It was Robert Burns who penned in 1785 the famous line, “Best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.” It was Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein who said Sunday, “This is how the 2010 Red Sox turned out and we have to live with that.”
For the most part, the sentiment is the same. Epstein and the Sox organization had laid out a plan, as they do each season, but through a litany of injuries and a handful of areas that fell far short in their production, the goal that exists in perpetuity was not reached. Boston finished 89-73 and in third place, a disappointing result for a club that felt it had what it takes to reach the promised land.
Once Alex Rodriguez grounded to Bill Hall for the final out of the Red Sox’ 8-4 win over the Yankees on Sunday, it was high time to reflect on what went right, and, of course, what went wrong.
“We did feel good coming out of spring training,” Epstein said Sunday. “There’s a lot to be proud of down there with the individual performances those guys had and things this team overcame. We’d like to rewind and start over, do 162 all over again, see how it turns out.
Maybe something different breaks and different health, just do it all over. We’d feel pretty good about our chances.”
Neither Epstein nor his coaching staff and players would use injuries as an excuse. But the losses of Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury for the season and of several others for long stretches at a time is an unavoidable component to any post-mortem discussion.
There were 24 stints on the disabled list and 1,008 games missed by a total of 19 players, including the aforementioned trio of stars, the Opening Night starter, three catchers, three starters and various members of a beleaguered bullpen.
Through it all, the Sox remained in contention in one of the best divisions in the history of the six-division format until the final week. For that, there was a lingering sense of satisfaction that lets Epstein and others know that the mission was not lost, just too many games.
“At times we just weren’t good enough,” said manager Terry Francona. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t respect the guys in that room.”
Indeed, it was a virtual love-fest in the clubhouse following Sunday’s win as players said goodbye for the winter with best wishes and a hug. And with the departure of the last man the look forward begins. In fact, it already has.
Epstein laid out a three-pronged approach to the offseason in an effort to get back to the level he and many prognosticators felt was good enough to contend for the big prize. He will revamp the bullpen in some form or another, either bringing in multiple players to create an increased competition for the various open spots, or signing proven arms that the organization can trust to fill roles that were never filled in 2010, specifically a seventh-inning or No. 3 reliever in front of Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon.
That is the first priority. Next, according to Epstein, involves retaining “some of” the big-name free agents that will be the centerpiece of a dramatic offseason filled with challenges for the GM. Third baseman Adrian Beltre, catcher Victor Martinez and designated hitter David Ortiz, for whom the club holds an option, are at the top of that list.
Finally, Epstein said Sunday he will remain committed to creating a well-rounded club that can not only hit at the level the 2010 team did (only the Yankees scored more runs in the major leagues), but also pitches and catches like the 2010 team did not, or at least not with the consistency the organization had hoped it would.
Boston finished with an ERA ranked ninth in the American League and its defense, due in large part to the lack of Pedroia and Youkilis and Ellsbury, was never a strong suit. Conventionally, they were ranked 12th in A.L. with a fielding percentage of .982. Unconventionally, through the new-fangled metric systems such as UZR ratings, the Sox’ defense was 10th in the junior circuit.
Epstein admitted he has used the brains within the organization, and his own, to attempt to quantify the exact impact the injuries had not only on such dismal rankings but also on wins and losses. He would not divulge his results, nor would he use the bumps and bruises as an excuse. He did, however, reflect on what might’ve been. It’s almost impossible not to.
“With some of the performances we had, you add Youk and Pedroia and Jacoby to some of the things we accomplished…I think things would’ve turned out a little differently,” Epstein said.
But they didn’t, and an offseason begins that could either dramatically transform the roster or re-establish it in much the same way it stood when the promise of 2010 was ripe. The next five months will see those plans laid out. With the best of intentions, of course.