Thursday, October 6, 2011

Let's Get This Over With: 2011 Red Sox Edition

Let's get this over with.

I wrote the bulk of this post last week, not too long after the most statistically unlikely occurrence that has ever occurred in human sport occurred, before Tito left and the pace of Epstein speculation picked up. It doesn't change much of the points I make, but I think greatly decreases the likelihood of some of what I'd like to see happening. Looking forward the 2012 Red Sox are still one of the most talented teams in the league and if their pitching can stay healthy, they should have a successful year. The impact of the 2011 season I think is really going to show in keeping that talent together and in the long term success of the team. They've locked up some important players, but not all of them. With Tito gone, and Epstein likely out, I wonder if they'll be able to keep Ellsbury once his contract is up, if they'll be able to keep Papelbon, or at least, get some kind of value for him in a trade. What about Bard, and some of the other younger players who don't have long term deals yet? And what about Tek and Wake? Will they bother to come back (more on this below)? Will a new GM, pick up their 1 year options? And speculating on other moves, if the clubhouse was as bad as is being implied, will Boston continue to be a team players want to play for.

So, below is what I wrote last week, tweaked a little bit to reflect the new developments.

I'm pretty conservative when it comes to sports. I'm willing to give players and coaches a chance to prove themselves, even when they've been struggling. I prefer stability in my lineups. I'm a real fan of the home town discount. I was one the people who argued in favor of keeping Claude Julien and Tim Thomas and I think Tito should manage the Sox for many years to come. (Goddamnit!) I think there is something ridiculous when armchair coaches give themselves pulsating aneurisms condemning a player after a bad week.

So the next paragraph is going to be a bit out of character. (Spleen!)

Carl Crawford has no place on the 2012 Boston Red Sox. There are a lot of things about his performance I'm willing to forgive. But something is wrong when a player with far less talent, making far less money, has more big at bats, in far fewer at bats than Carl Crawford did. Under no circumstances, where both players are healthy, should Darnell McDonald come through in the clutch more than Carl Crawford. Did I mention that the rookie Reddick had more big hits and he only came up on any permanent basis after J.D. Drew was injured? Hell, Ryan Lavarnway might have more clutch hits in his three games than Crawford had all season. A .240 batting average can mean a lot of different things, but it doesn't mean much if every time you come up with 2 outs and runners on, your fan base feels a sinking feeling.

But even with the lack of offense I wasn't ready to send Crawford packing until last week. Even though he didn't get an error for it, there is absolutely no reason why a professional left-fielder should have missed that catch. Of course, Crawford making that catch doesn't guarantee the Red Sox win that game, but it does guarantee that we don't go through the worst 64 sports-related seconds imaginable. And the throw to the plate was the kind you tell your therapist about. It was the single most important defensive play in his career and he absolutely wilted.

And he missed the exact same catch earlier in the week. A miss that cost the Red Sox two runs and the game. In case, there is any doubt the level of disdain I feel for Crawford's effort I will say this. Manny Ramirez would have made those catches. Manny Ramirez.

At the moment the Red Sox might be able to pitch a “not the right fit,” deal with someone to send Crawford elsewhere and, in doing so, might actually get a decent return on their investment. But, honestly, I'd be fine just clearing the books of his salary so the Sox could spend that money on somebody willing to, I don't know, throw his body into the center field wall in his attempt to make a difficult catch at the tail end of an MVP caliber season.

Enough of that. Looking forward. The first thing I would do is pick up Varitek's one year option. If there is one important lesson the Sox learned this year that can be applied in the future, is that resting your catchers leads to better offensive production. It makes sense. Catcher is such a grueling position on the defensive side, that very few catchers have the legs beneath them when they get to the plate to make any meaningful contributions. Between Tek and Salty the Red Sox got 27 Home Runs and 92 RBI. (If you throw Lavarnway in there, the numbers go up to 29 and 100.) Imagine what kind of salary that guy would get. (Hi Joe Mauer.) Frankly, I would sign Tek and bring up Lavarnway so the Red Sox carry and rotate three catchers.

The rotation would go 4-1, 3-2, with Salty being the 4, Lavarnway being the 1, and Salty being the 3, and Tek and Lavarnway splitting the 2. This would keep Salty fresh and give Lavarnway a chance to play the game with Varitek around. (Can you think of a better way to develop a young catcher?) And if they want to get Lavarnway a few more at bats, he can DH for a game here and there. And Tek goes right to bench coach in 2013. (Though now, who knows if he or future GM and M would want that.)
Besides the Crawford removal, I actually wouldn't do that much in the off-season at this point. I would still look around for a true starting short stop. I might also see if there are any developing pitchers available. But, we should remember there was a good reason why everyone picked them to win the AL east. Even with losing two of their five starting pitchers and a couple of other key starters, and the under performance of Crawford, it still took a convergence of events that Nate Silver calculated the odds of happening at 1 to 278 million, to keep them out of the playoffs. I would also pick up Wakefield's option, if only to give him the chance to announce his retirement mid-season and get the curtain call he deserves.
One more dire prediction. If the Red Sox start slow, the Fenway sell-out streak ends. For fun, let's just say it ends on June 23. Now to watch the Bruins game and banner raising that I recorded.

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