As Major League Baseball's top 10 teams get ready to begin the postseason, starting with the new one-game wild card playoffs on Friday, the Red Sox get ready for yet another offseason of change.
That offseason actually began on Thursday, not even 24 hours after the season ended when the Sox sent Bobby Valentine packing.
The 2012 season was many things for the Red Sox. What it wasn't, however, was boring. Or successful.
Let's dive into all of it with the final version of 6-4-3.
Six Red Sox Thoughts
1. Literally nothing went right
Is that hyperbole? Well, maybe. Kind of. But at the end of the season, you are what record says you are, and the Red Sox' record says they are a really bad baseball team. It was hard to argue anything else this season, as the club fumbled over itself all season long, going all the way back to the first series of the year in Detroit. The end result was a 69-93 record, the most losses for a Boston ballclub since 1965. That was good for last place, a mind-boggling 26 games behind the first-place Yankees. Only the Twins and the Astros finished farther out of first place in their respective divisions. Only three teams gave up more runs than the Red Sox. They went on 15 losing streaks of three games or more, with many of those extending way past three, including the eight-game skid to end the season. So yeah, it was a bad year. I could have saved you all of that reading, though, and just posted this screen shot from Baseball-Reference.com that pretty much tells the entire story.
2. Bobby V? Not so much
OK, so the whole Bobby Valentine thing didn't work, either. Was it all his fault? No. Did he have plenty of shortcomings? You bet he did. Valentine was brought in to give a different look, following last season's collapse under the player-friendly Terry Francona. But Valentine was probably screwed from the beginning and the Mike Aviles incident in spring training (spring training!) should serve as proof of that. From there, it didn't get much better. Valentine tried to leave his mark, and it usually blew up in his face. He tried to call out Kevin Youkilis. That backfired when Dustin Pedroia publicly called out his manager. He tried to call out Kelly Shoppach. That was just the beginning of what became a pretty publicly contentious tussle between the two. Valentine never really had a chance, but he didn't help himself, either. He was flighty at times, and while he didn't shy away from talking about behind-the-scenes issues, he probably offered too much at times. It all made for a pretty toxic player-manager relationship, and the admitted need for a "culture change" should tell you all you need to know about the Valentine era in Boston.
3. So long, you guys
The problems were more than evident on the morning of Aug. 25. The Red Sox woke up that morning with a 60-66 record, 13 1/2 games out of first place. That same morning, they shook the foundation of the franchise. Something needed to be done, and the Sox did something in the biggest of ways, shipping Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to the Dodgers for James Loney, prospects and financial relief. It was a resounding statement. The club used the move to announce that it was starting anew, and heading in a different direction. Time will tell whether or not the Red Sox can make the most of the newfound financial flexibility. It will be a drawn-out process, but this trade was a necessary part of the process. Beckett had become far too cantankerous for the relationship to continue. Gonzalez and Crawford had underachieved through almost two years in Boston, and while their ceilings are high, so were their salaries. It's a risk to unload all of them, albeit a calculated one, and Boston will be looking to prove it can be smarter with its money now having received another chance. After all, misguided spending is part of what drove them to this situation.
4. Offseason of change
Once again, the Red Sox are looking at an important offseason. They desperately need to improve, but they don't necessarily need to start from scratch. It all starts with the pitching, though, and they'll need to address that this winter. They also have some interesting decisions to make regarding players who were on the roster this season. Most notably is David Ortiz. The designated hitter hasn't been shy about what he wants this offseason. He wants to return, but he wants to do it on his terms, with a two-year deal. The market for Ortiz outside of Boston may not be as big as the big fella wants it to be, however, so that could make things very interesting. One player I think the Sox desperately need to lock up, though, is Cody Ross. In a season of blah, Ross was a bright spot. He put up good numbers (.267/22/81) and looked like a player who can make it in Boston. Bringing him back and making him part of the core would be a great move, in my opinion.
5. It's all about the pitching, pitching, pitching
Say what you want about the last two seasons, but the biggest reason this team isn't where it wants to be is because of the starting pitching. Since Sept. 1 of last season, Red Sox pitchers have a collective ERA of 4.89. That would rank in the bottom 10 percent of all of baseball for each of the last three years if it was a one-season total. They addressed part of the issue by trading Beckett, who was simply awful this season. That doesn't make Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz, who were almost as bad this season, any better, though. The key, in my opinion, isn't going out and adding an ace. You know what Jered Weaver, Felix Hernandez, David Price, Clayton Kershaw and Cole Hamels all have in common? They're all good, young aces — and none of them are pitching in the playoffs. You need pitching depth. It doesn't hurt to have one of those guys (or Justin Verlander) at the top of your rotation, but the best teams are the teams with the deepest pitching staffs. The Red Sox were way too thin this season, and they were incapable of absorbing injuries and inefficiencies. That's why you saw Aaron Cook and Daisuke Matsuzaka taking the ball through September.
