It has been a while since I posted about the Boston Red Sox, and followers of baseball likely know the reason: they have been playing terribly. And if you go back to the last (2011) All Star break, they are 50 wins and 63 losses, which probably puts them in the bottom quarter of all teams while having the second or third highest payroll.
And it is hard to post about the Red Sox when in Boston, where the constant sports press beats incessantly on their failures, on management, and on the running joke of all games being sold out for the umpteenth straight time. But there are some interesting things to think about as the Sox sit today at exactly .500, tied with Toronto for last place in the super-performing AL East.
First, let us lay some blame on Bobby Valentine, who for some reason was on Kevin Youkilis' case and claimed that Youk (of all people) was dogging it, not putting it all on the line for the team. We gave him away to the other Sox in exchange for a minor league pitcher and a utility infielder who is hitting below .170 AND we still get to pay his salary of five or six million dollars. The result? Youk was named Player of the Week in our very League, and his replacement at third is an injured rookie and his replacement replacement put on the worst show I have ever seen from a big league player, when I suffered through the Yankee destruction of the Sox at Fenway last Sunday night: he made an error at third; he bounced a throw to first on a double play by not setting up correctly; switched to first, he ran to the bag rather than catching a catchable grounder that bounced into right field through the space he left open; on a grounder to first he whipped the ball to second and then ran over to cover first for the return double play ball and thus blocked out the view of the pitcher who was properly covering the bag; he went hitless and clearly had never seen a big league curve ball before in his whole life, striking out I don't recall how many times. Gomez may be a lovely guy and just watch--given my powers of observation he may end up as the next Wade Boggs-- but he sure stank the place out on Sunday, and all you could think about as this clown bounced from third to first was, "but these are Youk's positions, and did he not win a Gold Glove at first?"
Some folks "in the know" think that Youk was done, stick a fork in him, and he burned bridges in the clubhouse, with Big Papi, etc. I am not in the know, but I do know this: after Gonzalez left the game Sunday (illness) there was not a person in the infield, and indeed in the entire Sox line-up, who could carry Youk's bat-bag as far as I am concerned.
You could win a playoff spot with the people the Sox have on their DL or who are playing below historical norms: Beckett, Lester, Pedroia, Lackey, Jenks, Bailey, Ellsbury, Gonzalez, Bard, Crawford, Dice-K. But these guys cannot play, or not as in the past; and we are still paying them (and Youk too!). The front office is end-gamed on trades, out of money by any rational measure, and must be thinking that the sainted Theo got out of town just before he should have been run out on a rail (watch out, you Cubs fans). Now the front office has to figure out whether to try for the new second wild card slot this year (they are only 2 1/2 games back for that slot although there are five teams ahead of them) or whether they should declare this a building year. Their goals will drive their trading strategy.
Speaking of which, the Boston press seems to think that management must trade Ellsbury, which would be a real crime because last year he was about the best position ball-player I have seen since Willy Mays (yes -- Willy Mays). He will be a free agent, very expensive, and is rumored as not long for the Sox in any event. And truth be told, we need pitching more than we need outfielders. But how many cynical hits can the fans take and still want to buy season tickets? This is actually a subject of email traffic even now within my own group who split the season.
Today's Red Sox look like the Mets of a few years ago; aging or under-performing players with big price tags playing sub-.500 ball. It will take a big effort, or a few years, to compete at the top of the League but the question is: which of three paths does management take? Tweak ourselves into the playoffs, or go blockbuster to fix it all now, or mentally accept we are rebuilding and spend a couple of years doing it.
In a way, fans might be more comfortable with the last option, which can be understood and holds out clear hope for the future while lifting the pressure for current performance. Does management have the dough and the resolve to fix it all now? That option is the only one that will permit further increases in ticket prices. Do they need to increase prices any more when water is $4 a bottle and "premium" beer is $9.25 and my sandwich was $9.50?
Another school of thought is that the once-vaunted Sox management is out of touch and has so much ego, so much being invested in being the big sports gorilla in a big sports city, that they will NEVER declare, or appear to be in the midst of, a rebuilding year. It will always be "we are trying like crazy to win NOW." I am unable to analyze these people as easily as the sports writers and cynical fans seem able to do, however. I just think they are greedy and end-gamed, an ugly thought.
Sox fans were better before we won two World Series. Now we expect excellence, not just a day at the Park. And now that we are paying the price of excellence in the ticket scale, we also are entitled to get it. Poor blue Sox.