March 24, 2013

On Baseball: Time for Red Sox to show they've found their way

New England baseball fans crave a season far from last year's disastrous one.

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Near the end of another long day and night at JetBlue Park, spring home for the Boston Red Sox, General Manager Ben Cherington walked about energetically.

John Farrell
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Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell reflects while answering questions from the media before a spring training game in Tampa, Fla., last Wednesday.

Photos by The Associated Press

Ben Cherington
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Executive Vice-President/General Manager Ben Cherington reacts last October, hours after the team announced that manager Bobby Valentine would not return in 2013.

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Now Cherington, 38, who replaced the revered Theo Epstein last year, is a man who keeps himself in shape. But there seemed more to his step than just vitality.

It was hope.

"We've had a good spring training," Cherington said earlier, sitting in the Red Sox dugout while his players took batting practice. "We've seen a lot of things the staff wanted to get accomplished. That's encouraging."

Encouragement. New England baseball fans need that. They crave a baseball season far from the disastrous one they witnessed in 2012. Boston finished 69-93 last year, the worst Red Sox record since 1965 (62-100).

Red Sox officials use phrases like "turning the page." Players speak of a "re-set." But fixing this team required more than tapping a computer key.

"There's been a lot of changes," said new manager John Farrell, a significant part of the remodeling process. "As many as nine new players will break camp. We have an entirely new coaching staff."

The Red Sox need more than new faces. They need an old attitude, one that arrived when a boyish-looking Epstein became the boss before the 2003 season.

"We're going to turn the Red Sox into a scouting (and) player development machine," Epstein said at the time.

Even though Boston has more financial might than most smaller-market teams, Epstein said the key to continued success was not expensive long-term contracts to big-name players, but producing a legion of youthful talent.

And, sure enough, the Red Sox developed young, impact players. They ascended in the minor league system, eventually playing for the Portland Sea Dogs at Hadlock Field, on their way to Boston and Fenway Park.

Players like Kevin Youkilis, Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury made an impact with the Red Sox. Youkilis won two World Series rings with Boston in 2004 and 2007. The other four played key roles in the 2007 championship.

In 2008, the Red Sox came within one game of returning to the World Series.

They have not won a playoff game since.

LOSING THEIR WAY?

The Red Sox focus on development changed. Their pipeline of talent had dried up -- or was traded away -- and Boston became desperate. Epstein shunned his previous philosophy and committed big money for several years to players whose contributions turned out to be less than advertised.

After the Red Sox collapsed at the end of the 2011 season, going from first place to out of playoff contention in a month, popular manager Terry Francona was fired.

But Francona was not the problem. That became evident when Boston ownership hired the bombastic Bobby Valentine to manage in 2012. The team only got worse.

The real change came last Aug. 25. Cherington, a Red Sox employee since 1999, and an assistant under Epstein, traded away three high-priced All-Star players to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a handful of lesser players, including two minor league pitching prospects.

"We recognized that we are not who we want to be right now," Cherington said at the time. "We felt like in order to be the team that we wanted to be on the field, we needed to make more than cosmetic changes."

(Continued on page 2)

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John Farrell, Ben Cherington
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Red Sox manager John Farrell, left, talks to general manager Ben Cherington after a team workout in Fort Myers, Fla. “We’ve had a good spring training,” Cherington said.

  


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