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Even Red Sox people in Fort Myers seem embarrassed by offseason

Even Red Sox people in Fort Myers seem embarrassed by offseason originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Greetings from a week of workouts in Florida, where the Red Sox begin their quest to ... what, exactly? Exist? Save John Henry some money? Fill Fenway Park with tourists? As Ned Martin used to say, "Mercy."

Let's start with the vibe. That's a subjective concept usually applied to the clubhouse, but in this case it's more instructive to zoom out to an organizational level, where the word that springs to mind is "embarrassed."

Talk to enough people around the team, and it becomes clear they know they didn't do remotely enough to contend during an uninspiring offseason. Some of it is demeanor, reflected in a sheepishness to discuss their hopes for the season. Some of it is what's unsaid, which is anyone making the case – even on background – that this group will surprise us. And some of it is more explicit, suggesting the fans aren't the only ones frustrated with the direction of the franchise.

It's not hard to read between the lines even if we're only parsing public remarks. Chief baseball officer Craig Breslow declined to say the team will make the playoffs, which initially came off as a failure of leadership, but now reads more like someone choosing not to lie. Manager Alex Cora declined comment when asked if he wants to be here next season. The best closer Kenley Jansen could muster about the club's postseason chances was, "You never know, right?"

Even potential savior Theo Epstein, the one ray of hope in an otherwise dreary winter, conveniently arrived after he could do anything about 2024.

Hope springs eternal, unless it's smothered by the palpable malaise enshrouding your spring training complex. Breslow admitted the offseason didn't unfold as he had hoped or anticipated, particularly in the starting rotation. After pledging to rebuild it, the Red Sox somehow entered the spring at a net loss, replacing iffy veterans James Paxton and Chris Sale with iffy veteran Lucas Giolito.

Meanwhile, both World Series-winner Jordan Montgomery and reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell remain unsigned, with no indication the Red Sox intend to engage. It's just par for an offseason that no one's defending, because it's indefensible.

If anything, the last four months have clarified exactly where the problem rests, and it's not with the chief baseball officer. When Breslow delivers similar results as predecessor Chaim Bloom, we need to assign blame higher up the masthead.

That's owner John Henry, and there's no replacing him. Even though CEO Sam Kennedy and chairman Tom Werner have worn it publicly, this is clearly Henry's show. He wants to build from within, avoid the high end of free agency, and most importantly, cut costs while competing with a mid-tier payroll.

That's why the team is unlikely even to top last year's $225 million figure, and it's why persistent rumors followed Jansen and his $16 million salary all winter. Such a move wouldn't improve their current lot, but that's not really the point, is it?

I get the distinct sense that if it were up to Werner, in particular, the Red Sox would've made more of an effort this winter. Why claim the team plans to go "full throttle" if he knew it was a lie that would just boomerang back in his face?

He's a TV guy who'd like to sell a compelling TV product. He recently insisted that the ownership group remains "in lockstep," but after 20 years together, we shouldn't be surprised if such a profound change in organizational philosophy has not been embraced with unanimity.

The failure to inspire has trickled down to the clubhouse, which is as low-stakes a space as I've seen in 25 years of Grapefruit League coverage. Remove the uniforms and shift JetBlue Park to Arizona, and the Red Sox could be the Royals, whom they appropriately just traded a useful member of their bullpen (John Schreiber) to for a pitching prospect who won't help this year. (For the record, I like the deal.)

Spring training is traditionally a time of hope, but with an underlying tension, too. Players are fighting for jobs, contracts, attention, respect, security, etc. ... There's very little of that here. Outside of youngster Ceddanne Rafaela pushing for the starting job in center and a group of interchangeable arms battling for the last couple of spots in the rotation, the roster is both mediocre and set. That's a terrible combination. If it weren't for Trevor Story attempting to rally the troops, the Red Sox might be the most anonymous team in baseball.

There are words for that if you're a fan. "Disgusting," "disgraceful," and "demoralizing" spring to mind. But if you work for the team and you're honest about the current state of affairs, there's really only one way to describe it:

Embarrassing.