In the last eight months, the Red Sox have changed managers and general managers, late-inning relievers and the medical staff. But the results remain constant. And there is plenty of blame to share.
So where do you turn now, Josh Beckett? Or you, John Henry? The 2012 Red Sox season has begun precisely the way the 2011 campaign ended, with the Red Sox disintegrating in a succession of forms and blunders. Sunday's 13-12 defeat at the hands of the Detroit Tigers was only the last in season-opening series that featured bullpen breakdowns, offensive struggles, atrocious starting pitching and suspect defense, a range of problems that makes it virtually impossible to blame one person or one thing.
The only relatively innocent bystander in this thus far? Manager Bobby Valentine, who must feel as if he has just stepped on board an ill-fated vessel.
So who is to blame?
Only everyone, beginning with:
* The players. After last September, one would have expected them to show up with some measure of shame, intent on proving their worth. Instead, Beckett was among those who showed up at spring training as seemingly defiant as ever, astonishingly detached from the events of late last summer and early fall.
People lost jobs, boys. Do you understand that? And we're not just talking about your manager. We're talking about trainers and clubhouse staff, the kind of working stiffs who actually need income and job security. And they lost them because of you.
For the players, here's the problem when a manager gets fired: there's no one else to blame now. Red Sox players have nowhere to run and nowhere to turn. Beckett should have come out on a mission, especially after the finish on Opening Day. Clay Buchholz should have done the same. Instead, the rotation still looks like Jon Lester (who at least took some responsibility) and four question marks.
OK, so the pitching takes most of the blame thus far. But until Sunday, the lineup hadn't done much, either.
* Theo Epstein. He's now in Chicago as general manager of the Cubs, but Epstein left behind quite a mess from his final years. In Carl Crawford, John Lackey, Bobby Jenks, Andrew Bailey (not a Theo acquisition, though) and Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Red Sox effectively have more than $60 million on the disabled list to open the year. (That includes a prorated part of Matsuzaka's posting fee, which must be considered part of the investment in him.) Meanwhile, the Red Sox' farm system has been laboring through a developmental hole, which means they had a few unproductive drafts.
As Larry Lucchino himself told us, the Red Sox have a payroll in the neighborhood of $185-$190 million. Take away the players on the DL and the number is actually closer to $125 million or so, although that is still enough to win. Nonetheless, Theo left behind more than his share of issues, sins for which the team is now paying.
* Ownership and upper management. Henry, Lucchino et al resent any suggestion that they cheaped out during the offseason, which is why Lucchino uncharacteristically told us about that historically high payroll during spring training. And truth be told, the Sox are not cheap. What they did over the winter, however, was to become more conservative than they have at any other point during this ownership's tenure, which raised some eyebrows.
In retrospect, can we all agree that the Sox placed an undue portion of the blame on Terry Francona, making no personnel shakeup in the aftermath of last September? Beckett stayed. It was as if the Sox believed that a managerial change and a few roster tweaks would fix the issues that came with a clubhouse full of entitled, overpaid superstars who clearly feel as if they have nothing to prove.
More than anything, the Red Sox needed innings last winter. Their solution to that problem was to move Daniel Bard into the rotation and pickup a pair of cheap relievers in Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey. Melancon clearly isn't as good as the Sox thought he was, and Bailey has a history of injuries. Maybe someone like Aaron Cook will come up and help this team sooner rather than later, forcing Bard back into the bullpen.
Is Bard already a candidate to help?
"Might be," Valentine admitted to reporters following Sunday's game.
* Valentine. Let's be clear here: Bobby V. is a relatively innocent bystander in all of this because he has merely walked into a mess. However, in the wake of the Bailey injury, one of Valentine's first major maneuvers was to put Alfredo Aceves in the closer's role, a move that has already exploded into a ball of fire.
In the bullpen, the bottom line is that Valentine does not have the necessary horses at the moment. Still, from the outset, the problem with making Aceves the closer was that it threw the entire relief corps into a state of disarray. The Red Sox now have uncertainty throughout the late innings - from the sixth through the ninth - because Valentine moved three or four bodies around instead of moving one.
Aceves is no spring chicken. He entered this season with a career record of 24-3 because he has been a swingman on potent teams (Boston and New York) that used him in situations when the club was trailing. Pitching with a lead in the ninth inning is very different than pitching with a deficit in the sixth or seventh, and Aceves is perfect for that latter role.
On Sunday, Vicente Padilla filled the role of swingman brilliantly, but Valentine's decision to make Aceves his closer created more moving parts, not fewer. Maybe there is no right answer in the Boston bullpen at the moment - again, Valentine generally goes without blame - but the Sox need more stability, not less.
* Ben Cherington. Like Valentine, Cherington takes relatively little blame because he clearly had a limited budget to work with. (Let's be clear again that the players, ownership and upper management, and Epstein deserve the large majority of the blame here.) Still, the Sox clearly wanted to make trades during the offseason, their list of sacrifices including, among others, Jed Lowrie and Josh Reddick, players the Sox themselves had identified as borderline big leaguers.
Like last year, this Sox club has a decidedly stale, veteran feel to it. The only real addition of youth is Felix Doubront, who starts tonight in Toronto. On the field, beyond the manager, the Red Sox needed some kind of shakeup entering this season, and their general manager hasn't given it to them.
At least not yet.
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