The season is, mercifully, coming to an end for the Boston Red Sox. It is time to do a post-mortem and evaluate where things went wrong. Many of the seeds for Boston’s problems during the season were planted in the pre-season. Let’s take out the surgical knife and take a look inside:
Failure to extend Jon Lester
Let us begin with that bogus four-year, $70 million joke of a contract the Red Sox brass presented to Jon Lester prior to the season. Lester will command twice as much as that after October. It was a dark cloud which hung over the Red Sox’ heads for most of the first half of the season. Pitchers who can pitch well in Boston are hard to find. The Red Sox had one, and they let him walk.
Signing A.J. Pierzynski
The Red Sox cut ties with fan favorite, Jarrod Saltalamacchia. They brought in someone who was supposed to be an upgrade, defensively, and provide a steadier bat, albeit with less power. Pierzynski was a known malcontent and a problem in the clubhouse. Instead, Boston got a catcher who struggled to catch pitches (kind of important for a catcher to do). They also got a hitter who was reluctant to take pitches and had no pop. People were right about the malcontent part, however.
Failure to get outfield depth in the offseason
Hey, the Red Sox won a World Series with Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava platooning in left field. They also walked the injury tightrope all season with Shane Victorino hobbling along in right field. Why couldn’t they get away with it again? Toss in letting Jacoby Ellsbury leave via free agency and handing the center field job to a rookie center fielder, Jackie Bradley, Jr. What could possibly go wrong? Just to be safe, the Red Sox signed injury-prone, veteran Grady Sizemore — who hadn’t played in almost three years — just before training camp in late January. It wasn’t enough. Not even close. The Red Sox needed to add a middle-of-the-order, power bat for one of the corner outfield spots. The Orioles signed Nelson Cruz one month after Grady Sizemore signed with Boston. All Cruz did was put up near MVP numbers. Is this a case of hindsight being 20/20? Was I clamoring for Cruz in the offseason? Maybe not, but then again I am not being paid, handsomely, to be a Red Sox GM or scout. They should be smarter than me.
In-season, the biggest thing that went wrong was Shane Victorino’s inability to get on the field. Victorino only played 30 games for Boston. His absence changed the entire look of the team, both offensively and defensively. The Red Sox could have afforded to lose Ellsbury. They couldn’t afford to lose both Ellsbury and Victorino. Victorino is a catalyst at the top of the order with the knack for clutch hits. Defensively, he is a Gold Glove outfielder who can handle the rigors of playing a tough right field in Fenway. He would have been the backup center fielder in case Bradley struggled (which he did). He would have also filled in as the leadoff hitter in the lineup if the Red Sox couldn’t find another option (remember the failed Daniel Nava experiment?). Victorino’s absense was huge.
World Series hangover?
What was with the horrendous start to the season for several Red Sox players? Boston floated around the .500 mark for the first two months of the season, masking some of the team’s deficiencies. Many passed it off as a World Series hangover. Surely, the Red Sox would snap out of it. They didn’t. Hitters like Bradley, Will Middlebrooks, Daniel Nava, Xander Bogaerts and pitchers like Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, and Jake Peavy found themselves in spiral dives from which they couldn’t recover. Again, the Red Sox had no internal answers.
I’ll admit they fooled me. The Red Sox sold fans a bill of goods stating that the farm system was chock-full of prospects ready to step up. Former top prospects, Bradley and Bogaerts, struggled in their first full season with the big club. Garin Cecchini was never deemed ready to step in for a struggling Middlebrooks. The Sox organization, we were told, was overflowing with starting pitching depth. When fans got a chance to see Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, and Anthony Renaudo take turns as starters, their reaction could be summed up as, “Meh.” Now we’re being told Henry Owens will be the next Jon Lester. I’m not as confident in their prognosis as I may have been three months ago.
Stephen Drew signing
It was late May and the Red Sox had just lost ten in a row. Bogaerts was struggling with the bat and in the field. Middlebrooks wasn’t getting it done at third. Enter Stephen Drew. It turned out to be a disastrous decision. Drew couldn’t hit. Bogaerts was disheartened with the shift to third base. The Red Sox kept losing.
Failure to give Mookie Betts an opportunity sooner
I’ll admit it would have been a gamble to rush Betts up sooner, but the 21-year-old has proven he is a special kid who could have handled it. Betts was first called up in late June, but didn’t play, regularly. If he played then like he has in September, I’d argue the Red Sox (with Jon Lester) may have been in playoff contention late into the summer. He would have been the leadoff hitter this team lacked all season. He has been disruptive on the base paths. He has also been very serviceable, defensively, playing out of position in center field.
Why didn’t the Red Sox trade Koji Uehara?
They traded everyone else. Why keep the 39-year-old closer? There were contending teams (Tigers, A’s, Angels, Giants) in need of an upgrade at closer. With how bad Uehara has struggled in the last two months, I know it may be hard to believe, but Uehara could have brought back a couple of good prospects at the time.
In 2013, everything went right for the Boston Red Sox. In 2014, everything went wrong.