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Red Sox 0-for-3 on problem solving

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  April 23, 2012 10:28 AM

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Barry Chin/Globe Staff

"This is not a 14-game problem. This is 41-game problem. Our pitching has been terrible over the last 41 regular season games."
- Red Sox owner John Henry to Sean McAdam of Comcast Sports Net over the weekend.

The amusing thing, of course, is that the Red Sox did nothing to improve their pitching staff during the offseason. They changed managers and pitching coaches. They reassigned clubhouse personnel. They made just about every cosmetic change possible instead of treating the real, core issues.

The first was to get innings for the starting rotation. The second was to rebuild the bullpen. The third was to improve the clubhouse.

They went 0-for-3 with three spectacular whiffs.

And so now, 14 games into a 2012 season that has been an utter train wreck thus far, the owner of the Red Sox is acknowledging that the club has picked up precisely where it left off. So who are you going to blame now? John Henry is trying to put this on the pitchers, it seems, though the truth is that the Red Sox have done nothing to significantly alter the makeup of their team since last September's embarrassing ineptitude.

Earth to Messrs. Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino: you keep treating last September as if it were some type of mathematical deviation instead of what it actually was - a mutiny. When your players complained, you gave them headphones and invited them on a yacht. The spoiled grew more spoiled. The detached grew more detached. And so what you have now is even worse than what you had a then, a collection of even more entitled, aimless and unmotivated millionaires than you had before.

It's OK to get mad, men. It would actually be quite refreshing. It might convince everyone - most importantly, your players - that you actually have spines.

Let's go back to last fall for a minute. Instead of taking it upon themselves to fire Terry Francona, who admitted he lost the team, the Sox resorted to calling Francona's decision "mutual." They then decided that they were going to do little or no spending thanks to a collection of dead contracts, taking themselves out of the running for any and all pitching while making a couple of nothing trades for Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey.

Along the way, the Sox "addressed" the clubhouse issues by cutting ties with veterans like Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield, relatively easy moves with players who had minor roles. Josh Beckett stayed. Kevin Youkilis stayed. David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury stayed. Jonathan Papelbon was cut loose and Daniel Bard was earmarked for the starting rotation, adding to a list of moves that made the Red Sox weaker, not stronger.

We said this then and we'll say it now: the Sox needed to shake up the mix with at least one major move that involved a core player. They could have moved Beckett and Ellsbury, for example, the former because he has lost interest, the latter because he was coming off a career year and will likely leave via free agency at the end of next year. They could have cut ties with Ortiz. The resulting changes would have altered the dreadful chemistry of this group and freed up some payroll, two things the Sox desperately needed.

The Sox might have suffered in the short term, but even if players like Beckett and Ellsbury were moved for prospects, at least we could all feel like the team was building toward something again.

Instead, the Sox have the worst of all scenarios - an aging collection of fat cats with whom they seem stuck.

Here's another thing the Sox could have done: they could have trusted the general manager they hired, Ben Cherington, and hired Dale Sveum as manager. They could have let the baseball people do the baseball things. Instead, they introduced the egomaniacal, seemingly out-of-touch Bobby Valentine into an already combustible mix, putting everyone from the 25th man to the manager in a position to fail.

According to a weekend report by Bill Madden of the New York Daily News, Valentine chastised infielder Mike Aviles early in spring training. (This would further validate Valentine's desire for Jose Iglesias.) The players, already on alert given Valentine's reputation, immediately rebuked their manager, who cowered, apologized to Aviles, and subsequently spent the rest of the spring tossing bouquets at the player, going so far as to say that Aviles could strike "fear" into opposing pitchers as a leadoff man.

Ellsbury, who was the first 30-30 man in Red Sox history last season, was completely healthy at the time.

What the Sox can do now to correct all these problems is anybody's guess because most clubs take a hands-off approach to their rosters until the end of May at the earliest. (Had the Sox traded Michael Bowden for Marlon Byrd over the winter, they could have saved themselves the Cody Ross pickup.) If the Sox are smart, they'll stop playing semantics with Bard and merely move him back to the bullpen full-time, then hope to catch lightning in a bottle by promoting Aaron Cook to the rotation.

In the interim, somebody in this organization needs to aggressively take control. Cherington may be the best bet, if for no other reason than the fact that uniformed personnel clearly lack respect for Henry, Werner, Lucchino or Valentine. The players are too childish to sort out their own issues. And so the Red Sox are left with an array of problems and seemingly no one capable of addressing them, largely because they're too selfish or clueless or both.

Happy 100th, Fenway Park.

Looks like you're back to being a nuthouse.

Tony's Top 5

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The final chapter on Teixeira and How Red Sox pitchers work the strike zone Jan. 7, 2009 and July 17, 2009. Some actual reporting – an obsession with Mark Teixeira and the art of pitching.
For 2011 Red Sox, there was plenty of blame to go around Oct. 1, 2011. The disgraceful collapse of the Red Sox stoked the fire in all of us.
Behind Garnett and James, Celtics and Heat are digging in June 4, 2012. Improbably, the Celtics pushed the Heat to the limit.
Thrill is back for Patriots Jan. 30, 2012. Another Super Bowl has even Bill Belichick musing.
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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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