BOSTON – The Boston Red Sox took two months to hire Bobby Valentine last year, the start of a surprisingly long winter that proved to be one of the least productive in franchise history.
This year, they need to move more quickly.
An offseason that began with another managerial firing must also fill the holes in a roster that opened when the Red Sox traded Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto and Josh Beckett to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The deal relieved Boston of $250 million in future salary obligations, but it also left them looking for key parts of the lineup.
As they head into a true rebuilding year, General Manager Ben Cherington will need a new manager along with fill-ins for the players sent to the Dodgers. Also on his agenda: a new deal with free agent designated hitter David Ortiz, a replacement for Daisuke Matsuzaka and a decision on whether to make Jacoby Ellsbury a multiyear offer or risk losing him to free agency in 2013.
“We made a big trade in August that came as a result of recognition on our part that things weren’t going the way we wanted them to go,” Cherington said after firing Valentine on Thursday after just one year and a last-place finish. “In order to be elite again, we needed to make more than cosmetic changes.”
Valentine was hired on Dec. 1 to help change a clubhouse culture in which players, including Beckett, ate fried chicken and drank beer in the clubhouse rather than supporting their teammates during games. But the players who took advantage of Terry Francona’s hands-off style during an unprecedented September collapse rebelled against Valentine’s abrasive style.
The Sox stumbled to a 69-93 record that was their worst in almost 50 years. Valentine was fired one day after the season ended with an eighth consecutive loss.
The team is pursuing current Blue Jays manager and former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell, but Boston would have to reach a deal with Toronto on compensation.
“The team is in a different point than it was last year when we hired Bobby,” Cherington said. “The roster was fairly mature and we felt, mistakenly in retrospect, but we felt at the time, that we had a chance to win and the team was ready to win. We’re now at a different point.”
The first step in rebuilding was the Aug. 25 trade with the Dodgers. But opportunities to spend on this year’s free agent market are considered thin, with Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton and Los Angeles Angels pitcher Zack Greinke the top targets.
Ortiz is a free agent and coming off a strong but injury-shortened year. Matsuzaka has reached the end of the much-heralded six-year, $103.11 million deal that brought him over from Japan. Ellsbury is heading into the final year of team control after playing just 74 games in 2012 because of injuries.
Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Felix Doubront are under contract or under the team’s control for next year, and Franklin Morales could be given a chance to start. The bullpen needs depth and bounce-back years from Andrew Bailey and Daniel Bard.
Although Cherington said last year’s team was ready to win when Valentine came in, he wasn’t willing to concede that this year’s isn’t.
“It’s a little bit of a different point in time from a roster-evolution standpoint,” Cherington said. “So now we’re very early in the process of doing that and we’re going to work our tails off to put the best team we can out there in 2013 and build the next great Red Sox team. We don’t know exactly when that will come to fruition.”