6. There's always next year
No, seriously. There's always next year, and there's nowhere to go but up. That's it.
Four Obvservations From Around Baseball
1. Some guys are really, really good at playing baseball
Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera, ladies and gentlemen. Holy crap. I was a little disappointed that I wasn't as impressed or giddy about Cabrera's Triple Crown as I thought I would be. I think there are two reasons for that. I always thought that when
someone won the Triple Crown it would be the greatest offensive season I’ve
ever seen, and this simply never felt like that. Perhaps more importantly, though, was the play of Trout. The Angels outfielder was simply fantastic. He may be the best baseball player my generation has ever seen, and he's only 21 years old. The MVP is still a toss-up, in my opinion, but I think it takes away from the bigger point: These are two of the best hitters and baseball players we will ever see. Why can't that be enough? Will we really remember who won the MVP this season? Maybe, maybe not. But we won't forget how freaking awesome it was to watch them do what they do on a day-to-day basis. Luckily for all of us, they're not going away any time soon, either.
2. Battle of the Beltway
It wasn't unrealistic to think that the Washington Nationals, with their talented young roster, would be contending soon enough. But did anyone see them as baseball's best team with 98 wins prior to the 2012 season? Probably not. The Nats took off this season, thanks in large part to a balanced pitching staff anchored by Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, as well as a balanced lineup jolted by Bryce Harper. Perhaps the only bigger surprise in baseball this season was what the Baltimore Orioles did just a few miles away in Maryland. One of baseball's best cities was reinvigorated by the O's, who bounced back from a 93-loss season last season to win 93 games this season. You have to give credit to what Dan Duquette has been able to do in his first season with the Birds, but this Orioles team has Buck Showalter's finger prints all over it. Now, he has to do what he's notoriously struggled to do in his previous stops — finish the job.
3. Bay Area Bash
Keeping with the surprises, how about what the Oakland Athletics were able to do this season? On Friday, Aug. 24, the A's were six games out of first place in the American League. The Texas Rangers looked destined to win the division, while Oakland was left to battle for a wild card spot. Well, the A's went 26-11 from that point on to chase down the Rangers, setting up a winner-take-all AL West showdown on the season's final day. Oakland steamrolled Texas, capping an 18-8 run down the wire to ensure that their only day in first place would be the last day of the season. On the other side of the bay, the San Francisco Giants are a darkhorse team entering the playoffs. Buster Posey is probably the NL MVP, and if the Giants can get anything out of Tim Lincecum, they could be representing the National League in the World Series in a few weeks.
4. Miami explosion
Things went really, really well for the Miami Heat last season. That good vibe didn't carry over to the baseball team, though. If you thougth the Red Sox were a train wreck this season, you weren't paying enough attention to the Marlins. At least Bobby V. never supported Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in a city full of Cuban immigrants. That was the beginning of a huge mess for Ozzie Guillen and the Marlins, and that, along with a 69-93 record, may mean Guillen will be joining Valentine soon in the ranks of unemployed managers.
Three Things to Watch
1. Who's next?
The biggest storyline of the offseason for the Red Sox will be which direction they go in with their next managerial hire. I expect them to move much faster than they did last season, especially if John Farrell is the man they want. Early reports sound like the Blue Jays may let Farrell walks if he so chooses. Is that a good thing for Boston? Well, Farrell does know the club, organization and city inside and out. But he also struggled mightily in Toronto. The Blue Jays won 81 games last season, and dropped even more this season to the tune of 73 wins. Just as disheartening was the Jays' pitching performance this season. Farrell's expertise turned into Toronto's biggest weakness, as the club ranked 26th in ERA. However, don't discount the toll injuries took on that Blue Jays pitching staff as well. Gun to my head, though, I say Farrell is managing the Red Sox when they head to spring training in February.
2. Awards season
We'll use the rest of this final 6-4-3 as an impromptu postseason/offseason prediction spot. First, we'll start with the awards
MVP: Miguel Cabrera
Cy Young: David Price
Rookie of the Year: Mike Trout
Manager of the Year: Buck Showalter
MVP: Buster Posey
Cy Young: R.A. Dickey
Rookie of the Year: Bryce Harper
Manager of the Year: Davey Johnson
3. There's only one October
Wild card rounds
AL: Texas over Baltimore
NL: Atlanta over St. Louis
AL: Yankees over Rangers
AL: Tigers over A's
NL: Braves over Nationals
NL: Giants over Reds
AL: Tigers over Yankees
NL: Braves over Giants
Braves over Tigers
That would be quite a send-off for Chipper Jones, huh? Of course, this all changes if the Braves lose on Friday. In that case, I have no clue.
Thanks for reading this year, and we'll be back at it again before you know it.