From proven bats to fiery starters, Boston was loaded with talent, and it had young help waiting to come up, too.
The problem throughout the much-maligned last September, creeping into this year and dragging the team down hard as the summer went on, was that the pieces that should have guaranteed the Red Sox success were instead in an unstoppable funk. Each player had his worst nightmare, and every time the team stuck its head above water, it seemed to be shoved back down by the worst of circumstances.
Sometimes, even the best pieces don’t make a perfect puzzle. Sometimes they’re just pieces. Call it chemistry issues, manager problems, a need for a change of scenery — the Red Sox’ fantasy baseball lineup, as beautiful as it was when Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford arrived, used up its chances to run as assembled. And with the wins not coming, the rest of the ride began to erode as well, leaving just one move: radical change.
The consensus around Boston has long been that this Red Sox team needed to be revamped. Some players were singled out as whipping boys (Josh Beckett), while others were just question marks as to why they’d never been as phenomenal as promised (Gonzalez). But everyone seemed to agree on this as the year went on: The Red Sox needed to do some tearing down and shipping off to win.
So, as general manager Ben Cherington and company agreed with the Dodgers to some major knocking down of dominoes Friday and Saturday (this must be what the owners meant when they told Cherington to “be bold”), the collective feeling across Red Sox Nation had to be relief. The team had to do something to get back to winning, and although many people will disagree with parts of this trade, no one can deny that something — a very big something — has been done.
Forget the details of the trade for a moment. Gonzalez fans, try to forget Gonzalez’s numbers, and anti-A-Gon folks, forget the chatter of him being a West Coast player who never understood the urgency of playing in Boston, or the rumors of his possibly taking on manager Bobby Valentine.
Beckett fans, forget what Beckett did for the Sox when he came in, spittle flying, in those years when the club couldn’t be stopped on its way to another World Series. And Beckett detractors, forget what Beckett has looked and sounded like since about this point last year.
Crawford fans, forget his promise of speed and hitting, and the joy of luring the prized free agent from the new division rival, the Tampa Bay Rays. And oh, so many foes, forget Crawford’s wrists, tendons, head and bones, as well as his affinity for the Mendoza line.
(And, for all of you upset about Nick Punto getting rolled into this mess, forget about him, too.)
Think about what the Red Sox have done in essence with this trade. Supposed clubhouse chemistry issues aside, they have logistically taken a big step forward. They’ve opened a giant space that they can now fill with new signings if need be or call-ups if they please.
The free agent market may not be full of top-notch players, but after shedding Gonzalez and Crawford, that’s not what the Red Sox will be looking for. They need more pickups along the lines of Cody Ross or the original David Ortiz — guys with talent who want a home to shine. They should develop free agents the same way they develop homegrown players, by picking them up on their ascent rather than trying to sign them at their peak and hope they’re worth the money.
The Red Sox can now be picky in which free agents they sign, and they don’t have to feel cornered into long contracts or big money. They have the freedom to choose, and that cannot be overrated.
The team also has leeway in how it brings up and platoons its young stars. The Red Sox may no longer have the edge they’ve enjoyed in previous years in their young talent, but they do have a strong system, and the problem they’ve faced recently has been an ability to give their young players a chance due to entrenched players in the major leagues (entrenched meaning due to contracts or pay, not necessarily performance).
If anything, this trade frees up the Red Sox brass to do exactly what it likes, after the inability to do that hobbled this team over the past year or so. Whether the wins come immediately or not is anyone’s guess — and plenty of people will have their facts and figures on that for you — but the Red Sox have at least established through this trade that they are not toiling in a plan that didn’t work anymore. Cherington gets to chart his own path, and this ownership group has watched the situation unfold and listened to the cries. The critics and fans have been answered with a huge step in a new direction.
The particulars of this trade will be playing out for years, but the immediate takeaway assuages so many concerns: The Red Sox are in this baseball business to make something happen, and now. Message received, changes made.