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

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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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Gone were first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (and his seven-year, $154-million contract), outfielder Carl Crawford (seven years, $142 million) and pitcher Josh Beckett (four years, $68 million).

Almost all the big contracts were gone. Outfielder J.D. Drew (five years, $70 million) retired after the 2011 season. And disappointing Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who cost the Red Sox $103 million over six years, was in the last year of his contract in 2012.

Only pitcher John Lackey, who signed a five-year deal ($82.5 million) in 2010, remains as an example of Boston's lavish spending with little results.

While Cherington was cleaning house -- without yet providing adequate replacements -- the Red Sox were in a free fall on the field. They kept losing. Sports Illustrated put a photo of Valentine on the cover of a September issue, with the caption: "Have the Red Sox Lost Their Way?"

BUILD FROM WITHIN

Handing players big-money contracts is not a problem in itself. The champion Red Sox of 2004 and 2007 featured some well-paid big names like outfielder Manny Ramirez and pitcher Curt Schilling.

But relying too much on big-money names and not developing players from your own minor league system is a risky business. There is no stability, and the gamble is great when the checkbook keeps opening up.

Mike Hazen, like Cherington before him, used to be in charge of the Red Sox minor league system -- the "farm director," in baseball terms. Hazen made frequent visits to Hadlock Field. Now an assistant general manager, first to Epstein and now to Cherington, Hazen watched too few prospects being developed for the majors leagues in recent years.

When Farrell was hired last October, Hazen was optimistic. Not only was Farrell once a Red Sox pitching coach, he also served as a farm director for the Cleveland Indians.

"John's the right man to be the manager of the Red Sox," Hazen said at the time of Farrell's hiring. "In order for this to turn around, there are a lot of tough questions that need to be asked, by the manager and down the line.

"Questioning everything. Roster decisions to the contributions of the farm system, or lack thereof."

Boston got one contribution last year. Will Middlebrooks, who began to emerge as a promising minor league third baseman in 2011 while playing for the Sea Dogs, was called up last year to replace an injured Youkilis. He was a productive player right away and became a starter. Youkilis was eventually traded.

Hazen said there are more good players on the way. Hadlock fans saw some of them last year, in the faces of outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr. and Bryce Brentz, shortstop Xander Bogaerts and pitcher Chris Hernandez.

"There's a feel for the development for the player -- for us getting back to where we want to get to," Hazen said. "The supplementation of the roster with key internal guys is critical."

CONTENDING AGAIN?

While the Red Sox wait for their young players to be ready, they have supplemented the roster with role players on short contracts.

Outfielder Shane Victorino has the longest deal (three years, $39 million). Pitcher Ryan Dempster ($26.5 million) and outfielder Jonny Gomes ($10 million) signed on for two years. Shortstop Stephen Drew ($9.5 million), first baseman Mike Napoli ($5 million) and reliever Koji Uehara ($4.25 million) are on one-year contracts.

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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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