Who's up next in the End of Season Post-Mortem series? Boston Red Sox, come on down!
If you're new here (which about 90% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from the playoffs, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated. Also, for the first ten teams eliminated, we're going to post a series called "Hope for the Hopeless", which is going to be an expanded version of the "What Went Right" portion of the Post-Mortem series pieces.
Anyway, here we are…the Boston Red Sox. Your not going to believe this, but it was a controversy-filled season in Boston as they once again failed to live up to expectation, which is saying something considering their pre-season expectations were far lesser than they were in 2011. While the Sox spent most of the season getting beat up in the media, it wasn't a total loss as the Dodgers may very well have given their future a major boost thanks to one of the biggest and most controversial trades in league history.
What Went Right: The controversy embroiled season in Boston wasn't without its positives, especially the strong but injury-shortened rookie season of Will Middlebrooks. But the biggest positive of all for the Sox is that the Dodgers decided to throw Boston a life preserver by so kindly taking over a quarter of a billion dollars in long-term contract commitments off their hands in the form of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and (wait for it)… Nick Punto! For good measure, the Dodgers tossed in prospects Jerry Sands, Rubby de la Rosa, Ivan DeJesus and Allen Webster (and first baseman James Loney too, but c'mon, really). That trade essentially granted the team a blank slate to work from as they look to right the ship in a big hurry, which they can now that they have so much financial flexibility.
What Went Wrong: Can I just say "everything" and leave it at that? (Let's not take the easy way out, OK? -JL) Alright, fine. There really was quite a bit that went wildly awry for the Red Sox this season. They were decimated by injuries to the point that it would be shorter to list the BoSox players that did NOT make a trip to the DL this season. The list of players that did NOT underachieve would probably be even shorter, especially on the pitching side of the equation. But at the end of the day the one thing that everyone is going to focus on is the hiring and presumably the forthcoming firing of Bobby Valentine as manager.
The GM didn't want Valentine in the first place, he pissed off his players almost immediately and has been trying to suppress a player mutiny for months now. But at least he isn't going around to interviews with boxing gloves. Oh, wait. While that stunt was supposed to be in good humor, the message is clear that the clubhouse chemistry has gone from really bad to downright surreal. There is literally no story that can come out of Boston at this point about Bobby V and his players that would surprise anyone, which is crazy since nobody thought the "beer and fried chicken" controversy from 2011 could ever be topped.
Most Surprising Player: Signed almost as an afterthought to help out until Carl Crawford got healthy, Cody Ross emerged as a legitimate middle of the order bat in Boston, which is both a compliment to Ross and a slight insult to Boston's lineup. It turns out that Cody's bat is a perfect fit for the dimensions of Fenway Park as shown by his .963 OPS at home and .715 OPS on the road. For a team that has made major waves with their big spending, the $3 million flier they took on Ross was the best investment they made in years. Keep that in mind when they sign him to a wildly overpriced contract extension this off-season.
Most Disappointing Player: There are just so many to choose from. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz were both wild disappointments. Jacoby Ellsbury looks nothing like the guy who got heavy MVP consideration in 2011. Mark Melancon could've been the closer but wound up in the minors instead. Adrian Gonzalez was so underwhelming that he ended up as the linchpin of that insane salary dump trade to the Dodgers. However, I'm not going to choose any of those players, but rather go off the board and select Daniel Bard.
The reason behind that is that Bard was set up to be a big X-factor for the Sox this season. They rolled the dice on moving him into the rotation to help them fill that major need with the thinking being that if he failed as a starter he could always revert to a relief role, where Boston also needed a lot of help. But none of that was meant to be. Maybe it was the uncertainty of the role, maybe it was mechanical, maybe it is something even more mysterious but Bard flamed out so hard in the rotation that they sent him to the minors to "convert back into relief" but he was so bad in that supposedly temporary demotion that it took him three months to return to the majors where he is still an unmitigated disaster. Potentially ruining one of your organization's top young arms? Yeah, that's pretty disappointing.
Prospects Up: The big winner of the Red Sox system this year was Will Middlebrooks who graduated to being the Red Sox regular third baseman. But right behind him was SS Xander Bogaerts who tore up A-ball before a late jump to Double-A where he continued to find great success and firmly cemented his spot as the team's top prospect going into 2013.
The breakout star of the system was Jackie Bradley. After being a mild disappointment after being a 2011 supplemental draft pick, Bradley overcame a wrist injury to rocket through the system to Double-A. Already a tremendous defender in center field, Bradley could be on the fast track to the bigs if he can continue to hit enough in the upper minors.
Prospects Down: Coming into the season, Anthony Ranaudo was arguably the best pitching prospect Boston had. That certainly changed by the end of the year though as Ranaudo was limited to just nine starts in which he posted a 6.69 ERA due to multiple injuries. Considering that he had injury problems that dated back to his college days, his inability to stay healthy has become a major concern.
Then there is Jose Iglesias, once considered a rising star in the Sox system due to his slick glove at shortstop. While his star has faded a bit in recent years, there was some hope that he could break into the Boston lineup at some point this system since all they had at shortstop was Mike Aviles and Nick Punto. Alas, he didn't do anything at Triple-A to convince them to give him a promotion until late in the season which only really served to bolster fears that big league pitchers would be able to knock the bat out of his hands.
The Future: Few teams have a cloudier future than the Red Sox. Yes, they have tons of available payroll room now, but this is also one of the weakest free agent markets in years, so it may not do them much good. Making things murkier is the recent reports that the team may now be going up for sale. While ownership has denied those claims, it certainly is good timing since the long-term contract commitments are now very low, and would presumably remain low if they do intend to sell the team. If John Henry does intend to keep the team, then one would imagine that he expects the team to be rebuilt back into a legit contender immediately, so we could be in for a winter of the Red Sox trying to gobble up major free agents like Zack Greinke and swinging blockbuster trades for the likes of Justin Upton. In other words, just about anything can happen in Boston this off-season, which really is just par for the course.