and represents exactly what the Red Sox desperately need–a low cost, front half of the rotation starter. I can’t imagine him being moved.

Xander Bogaerts is the cream of the crop on the Red Sox farm. He is 19-years old, plays shortstop, and projects as a middle of the order hitter. He is 2012’s version of Hanley Ramirez. The Providence Journal’s Brian MacPherson does not see Bogaerts going anywhere.

MacPherson’s response is an indication of exactly how the organization feels about Bogaerts, and it is extremely likely that Cherington isn’t the only general manager who views the native of Aruba in that same light. Needless to say, Bogaerts carries a truckload of value on the market.

Ultimately, I agree with MacPherson. The Red Sox are not likely to include Bogaerts’ name on a list of prospects that another ball club can pick from when negotiating a potential trade. However, the only caveat is that the Sox possess three quality young players who play on the left side of the infield. Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks, Jose Iglesias could eventually be vying for two spots in the Red Sox infield. Bogaerts is a player who could become at least somewhat expendable if the Red Sox had confidence in Iglesias’ ability to hit at the major league level. I don’t, so I can’t believe they do either.

Going forward, even beyond this year’s trade deadline, it will be interesting to monitor the availability of both Iglesias and Bogaerts. If one guy’s name is consistently tied to potential trades, it would simultaneously serve as a testament to the confidence that the organization has in the other player.

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My thoughts

It is starting to sound redunant, but it is true: If the Red Sox do not get drastically better performances from Lester and Beckett, they will not seriously contend as the season progresses. In that respect, the trade deadline is almost meaningless in terms of its potential impact on the 2012 season. Garza, tricep cramping aside, would be a solid pick-up. He is young. He would not be a rental as he is signed through next season. He is a guy that would come here and compete his butt off. But without Lester and Beckett pitching up to their expectations, Garza’s efforts would not propel them into October.

Sunday’s Notes

The Red Sox lost last night 5-3 at the Trop in St. Petersburg, FL., which is a total diaper of a stadium. Will Middlebrooks hit a big two-out two-strike two-run home run. The blast was a big hit within the context of the game but also personally for the young third baseman who is attempting to fill the void left by one of Boston’s most beloved sports figures in recent history, Kevin Youkilis, who returns to Fenway Park in a White Sox uniform on Monday.

Here is more on the Red Sox.

Josh Beckett will get the ball today, opposed by James Shields. Beckett is typically excellent against the Rays, especially at their place. He will look to rebound after letting up five first inning runs to the Yankees two Fridays ago. You will remember that it was Beckett who threw one-hit complete game gem against the Rays last year. He was one Reid Brignac dribbler up the third baseline away from being perfect. If you don’t remember the game, that’s okay. It may have something to do with the fact that he did it the same night the Bruins won the Stanley Cup.

—The Red Sox have a slew of difficult games on the docket, including today. As the trade deadline approaches, the front office will have some difficult decisions to make. If baseball operations on 4 Yawkey Way believes that this team can not only make the playoffs but compete for a World Series in October, then they should go out and seek a pitcher like Matt Garza to augment a starting staff that has struggled. If they feel as though this year’s team does not possess the capability of playing up to the level of the Yankees, Rangers, and Angels, GM Ben Cherington and company should look to sell some pieces. The latter option is not very likely as Red Sox brass is dedicated to putting a winning team on the field, or at least a group that can successfully be sold as a winning team. My point is simple: Pick one or the other. Fold your hand or go all in.

—For a period of time, just about a month ago, the Red Sox had gotten in the habit of taking two out of three games from teams. They were winning series after series, typically against teams who were just as good them or worse. Today is a great opportunity to get back into that groove.

Franklin Morales has been solid since Bobby Valentine moved him to the rotation. However, the story does not simply end there. Earlier this season, the Red Sox had the luxury (and I mean that literally–it was a luxury) of having three capable lefties in the bullpen. The aforementioned Morales, Andrew Miller, and Rich Hill were all capable of coming into a game to get one tough left handed hitter or multiple batters. Hill has since moved to the disabled list, and Morales is firmly entrenched in the rotation. Miller is the only left-handed weapon that Valentine has left at his disposal. As a result, the manager has to be much more conservative with how and when he calls upon his lone lefty. It is a small issue but one that looms large as games move towards the later innings.

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