Starting the 2012 season 11-16 there is plenty of blame to go around. You can start with the team itself, or some people have called out new manager Bobby Valentine, but the real issue, and where the real blame should be is the front office. The failure to make offseason acquisitions to boost the teams depth is really starting to prove costly with the injuries and rough starts that the team has had to deal with in the first month.
Lets start with the infield. The Red Sox traded shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for relief pitcher Clayton Mortenson. That deal would have been fine, since the Red Sox don’t need to pay the $6 million owed to Scutaro this year, but the team didn’t do anything with that $6 million, nor did they fill the void at the position with someone proven to be a major league everyday player.
The Red Sox decided to make Mike Aviles, who the team brought on at the trading deadline last year, their full time shortstop going into the season. Don’t get me wrong, Aviles is a decent big league utility infielder, who can even play in the outfield if needed, but the lifetime .286 hitter, and the guy that hit .222 with Kansas City before coming to the Red Sox last year just isn’t full time shortstop material, or at least hasn’t proven it yet.
The team signed veteran utility infielder Nick Punto to be their utility infielder. Again, Punto is just a utility infielder, and nothing more. The team doesn’t think he is anything more, but when you have a third baseman in Kevin Youkilis who has seen his number of games played drastically go down the past few years due to injuries, you know you’re going to need someone to play a decent amount of time at the position.
To me, that is why the Red Sox needed to go out and sign or trade for a proven big league shortstop in the offseason. Then they should have used Aviles as their utility infielder because you know because of Youkilis’ health, Aviles would play more than the average utility player. As of today Aviles is batting .265, which is not bad at all, but will that continue the rest of the season? And by not signing a proven shortstop, and making Aviles an everyday player, not the utility infielder, has left the Red Sox to have Punto as their utility infielder, playing in nearly half the games, and hitting only .148.
Now the outfield. There is no way that the team could have predicted that Jacoby Ellsbury would separate his shoulder just over a week into the season, or that Carl Crawford’s shoulder/elbow injuries would take much longer to heal than first expected and he wouldn’t be back until sometime around the All-Star break. The team also lost J.D. Drew in right field, so they needed to fill that void.
Giving the team the benefit of the doubt, there really isn’t much to be said about the outfield. Like was said earlier, there was no way to ever predict Ellsbury’s injury, and almost no way to prepare yourself for losing one of the finalists for the AL MVP last year. The team signed Cody Ross to originally fill the void for Drew, but with the injury to Crawford has forced him to shift to left field for the time being. Ross has had an OK start to the season hitting .250 with five home runs and 20 RBI’s.
For utility outfielders, the team kept Darnell McDonald, who proved in the second half of last years he could be a solid utility guy, and then the team traded with the Athletics for closer Andrew Bailey, which also included outfielder Ryan Sweeney, who was supposed to be a fourth outfielder. Due to the injuries the Red Sox have suffered, he has been forced into a starting role, which he has embraced. Sweeney has arguably been one of the teams’ best hitters to start the year hitting .368 with a blistering .938 OBS. All things considered the lack of offseason moves does not apply to the outfield.
Now, the bigger issue, pitching. Going into the season the Red Sox had some uncertainty with their starting rotation. They had Jon Lester and Josh Beckett penciled in at the top, Clay Buchholz as the number three guy, but he never really came back and proved himself after returning from his back injury at the very end of last season. The fourth and fifth starters were up in the air, but they had the idea of moving Daniel Bard to the rotation, and then have the fifth starter be up for grabs, which turned out to be Felix Doubront (technically Doubront is the fourth, and Bard fifth since the team didn’t want back-to-back left-handers in Doubront and Lester).
There is no denying the fact that the starting rotation has been terrible. No starting pitcher has an ERA under 4.00, and Buchholz has a startling 9.09 ERA, despite his 3-1 record. Beckett was scratched from his most recent start with tightness in his lat. Lester has suffered some tough-luck losses early in the year, but he too hasn’t been at his best. Finally, Bard and Doubront are still adjusting to their starting roles.
In the past years the Red Sox have been known to have “too much” starting pitching, where they have gone into the season with six or even seven starting pitchers. This year they struggled to even put together a staff of five. Although the starting pitchers have struggled, and do deserve to be blamed, the front office deserves the bulk of the criticism for not having the same depth in the rotation as in years past, especially with the uncertainty of Buchholz’s health and how Bard and Doubront would work out.
Why didn’t the team go out and sign for some of proven starting pitchers who were on the market this past off-season? Why did they go the route of signing veteran guys at the ends of their careers, hoping that one or two would work out? With how bad the starting rotation has been, not only are the pitchers themselves at fault, but the front office has some blame as well for not being prepared in case these pitchers have struggled like they have. This should have at least been considered entering the year with Buchholz not proving himself since his back injury, as well as beginning the year with a starter who had never started a big league game in his career, and another who had started just three.
Finally, the bullpen. The team let their closer of the past six seasons, and one of the best in the game, walk away to sign with the Phillies. They made their set-up guy a starter; all of this coming off of a season where their bullpen played a major role in the September collapse. You would think the team would make this a major priority in the offseason as they wouldn’t have their two most important guys in Bard and Papelbon, but they didn’t. The team traded for Bailey, Mortensen, and also for Mark Melanson, but look what that has gotten them. Bailey injured his thumb during spring training and is not expected back until after the All-Star break and Melanson has already been sent down to Pawtucket.
The Red Sox don’t put money into their bullpen. As of right now, including Bailey and the five most used pitchers in the bullpen, the bullpen salary is $8.06 million. Now, take a look at the Yankees, NOT including Mariano Rivera, their five most used pitchers in their bullpen make a combined $16+ million. That is double the Red Sox. Why aren’t the Red Sox putting money into the bullpen?
With losing their two best relievers, all the team really did was go out and sign Bailey and Melanson. Does that make any sense? Sure, the Red Sox bullpen has been beyond terrible this year, but look at the guys that are out there. The front office just doesn’t want to put money into their bullpen for whatever reason. It has been the same the past few seasons because besides Papelbon, who did the team really pay?
The Red Sox have endured a number of injuries to begin the year, which are really out of the control of anyone within the organization, but what the front office failed to do this offseason was have a plan in case injuries, and guys not working out were to happen. It wasn’t like there weren’t any warning signs either, a few players either have been injury prone in the past or still had yet to prove themselves following injuries suffered last season. So, with all the Red Sox’ problems to start the season, who deserves the real blame? Starting with the front office would be a good step one.