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September 10, 2012
A year ago, the Red Sox were baseball's model franchise. Words can only begin to describe how far they've fallen
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September 10, 2012

The Epic Red Sox Fail

A year ago, the Red Sox were baseball's model franchise. Words can only begin to describe how far they've fallen

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"I think Bobby has done a hell of a job given what he has faced," Henry wrote. "He has always been a lightning rod and has never avoided confrontation. Our players were used to what is commonly called a 'players' manager.' Bobby just isn't that. He's more of an old-school manager with players while being a new-school manager with his approach to tactics and everything else. He's brilliant but not someone who's going to be liked by everyone. Popularity is overrated, but he's had a tough go this year."

What to do about Valentine is the owners' first major decision in rebranding this team. The owners could bring him back in 2013 on his current contract, leaving him with even less security as the lamest of ducks. They could continue to jettison players and coaches not in his camp and extend his contact after the worst Red Sox season in 15 years. Or they could fire him and find the state-of-the-art manager Cherington wanted in the first place. (They could try to pry John Farrell from Toronto or hire Blue Jays first base coach Torey Lovullo.) "Firing Bobby V would be admitting a mistake," says another baseball executive, "but you have to do it to move forward, to show you're not picking sides in this thing after getting rid of players."

No matter the manager, the Red Sox are likely to be a younger, cheaper team that may not be ready to contend next season. Boston does have a core of exciting young players: third baseman Will Middlebrooks, catcher Ryan Lavarnway, infielders Xander Bogaerts and Jose Iglesias, outfielders Bryce Brentz and Jackie Bradley Jr., pitcher Matt Barnes and the key prospects received in the Los Angeles trade, pitchers Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster.

This winter's big-ticket free-agent market probably won't help the Red Sox: Neither pitcher Zack Greinke, because of his introverted nature, nor outfielder Josh Hamilton, because of his age (32 next year) and injury history, is a good fit for a skittish big-city buyer. The key for Boston will be finding good value in short-term deals and dipping into the farm system to trade for young, established stars along the lines of Alex Gordon of Kansas City, Justin Upton of Arizona or Chase Headley of San Diego. The Red Sox might also explore trading centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, a free agent after next season, for longer-term assets.

"Do we believe Boston and Red Sox Nation will accept a young and hungry baseball team?" Lucchino says. "Yeah, I think they will. Our intention is to make sure it's a mixture of young and hungry and older and more established. There's a notion that we've got to have high-priced brand names in our lineup to make it work. Don't assume that's the case."

The Red Sox also need to emphasize players with extroverted personalities, such as rightfielder Cody Ross, who has fit in well this season on a one-year deal. Players uncomfortable with the intensity of the media coverage—think Renteria, Drew, Crawford and Lackey—tend to fare poorly in Boston. Even Gonzalez was something of a poor fit. Teammates were surprised that someone so talented was so sensitive to how he and the team were covered. (A July text to ownership asking for a team meeting at which Valentine's performance was discussed was reportedly sent from Gonzalez's phone.)

When Gonzalez arrived in Los Angeles, he admitted to reporters that he changed this year—becoming "more outspoken" after hearing last year that he should be more vocal. "The way things were spinned is unfortunate," he said. The unanswered question: Why would an established star care about that at all? Why change?

The Red Sox need to return to being a leaner, more disciplined organization that—starting with ownership—doesn't allow media coverage to drain its focus. If, for instance, Boston won't immediately reinvest all of the $104 million coming off this year's payroll, it should be up front with fans by de-emphasizing the questionable sellout streak at Fenway (now at 782 games) and by cutting ticket prices across the board.

"Do you mean consider lowering ticket prices if we don't spend all of our budget in 2013?" Henry wrote. "One thing is clear: we generally end up above budget so to have one year under budget in a rebuilding wouldn't be out of the question."

Three days after the bailout trade, Major League Baseball announced an agreement with ESPN to extend their broadcast partnership through 2021 for about $700 million annually—a 94% increase over their current agreement. The other national television partnerships are still in negotiations, but assuming a similar percentage increase in those rights fees, every team starting in 2014 will see its cut from national TV money increase from $25.5 million to $49.6 million. That's another $24.1 million for your team to spend.

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