$126 Million in committed salary, but no leadership
by Charlie Miller
The Boston Red Sox have no general manager, no manager and $126 million committed in players’ salaries for 2012. Maybe the 126 number would frighten most GMs, but Boston has grown accustomed to payrolls north of $160 million, so it’s not that far out of line. And with ticket sales continuing at a record pace and revenues from NESN soaring, the team isn’t close to financial trouble.
However, they may be racing toward trouble of another kind. The $126 million does not include a DH, a rightfielder or, most importantly, a closer. It also doesn’t include the handful of players who are arbitration eligible and due some big raises, the most notable Jacoby Ellsbury, arguably the team’s best player in 2011.
What the number does include is nearly $60 million committed to a starting rotation of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz. And that can’t be too comforting for a new braintrust.
Lackey posted the worst ERA (6.41) in team history over a full season. Buchholz made just 14 starts. Dice-K was ineffective in seven starts before being injured. Beckett and Lester combined to go 28-16, numbers indicative of horses a team can count on in the clutch. But where were those guys when the team — leaking oil at an astounding rate — needed them most?
All indications are that they were enjoying beer and buckets of thighs and breasts. Beckett was 1-2 with a 5.48 ERA in four September starts raising his season ERA from 2.54 to 2.89. The Sox lost four of Lester’s five starts as the lefthander suffered through a 1-3 month with a 5.40 ERA.
Boston needs a fresh start of monumental proportions. Does that mean sacrificing a season and several million to get back on the winning track sooner? That’s not a bad plan. This is a mess not easily cleaned.
It’s all too easy to manage this team from afar, but I suspect bringing in a no-frills, old-school manager and identifying about five guys you want to go to war with would be the place to start. Immediately and swiftly change the culture and clean house as much as can be tolerated financially.
That means cutting ties with players such as Lackey, Beckett, Dice-K, and maybe Kevin Youkilis and — dare we say — Carl Crawford. Realistically, there’s no way a team can afford to walk away from the kind of money guaranteed these players, especially with Crawford. But can the Red Sox afford not to? Can they afford to build their team around these expensive players in 2012 and beyond?
The Red Sox need leadership from within the clubhouse. Who will step up to be that guy?
Dustin Pedroia is the first name that comes to mind. Ellsbury is their best player and can most likely be salvageable from a clubhouse perspective, but he’s not a leader. Adrian Gonzalez is a tremendous player who will put up huge numbers and play Gold Glove defense at first base. But is he the player who can confront slacking players eating fried chicken and playing video games?
That is not a bad trio to build around, but who else should be kept? Obviously they can’t release the entire roster. Is Crawford a keeper? Could the Red Sox admit that Crawford is as big a mistake as Dice-K? Was 2011 a fluke for Crawford, or is that the real Crawford now? That itself is a $120 million question. Dare they re-sign Youkilis or David Ortiz?
Most teams not in the playoffs this fall would love to have a roster dotted with names like Gonzalez, Pedroia, Youkilis, Ortiz, Ellsbury, Crawford, Beckett, Lester and Jonathan Papelbon. But as Joe Maddon proved in Tampa Bay, it can be more rewarding both on and off the field with names like Longoria, Price, Shields, Zobrist, Kotchman and Farnsworth.
The next management team in Boston needs to ask for a long-term deal and a little patience from the fans. They’re going to need it.
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie