BOSTON (CBS) — Objectively speaking, the Boston Red Sox stink. They’re in last place in the AL East, owners of the very worst record in the American League. The only teams in baseball worse than the Red Sox are the Rockies, Marlins and Phillies. Two of those teams rank in the bottom-third of team payroll; the Red Sox entered the season ranked third overall.
With seven straight losses in the books, just about everyone has come around to what some of us identified as a reality long ago: This season is over.
That is, of course, no grand revelation, but with the Red Sox on pace to finish with at least 90 losses for the third time in four years, why is it so hard to find anyone from the Red Sox who wants to take accountability?
You’ll remember about four years ago when principal owner John Henry invaded the Felger & Massarotti radio program and announced in no uncertain terms, “Larry Lucchino runs the Red Sox.” That made sense, and it helped explain Theo Epstein’s departure. It also seemed to be the driving factor in the team’s hiring of manager Bobby Valentine prior to 2012, when it looked like new GM Ben Cherington wanted Dale Sveum.
This all made sense.
And while Lucchino was there to happily accept the World Series trophy in 2013, we’ve seen and heard from him very rarely in the days since. We know that this year he’s been tied up with the PawSox and the wonderful little state of Rhode Island, which leads to questions about just how involved he really is with the team these days.
That’s left Cherington to serve as a sacrificial lamb of sorts, which he did again in Houston on Wednesday afternoon.
“I don’t think anything about the last 10 days changes the general direction that we want to go. We want to continue to find ways to improve in the areas we need to improve and get to [being] a good team as quickly as we can,” Cherington told reporters. “In the big picture we’ll continue to work, as we have been working, on trying to find ways to get better and get to a good team as quickly as we can.”
It sounds good, it’s just … are they really? Are they really working hard to get better? Save for firing the pitching coach, has there been one shred of urgency shown to turn this season around? Can anyone point to one move dating back to the winter that indicated they were “working hard” to get better?
The best player they’ve received in any trade in recent years, Yoenis Cespedes, was shipped to Detroit for Rick Porcello. That’s the same Rick Porcello with an ERA hovering near 6.00, and that’s the same Yoenis Cespedes who has a higher OPS (.805) and more RBIs (54) this season than anybody on the Red Sox roster.
They went into the season believing a rotation of Porcello, Justin Masterson, Wade Miley, Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly would work, despite the fact that nobody else who follows baseball thought this would function in any way. The masses turned out to be right, as the Red Sox rank 28th out of 30 teams in starters’ ERA.
They threw $222 million at Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, just months after handing $72.5 million over to Rusney Castillo. That’s despite the fact that Ramirez has worn out his welcome in both of his prior MLB homes and the fact that Sandoval hasn’t hit above .283 since 2011. Ramirez and Sandoval rank 70th and 127th, respectively, in the MLB in OPS, and Ramirez is playing the worst outfield defense anybody has ever seen. Meanwhile, Castillo is toiling away in the minor leagues after slugging .284 in 26 big league games this seasons. He has three home runs in 146 Triple-A at-bats.
Going back to last summer, they traded John Lackey — who was technically under team control through the 2015 season — for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. Craig is kicking it in Pawtucket, batting a cool .260, while Kelly just came back from the minors to serve up three home runs to the Astros. Who from the Red Sox identified those players and targeted them for their talent? Because whoever it was should never be allowed to do so again.
And even the positives on this team make you wonder. Xander Bogaerts is arguably having the best season of any shortstop in the American League, and that includes his work in the field. Yet it was just over a year ago when the Red Sox Powers That Be identified Bogaerts as a weakness on the team and went ahead and signed Stephen Drew midseason. The Red Sox claimed they never gave up on Bogaerts, but actions speak much louder than words. And certainly, signing Stephen Drew to bat .176 for you is an action that speaks volumes.
The World Series in 2013 cannot be ignored, of course. It happened. But given what we’ve seen from Mike Napoli (.228 average since start of ’14), Shane Victorino (61 games played in past two seasons), is it really wrong to accept that entire season and month of October as a series of wildly fortunate events? It was an incredible story, no doubt, and it’s one that should be celebrated. But the decision-makers should have been smart enough to realize it was not going to last.
And then, there is the manager. John Farrell owns a career managerial record of 364-379. With the Red Sox, he stands one loss away from being an even .500. He was brought in as a no-nonsense leader, one who would clean up the mess that Bobby Valentine left. Yet he’s never really lived up to the John Wayne persona, he still doesn’t understand when to bunt, and he sent his reliever to bat in the ninth inning of a tied World Series game. Farrell is by all means a stand-up guy and a solid baseball man, but he’s done nothing in his post over the last three years to inspire any sort of confidence that he is the right man to lead them out of this hole. Yet, he’s got management’s full support to do just that.
“I don’t have that concern,” Cherington said when asked if the manager was a problem. “I think we’re dealing with a number of things, but I don’t feel like that’s one of the things. I think we can all be better, everybody on the field, everybody in the front office, that’s what it’s going to take. But I fully support John. He’s part of the solution.”
OK. So to recap the share of blame with the Red Sox: It’s nobody’s fault.
That’s not to say those who do speak publicly are afraid to admit their faults. Surely, it sounded like John Henry admitted that his philosophy of team building might not be working out as well as he thought, but he also absolved Lucchino, Cherington and Farrell of any blame.
Cherington is always quick to shoulder some blame, but he still totes the team’s philosophy as being the right one.
“The last two years, we just haven’t delivered. That’s the bottom line. No one more responsible than me for that,” Cherington said Wednesday. “I can’t look at any specific, single transaction and look back and say that didn’t make sense or that didn’t fit into strategy or direction we were going in. The bottom line is just in aggregate, the results haven’t been there. That’s on us, and we know that our fans deserve a lot better than what we’ve delivered the last two years, our ownership deserves better, and it’s up to us to figure out a way to get better.”
Failing to find fault with any one transaction is concerning. There are about a half-dozen already listed in this very story.
But is Ben deflecting blame by pointing to the “strategy or direction” of the team? We still don’t know how much influence he actually has on making some of the franchise-altering decisions. Because between John Henry talking about his philosophy of not paying pitchers over 30s and how Larry Lucchino runs the Red Sox, it’s hard to know who’s in charge and who’s behind each particular move.
So who’s really making the calls? And why can’t we know?
With the Red Sox on the verge of finishing dead last in the division for the third time in four years, is it asking too much to want that one answer?