By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — If this latest disappointment isn’t enough to tell you that the Red Sox as currently constituted are simply too soft to compete for a World Series (or even a League Championship Series), then I don’t know what team you’re watching.
I won’t go so far as to say the Red Sox weren’t “likable” in 2017. They had some thrilling comebacks, they were resilient at times, and the players mostly seem like good guys. But at the end of the day, this was a team that was too preoccupied with what was going on outside of the clubhouse, too obsessed with pointing fingers and avoiding admission of failure. This Red Sox team is just soft – and really, it’s nothing new.
The only season since 2008, when the Red Sox made it to Game 7 of the ALCS, that the team didn’t ultimately come off as soft and un-competitive was in 2013. Obviously, they won it all that year, but they did it with a group of tough veterans who held themselves accountable and took the field every day with something to prove. Besides that magical run, it doesn’t matter whether the Red Sox were good or bad, talented or untalented – for most of the past decade, they either haven’t known how to hold themselves accountable, or they haven’t wanted to.
You could argue that their attitude starts with the manager. By moving on from John Farrell (yes, it’s time), they may be able to bring in someone who can actually get the best out of these guys and convince them that they can do better than winning the division. But is that what ownership wants? Or do they want a robot who will spew pre-programmed answers to the media and lead a clubhouse like an enabling parent?
At this point, the Red Sox need to part ways with Farrell and get the proverbial new voice into the clubhouse. But it’s likely not nearly enough to overcome the softness that has permeated Fenway Park. The players are infected, too, as Dustin Pedroia’s Peter Chiarelli-like postgame comments on Monday would indicate.
“I thought [Farrell] did a great job. I mean, we won the division,” said Pedroia. “There was never any quit in this team. I’m proud of everybody. We dealt with a lot and our fight continued every single day. I know we didn’t achieve our goals, but I’m proud of how everybody went about their business and showed up for everybody and played to win.”
Uh, what exactly did this team ‘deal with’ over the course of the season? I sincerely hope Pedroia isn’t talking about media scrutiny, because he can’t possibly be talking about injuries. Besides Pedroia himself, no everyday player missed more than 30 games. They were all healthy and present at the end, and simply faltered.
The fact that these Red Sox felt like they had to overcome so much only proves how soft they’ve become.
The loss of David Ortiz in the middle of the lineup was going to have obvious ramifications on the field, as the team’s last-place finish in home runs would indicate. But removing Ortiz from the clubhouse arguably had an even bigger impact. The only player who even tried to fill that void was Pedroia, who proclaimed himself the leader but didn’t exactly conduct himself like one. He’s better suited leading by example than being the guy who has to “run” the clubhouse.
There will be calls for the Red Sox to trade the second baseman this offseason, but the unfortunate reality is they probably need to ride out his contract. A more realistic outcome is that they make a major move to alter their young core of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi, and Rafael Devers.
Sacrificing defense to move Bradley for a power-hitting corner outfielder would make logical sense, but you’re not exactly going to get a superstar in a deal like that.
If Bogaerts isn’t going to develop into a legitimate power bat, then it could be time to package him for someone with more pop. Giancarlo Stanton is not at all realistic in that scenario, but someone who hits, say, 25-30 home runs would at least be a better option in the lineup than Bogaerts slapping singles.
The player who could fetch the most in an offseason trade is Betts, but he should still be considered a major building block of this team instead of someone who needs to be jettisoned. Still, offensively he’s just not the lineup centerpiece that rival players like Carlos Correa or Aaron Judge are. He needs protection. He isn’t getting it from anyone the Red Sox have right now.
Devers or Benintendi could be the players that draw the most interest, but there’s little reason to definitively believe that either of them couldn’t eventually be part of a championship team. Besides Hanley Ramirez, they were the only ones who could step up and deliver crucial hits for the team at the end of the ALDS. Devers could solve a lot of their middle-of-the-order power problems, but at the same time they can’t exactly foist Ortiz-like responsibility onto a 21-year-old. Benintendi was prone to mental mistakes in his rookie year, but his talent with the bat is undeniable and he’s probably only scratched the surface of his potential.
You could come up with reasons why the Red Sox should or should not move any of their core position players. The talent is there; it just feels like the toughness isn’t. And that is also an issue on the pitching staff, but what can Dombrowski really do there? Unless he could find a suitor to unload the undeniably hypersensitive David Price, he has little in the way of options. The hope is that Chris Sale can be managed better over the course of the season, Price puts it all together, and Rick Porcello can regain his 2016 form.
The Red Sox obviously need to add power to their lineup, but the problem is as much in the clubhouse as it is on the diamond. This team needs better leadership from its veterans, ie. people who aren’t Pedroia or Price or Hanley Ramirez, and only then can they improve upon the weak-minded identity that they have cultivated in nearly every season since 2008.
Major changes are needed at Fenway. It starts with the manager, but that’s only a start. They need toughening up. This clubhouse needs major changes if they want to be as competitive as the teams that have beaten them, or the softness is never going to go away.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.