For the past fourteen months, the Red Sox have been a franchise in turmoil; with a payroll in excess of $150 million invested in players who struggle to stay healthy and produce at their expected levels. The Red Sox were viewed by many to be World Series contenders last season and talented enough to make the playoff in 2012; but the team has been mired in mediocrity all season. Hovering around the .500 mark with a collection of players who are all-star caliber; the Red Sox have dealt with an incomplete roster and several active players who have disappointed thus far.
As much as the 2012 season has been troublesome from the start, the issues with the Red Sox go back to last season. Heading into September, the Red Sox sat in first place and held a 10-game lead in the wild card standings. Over the course of the next 30 days, the team was contributors to one of the biggest collapses in baseball history.
After the close of such a disappointing season, the fans expected the Red Sox to make changes to change their future fortunes; and the ownership delivered. General Manager Theo Epstein would depart for the Chicago Cubs while two-time World Series champion manager Terry Francona's contract would not be extended for the following season. For manager, the front office turned to veteran manager and broadcast analyst Bobby Valentine to bring a fresh approach to a team in need of one.
While Francona's departure was not a total surprise, the circumstances surrounding his departure revealed a darker side of the Red Sox front office; as stories began to leak about players drinking in the clubdouse during games and how Francona had an addiction to prescription pain medicine. For a manager who accomplished what he did in his Boston tenure, the team should never have allowed such damaging stories to be leaked; stories that tarnish his reputation and may hamper his ability to land a managerial job in the future.
Red Sox fans need look no further than this week's series to see some of the other issues that have hovered over this franchise. On Monday, oft-injured outfielder Carl Crawford returned to action for the fist time this season. This is the same Crawford that team owner John Henry stated he did not approve the $142 million contract he signed the offseason prior. The owner's comments about the Crawford signing gave a glimpse of how much disconnect that existed in the front office and how little involvement the ownership group had in significant investment activities.
Across the field in the opponent's dugout Monday is former Red Sox thide baseman Kevin Youkilis, whom manager Bobby Valentine questioned his commitment earlier in the season. In the Red Sox dugout sat injured second baseman Dustin Pedroia; who challenged the new Red Sox manager's comments regarding his former teammate, stating:
"I really don't know what Bobby's trying to do, but that's not the way we go about our stuff around here. He'll figure that out."
After other players stepped forward in support of their popular former teammate, Valentine would retract his statement and apologize to Youkilis. For a manager who was brought in to challenge the status quo, apologizing for his opinion made fans question just how much control Valentine had over this team.
Then there is the saga of Josh Beckett; the two-time World Series champion and expected ace of the Red Sox staff. After a terrible September last season, Beckett has struggled with injury and consistency. For a player who was alleged to be involved in last season's rumored in-game clubhouse drinking; this season Beckett found controversy again.
After a career high 126-pitch in a late April outing, Beckett would report soreness in his right shoulder/lat muscle and may have trouble making his next start. While this alone is not unusual; just two days prior to missing that start, Beckett was reported to be golfing. One would think that a player that has to be miss a start due to soreness would not be out golfing; especially when the team is struggling and his presence on the mound is needed.
After hitting his historic 400th career home run, slugger David Ortiz would go public with his level of "humiliation" over the way his contract was negotiated last winter. One would expect that a milestone achievement would cause Ortiz to speak positively about what he has accomplished as opposed to drudging up past issues. The frustration of Ortiz playing under a one-year contract is understandable, but the timing of his comments are hard to justify; as it further demonstrates the personal agendas of the players overshadowing the team goal or milestone achievements.
Who is running this team anyway? It may ownership, who openly question the signing of a prominent free agent and spends a large amount of their time "selling" their Red Sox brand as opposed to leading them. Maybe it is the newly appointed manager who openly questions a player's commitment (Youkilis) but then defends one that had a questionable commitment the September prior (Beckett). The team appears to remain as dysfunctional as they were last year, with the divide between the players and manager as wide as ever.
The intent of hiring Valentine was appointing a known manager who had a reputation of being hard on his players. How effective can a manager be if he has to apologize to his players for his comments and also defend his ace pitcher for his questionable activities?
If the Red Sox were in first place and playing at a high level, many of these issues may be minor distractions. But when a team struggles as this one has, it becomes impossible to ignore the level of dysfunction that exists. After last season's debacle and the first-half failings of the 2012 team, I struggle each day maintaining optimism in a team that seems to be mired in inner turmoil; knowing that this team should be better.
For all that ails this team; as of Tuesday the Red Sox sit just one game out a wild card spot. With Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedrioa and Andrew Bailey already back or near returning, the team is more than talented enough to earn a playoff berth and be in the mix for a another world championship. Of course, with 11 teams currently with a .500 record or better in the American League, simply being within striking distance is not enough; the team would need to come together in order to secure a playoff spot as opposed to falling apart as they did in 2011.
While the talent is there, some of the aforementioned attitude issues could hinder this collection of talent from gelling together as a team. What makes a team popular and worthy of rooting for is a connection that the players have with their fans; and a believed collective commitment from their management to put the best group on the field.
I have been and will continue to be a fan of the Boston Red Sox; but these days I am more loyal to the jersey that is worn than any individual players. This is not a new development; as my personal player connections have weakened from the 1970s to today; with the exception of the 2004 Red Sox team tjat possessed a more likeable quality. That band of "idoits" and their journey to winning the championship was one that I gladly followed from day one. The team was focused on "reversing the curse"; looking to achieve something that no Red Sox team had done in 86 years. That team was led by Francona, the same man who's player relaitonship building played a huge factor in their ultimate success. A mere seven seasons later, that same person no longer could connect with the current assembly of talent.
Today I sit and wonder what this team really is and what they can become. Are they as good as I thought before the season started or are they simply destined to underachieve? I suppose these next few weeks will go along way in answering that question.
Scott Duhaime is a life-long Boston Red Sox fan with a career statistics/analytics background. His passion for baseball and his quantitative skills translate into a deep analysis of player statistical contributions both to their respective teams and the sport in general.
Follow Scott on Twitter: @Scott_Duhaime
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